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Cabbies Demand Relief From High-Price San Francisco Taxi Medallions

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Cab drivers struggling to compete with Lyft and Uber are voicing their growing anger over San Francisco's taxi medallion program's cost and restrictions.

"You're making an issue out of medallions that are totally worthless today," declared cab driver Emil Lawrence, bordering on a shout.

"Who the hell is going to have a right to go to the airport," asked another exasperated driver at the City Hall meeting.

This is what happens when you give San Francisco cab drivers a chance to sound off on the city's disastrous taxi medallion program, and it went on for about two hours Wednesday at San Francisco City Hall.

For years now, taxi drivers have struggled to compete with ride sharing companies like Lyft and Uber while the city requires cabbies to have medallions, which cost up to $250,000.

The city is now trying to sell cab drivers on possible medallion reforms. Among them, limiting which medallion holders can pick up fares at San Francisco International Airport, long considered by some cabbies to be prime fare ground.

"At this time, the airport is the only one which really helps us to survive," explained one driver at the meeting.

The proposed change would mean only the drivers who bought their medallions from the city would get airport access, hundreds of other drivers who earned their medallions through wait-lists and other previous taxi regulation plans would be shut out.

"The solution that the SFMTA is finding, is to set driver against driver," said one speaker. "One faction in the industry against another faction in the industry."

One after another, the drivers made a similar argument to SFMTA officials, that not one of these various reform ideas really gets to the heart of the problem.

"We don't have a medallion problem," says Lawrence. "We have a problem that the taxi drivers in the city can't find passengers."

As the city's lengthy, and costly, search for answers goes on the equation for drivers does not change.

"What can I do? Please, buy back medallion," pleaded one driver. "Is that my fault, for trusting the city and bought the medallion" asked Maggi Yousef who waved a piece of paper in the air.

"That is the bank payment on my medallion," he explained. "$2,353.99."

Still looming over this entire discussion, the $28 million lawsuit filed against the city by the San Francisco Federal Credit Union, which now holds some $130 millon in what it calls 'impaired' loans associated with the troubled medallions.

The credit union says that lawsuit is moving forward now that a judge has found sufficient grounds for the breech of contract claim. In the mean time, the city is trying to roll out some answers for drivers, and so far, they do not like what they are hearing.

Maggi Yousef closed his comments to the SFMTA representative with one request: "Get me out of this, please."


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