Tag Archives: SFMTA

My Birthday Present from the SFMTA

Every year I have to get drug tested to renew my A-Card, and every year I bitch about it in the newspaper. The above image is from the first column I wrote about dragging my weary ass to the clinic to get tested.

My column for the S.F. Examiner this week is about getting older, pissing in a cup and Prop 22. In that order…

This time of the year always fills me with dread. Not just because I’m one year older, but as a taxi driver, I get a special birthday present from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency: the onerous task of renewing my A-Card, the permit that allows me to operate a taxicab on the streets of San Francisco. The process includes, among other indignities, pissing in a cup.

Each year, I dutifully go down to the Concentra Medical Center in Potrero Hill and sit in their crowded lobby, squirming on a chair with a throbbing bladder, waiting for my turn to donate a specimen. The ordeal usually takes over an hour.

It’s humiliating. Demeaning. A violation of my privacy.

And for what?

According to the SFMTA, the Drug and Alcohol Testing Program for taxicab drivers was implemented in 2015 to comply with state law. I guess mandatory drug testing is supposed to convince the public that taxis are safe, and drivers – at least for three days out of the year – are drug free. But hardly anyone cares. It’s just another hurdle you have to jump through for the privilege of being a taxi driver.

Read the rest here.

Other columns about the SFMTA drug tests:

Between a Jackhammer and a Piss Cup

The SFMTA Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack

Taxi Driving is Not a Crime

taxi-shuttle-street-by-Trevor-Johnson-web

For several years, while living in Los Angeles, I was a personal assistant for a screenwriter. Except we never used that job title. The guy was staunchly anti-Hollywood and referred to me as “a friend” who occasionally “helped him out.” For money, perks and invaluable life lessons. Such as, “Never become a screenwriter.” Over the course of our “friendship,” I witnessed enough backstabbing and cutthroat Hollywood behavior to heed this advice.

One day I “helped him out” by taking his Cadillac to the dealer. On my way back to his house in the Hollywood Hills, I was maneuvering the land yacht through the narrow, winding roads when his wife came around a bend at high speed and slammed into right me. Surprisingly, her Mini Cooper only had a few scratches on the bumper, but the Cadillac was smashed up pretty bad. Unfazed by the accident, she sped off, saying she had an important meeting but she’d call her husband to explain.

When I got to the house, I wondered what to do next. Should we call his insurance company or mine? Take pictures? Make a report?

“Since I own both cars,” he said, laughing. “It’s like I just punched myself in the face.”

In a way, I was the one who punched him in the face. Or, at least, assisted in the act. But hey, what are friends for?

The next day I took the car to the body shop and within a week it was if nothing had ever happened …

I can’t help but think about this incident — and the semantic artifices — whenever the dispatcher at National hands me a parking citation from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Seeing as how taxi drivers are licensed and regulated by the SFMTA and their logo graces my a-card, it’s not that much of a stretch to view them as a kind of employer. They definitely boss us around, with mandatory drug tests each year and annual permit fees, as well as requiring us to adhere to strict guidelines.

Which is why getting a $110 ticket for following those guidelines can feel like I’ve been punched in the face, and why paying the fine would be the same as doing it to myself.

Read the rest here.

[photo by Trevor Johnson]

The SFMTA Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack

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“Well, there’s no point is crying over spilt cocaine,” I say with a nervous chuckle, even though no one else in the taxi seems to share my humor at the situation.

The guy up front looks at me aghast while the two in back unleash a salvo of invectives as they make a futile attempt to scrape up the loose powder.

This is obviously not the time for jokes.

Apologizing, I hit the dome light and look in the back. There’s white powder all over their pants, the seat around them, their shoes and the floorboard.

Uhhh… “That’s not good.”

Just moments before the three guys got into my taxi in a celebratory mood. They even asked permission before snorting their drugs, which was thoughtful, since most passengers never inquire if I have a policy on consuming illegal substances before doing blow in my backseat. At least once or twice a night I have to brush cocaine residue off the leather interior…

A few rides later, I comment on the previous coke explosion to another set of happy passengers.

