An Army of Latkas


It's a little long, but A.C. Thompson's expose of San Francisco's idiotic taxi laws is one hell of a parable of how the state can screw up something that less centralized systems can handle quite easily.

To get a medallion under Proposition K, a driver first puts his or her name on a waiting list. When the applicant's name comes to the top of the list after 10 or so years, the Taxi Commission runs a cursory background check — law-abiding cabbies who drive full time get preference. After getting the prized medallion, the hack must put in either 800 hours driving annually or 156 four-hour shifts per year, in order to keep it. Eventually, when the cabbie decides to retire from the business, the medallion is returned to the city, which passes it on to the next driver in line.

"The intent was clearly to make medallions available to people who were bona fide taxi drivers," says Kopp, an independent politician who went on to serve as a state senator and a San Mateo County Superior Court Judge. "It was supposed to be a strict system of rewarding those who actually drive." Medallions, he continues, "are government permits, and when you're finished you turn them back in."

Unlike New York City, where medallions are auctioned off for hundreds of thousands of dollars and can be sold from one person to another, in this city medallions are available to cabbies for a minimal processing fee and can't be resold.

Reason subscribers will get to read Kerry Howley's reporting (in a short citing) about similar problems in Anchorage. The gist: It's easy to get a cab in New York, less so in these cities.