And Why Are You Protesting?

The noise in front of City Hall yesterday afternoon was astonishing — the horns from a line of taxis, stretching down Polk Street, all pressed in unison. For three hours. “The noise is just for the mayor! Pump it! Pump it!” yelled Harold Miller. Coincidentally, Miller is also running for mayor — on a heavily taxi-based platform.

Cab drivers were protesting a 5 percent fee that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) has imposed on fares purchased by credit card. “From 2003, every cost for us substantially raised,” said Tariq Mehmood, the strike’s organizer, citing the vehicle rental cost and the price of the gas as examples. “Now the city council wants to charge us even if passengers pay by credit card.”

Mehmood is also worried about another new measure, the electronic waybill, which digitizes the records taxi drivers make of their own runs. Through this device, the city will be able to track electronically every ride taken by taxi drivers. “All our banking data will be stored on a computer and hackers could easily steal it,” Mehmood said.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s board approved a raise for taxi drivers that works like this: Every time the cab moves a fifth of a mile or waits a minute in traffic, the rider will be charged 55 cents instead of 45 cents.

But few at the protest were talking about the 10-cent increase.

Other drivers complained about the security conditions in which they have to work. “We’re rolling ATM machines,” said Miller. “Most of the drivers won’t go to the Mission District between midnight and 5 a.m.” He went on to suggest that any illegal cabs in the city that are serious about picking up fares should work those hours. “They have less money in the car,” he said.

On the other hand, Renata, a veteran cab driver, said that she and her colleagues do their best to serve the Mission. “On the weekend people always complain about shortages, but we’re moving as fast as we can,” she said. “We’re always cruising up and down from Valencia to Mission and from 17th to Castro.”

At 2 p.m., about two hours into the protest, the horns momentarily died down. A police officer directed several of the taxis to move. Ten minutes later, the horns started up again.

It didn’t bother the police officer, who said, “For me, it is just another day.”

Others were more impressed. “I’d like to have taxi drivers on my side!” a pedestrian commented.

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