“I really hope this isn’t going to influence the drug test I have to take next week,” I add, jokingly. “It would just be my luck that some of the airborne molecules permeated my mucus membranes.”

“Even if you did a Tony Montana pile of cocaine, it would be out of your system completely within 72 hours,” the girl behind me says with authority. “Sooner, depending on your metabolism.”

That’s right. The only drug that stays in your urine for any significant period of time is marijuana, which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency allows an exemption for, as long as you have a medical recommendation.

The whole drug test thing is completely absurd, another example of how The City holds taxi drivers to a higher standard than our ride-hail counterparts. Not to mention the cost of getting the marijuana recommendation and the $120.50 for the A-Card, as well as the time and energy running around taking care of these errands. And for what? To prove that we’re more professional than Uber and Lyft drivers?

That would be great if it actually mattered to the general public. But it doesn’t. Most people just want to tap a button in their phones and have a car show up. They could care less whether the driver was a drug fiend on PCP, a former or prospective terrorist or a law-abiding citizen.

The whole process is so infuriating, I feel like getting high just to deal …

As the night progresses, I fantasize about sabotaging my UA and testing positive for every drug on the list by going on a drug-collecting crusade that would impress Hunter S. Thompson.

Coke and ecstasy are easy to acquire at most bars in the Mission or on Polk Street … I could stop by Pill Hill and pick up some heroin … Swing by the Plaza for a little crack … I must know a meth head or two … PCP though … Since it gained peak popularity with criminals in ’70s cop shows like “Kojak” and “Baretta,” is angel dust even readily available?

“I’m sure we could do some online research and cook some up,” Mr. Judy suggests, when I broach the subject with him.

As he starts listing the kitchen utensils he’ll probably need to concoct some homemade PCP in his friend’s kitchen, I quickly change the subject …

Three days after peeing in a cup, I’m pulled over in front of Beck’s Motor Lodge answering a phone call from Wisconsin.

A grim voice on the line tells me, “I need to speak with you about the results of your recent urine analysis …”

As if my thoughts were enough to pollute my sample, I get a little nervous. “OK,” I mumble after an audible gulp.

“You tested positive for marijuana,” the doctor says. “Can you tell me why there was marijuana in your system?”

Uhhh … “Because I smoked it.”

“When was the last time you consumed marijuana?”

I did study really hard for the test … “A few days before. I don’t do it all the time or anything,” I lie.

“It seems the SFMTA has a unique policy that treats a positive result for marijuana if you have a doctor’s permission. Do you have that documentation?”

Of course.

After emailing a scan of my recommendation from the 420 Doc in Berkeley, my only obstacle to driving a taxi for another year is heading down to One South Van Ness and forking over the $120.50 fee to the SFMTA.

I feel so special.


Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Nov. 3, 2017.

[photo by Christian Lewis]

Looking for Fares in All the Wrong Places

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My column this week for the S.F. Examiner is an attempt to shed some light on one of the most confusing aspects of the taxi industry: the medallion system.

While discussing health problems and money woes, Loco and I shiver in the chilly night air and surreptitiously eyeball the BART passengers emerging from the station.

Loco has a paid medallion. As he describes the headaches and heartbreaks of paying off a $250,000 taxi medallion in the Age of Uber, his story echoes those of other paid medallion holders I’ve spoken to. It’s always tragic, since the only solution is for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to admit that the program to sell taxi medallions is a complete failure and offer financial amnesty to anyone who forked out a quarter of a million dollars for their worthless piece of tin.

The medallion was supposed to be a safety net for drivers as they got older. But for those struggling to pay off loans when the vehicle-for-hire business is in the toilet, it’s an albatross. 

Read the rest here.

[image via]

Between a Jackhammer and a Piss Cup

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Not to brag, but I totally failed my piss test… 

In this week’s column for the S.F. Examiner, I detail the indignities the SFMTA subjects cab drivers to while Uber and Left drivers ride roughshod all over The City.

One of the many perks of driving a taxi in San Francisco is the recently enforced mandatory drug test we must pass in order to renew our A-Cards. 

The last time I had to urinate for employment was in 1993, when I applied for a porter position at Martin’s department store in Gadsden, Alabama. Just like then, I’m sure to fail. But this time, I don’t have to drink copious amounts of water for a week and jog around the block three times a day to exorcise the traces of marijuana in my system.

Fortunately for potheads like myself, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is kind enough to allow a medical marijuana exception. So with a recommendation from the reputable Oakland 420 Doctor, I won’t lose my job. 

I chase my coffee with a bunch of water and head out to the MacArthur BART station.

On the train, I get the chatty conductor: “Sit back and relax as we make the smooth move through the groove tube.”

I try to take his advice, but I’m too annoyed about the disruption of my free time. As a taxi driver, I’m an independent contractor.

How can the SFMTA make me submit to a drug test? Moreover, what does it prove? That I have enough self-control to go a few days without smoking crack or PCP?

Since cannabis is the only drug that stays in your system longer than that, and with Proposition 64 on the ballot in November, this drug test is purely a violation of my privacy, another regulatory hurdle to make life harder for taxi drivers while Uber drivers are free to shoot dope in their jugulars in between rides and snort blow off the breasts of their unconscious passengers.

If The City actually informed the public about all the obstacles taxi drivers are subjected to in order to keep them safe, perhaps the hassle wouldn’t be so aggravating. But in the new hypernormal reality, it’s more proof the SFMTA doesn’t give a damn about taxi drivers — except when it comes to selling us worthless medallions for $250,000.

“Live! In San Francisco!” the conductor announces when we hit the Embarcadero station.

I empty my water bottle. I still don’t have to pee, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to provide an adequate sample. When it comes to releasing bodily fluids, I tend to choke under pressure.

At 16th Street, I take the 55 down to Missouri Street and walk the rest of the way to the clinic on Connecticut.

After filling out some forms, I grab a New Yorker and make periodic trips to the water fountain in the lobby.

Twenty minutes later, I follow a technician into the back. She has me put my possessions in a locker and wash my hands before entering the bathroom. Then she sprays blue solution on the inside of the commode and gives me a beaker, instructing me not to flush.

I stare into the empty container …

A few minutes later, I emerge with half a cup of warm amber.

“Is this enough?” I ask.

The technician seems pleased with my sample.

That makes two of us.


Originally appeared in the S.F. Examiner on Oct. 21, 2016.

Stand Up for Taxi Drivers: Philip Liborio Gangi on the fate of the S-Medallions

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This is a Personal Statement From Philip Liborio Gangi: A San Francisco Taxi Driver since 1978

San Francisco will be losing 135 experienced and long-time taxi drivers this year. Some drivers who have been serving the public for over 40 years. This does not have to happen.

In 2012 the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) issued a new type of taxi medallion known as the S-Medallion. These medallions were issued to drivers in part as a reward for long-term service. The drivers who got the S-Medallions had typically driven more than 25 years and had never received a medallion under the old system. When I received my S-Medallion my name had been on the regular medallion waiting list for 16 years and I had been driving a taxi in San Francisco for 35 years. At the time I received my S-Medallion Michael Harris was the Director of Taxi Services at MTA. I remember him specifically saying to me that MTA was looking to reward long-time drivers and that I should not have to wait for my name to come up on the regular medallion list.

Well 3 years later Michael Harris is working in a different division of MTA and the new Director of Taxi Services at SFMTA, Kate Toran, says that the S-Medallions were only a pilot program and that she is discontinuing the program and will start putting the S-Medallions out of service at the end of July 2016.This will empty the streets of long time and experienced taxi drivers. Paratransit Coordinating Council last week came out in support of the S-Medallion and said they would be sending a letter to MTA.

With car services on the streets of San Francisco like Uber and Lyft I am making only about one-third of what I used to make driving a taxi in San Francisco. A few recent nights I only went home with $80 after a ten hour shift. That comes to eight dollars an hour, less than a
minimum wage worker. My S-Medallion is currently giving me a $30 discount each night I drive for CityWide Cab, my taxi company. Without my medallion and that discount I do not believe it would be worth driving any more. After driving for 38 years here in San Francisco I find it very sad that the city will be losing me, an experienced driver who knows the streets among all the other S-Medallion holders who also would not only find it unprofitable to continue to drive, but feel betrayed by the city after all these years. Most S-Medallion holders I speak with will also not be sticking around if the city takes back their medallion.

I do not want to be pushed out of my job. It’s not what it used to be, but it’s part of my life. After 38 years, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the Moscone Center and AT&T Park being built. I’ve seen happy 49ers fans celebrating in the 1980s on Broadway when the city’s team won the Super Bowl. I helped get people around the city during the 1989 earthquake. Over the years I have seen San Francisco change from a big town to a major U.S. city.

Please help Save the S Medallion, help MTA make the right decision and keep these long-time drivers on the streets. Keep the S-Medallion part of San Francisco. Write to MTA and the Board of Supervisors and request that the S-Medallion stay part of the San Francisco taxi fleet.

Sincerely,
Philip Liborio Gangi
S-Medallion Holder #S-17

s-medallion-arrow-cab

Top photo by Trevor Johnson. Bottom photo courtesy of author.

SF Taxi Under Siege: Death of a Cab Stand

caltrain_cab_stand_2 This is the Caltrain cab stand at 4th and Townsend. I start most of my shifts here. While I wait for the 5:05 train from the peninsula to arrive, I get my shit situated, log in to my Flywheel phone, pick the Slayer CD I want to listen to that day and make sure my seat is adjusted comfortably. When the train whistle sounds, a crowd pours out of the station and all the taxis fill up and speed away. My heart always races when I get to the front of the line, hoping I get a decent fare. caltrain_cab_stand_3 Cabs outside a train station makes so much sense that it’s hard to believe the MTA took half of it away this week. Taxis used to have the entire stand, including a cut-out space close to the station entrance, where passengers can easily access the cabs. But this Wednesday, when I arrived at the Caltrain cab stand, there was a Bay Area Bike Share rack in the front of the stand. Originally, the bike rack was on the sidewalk, right next to the station. There was no notice of the change to the cab drivers. At first, the cabs waited at the front of the bike rack, but later, the cabs were pushed back twenty feet. caltrain_cab_stand Almost immediately, Lyft and Uber cars began to pull into the area to unload their passengers. I’m all for a more bike-friendly San Francisco, but if the intention of the city is to encourage bike-sharing programs (which aren’t cheap, btw), why put the bike rack in the midst of so much vehicular activity? Wouldn’t this be more dangerous for the bicyclists trying to park the bikes?

Also, why was there a Lyft party going on across the street that day? caltrain_lyft_party That night, back at the cab yard, this notice was posted by the cashier window: caltrain_cab_stand_SFMTA_noticeThe cab stand was already crowded, with numerous tech company shuttles and the Megabus using the area to drop off passengers as Caltrain. It’s outrageous that the MTA would give up what’s left of the cab stand to private companies like Lyft and Motivate, the company that runs the Bike Share program. But not very surprising.

As if to shade the deal in misinformation, there is this notice on the Bay Area Bike Share website. The stated reason for the “permanent” move is to avoid construction.

And the mystery of why Lyft was having a party across the street from Caltrain that day was solved by this graphic: caltrain_hotspot As part of Lyft’s constant efforts to compete with the Muni, they’re offering $3 Lyft Line rides that originate at Caltrain.

And that’s how San Francisco treats its taxi drivers.

As the tech dystopia continues to unfold in the Bay Area, the day will come when the only way to get around this city other than on foot is with a credit card and/or smart phone, surrendering all your personal information and activity to a corporate third party in the process.

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Google street view of the original cab stand (the first bike rack is visible next to trees):

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