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Thursday, Jun 23, 2011, 1:12 pm

Mad as Hell, and Not Going to Drive Anymore: San Francisco Cabbies Hold Two-Hour Strike

BY Rose Arrieta

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Taxis make their way to San Francisco City Hall Tuesday for a two-hour strike protesting a new credit card fee.   (Photo via )

SAN FRANCISCO—Cabbies held a one-day, two-hour strike here Tuesday, turning parts of the downtown civic center into a crawling mess.

Around noon, about 100 cabs converged on City Hall honking their horns, while another 100 marched and waved signs.

Drivers are angry over a 5-percent fee they are now required to pay on all credit card transactions. They want to know why they are being charged more than what most small businesses pay — which is between 2.5- and 3-percent on credit card transactions.

One cab driver said when fares are tallied at the end of the day, money from the credit card fares are deposited into a bank account (minus the 5-percent fee per transaction). Then, they cannot access that money for between 24 to 48 hours. If they do, withdrawal fees often apply.  “It’s a hardship,” she said.

Cabbies don't like the new electronic system that tracks their tips, how much they get paid for each fare and where they go. And they don't they like the postponement of taxi meter increases.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates taxicab operations, hasn’t approved a fare hike since 2003.

Scores of drivers jammed into the MTA board meeting to protest the changes. They blame plans to install rear-seat video screens and credit card readers for the 5 percent surcharge.

"Cabbies shouldn't be charged 5-percent," Ruach Graffis, a driver for more than 20 years, told the SF Chronicle. "We don't have healthcare; we don't have retirement. And now MTA is allowing the companies to charge us 5-percent."

As the use of credit cards has escalated over the years, cab companies have had to eat the transaction costs. Last year, the DeSoto Cab Company stated it would no longer accept credit cards. MTA said it would sue DeSoto if it didn’t back down. In July, MTA allowed the cab companies to pass those costs on to the drivers.

Some SF cabbies have refused to accept credit cards even though they're legally required to accept them.

In one instance, filmed by a passsenger, a taxi driver told the passenger to get out of her cab because she would not accept his credit card. The incident escalated as the rider repeatedly asked the driver for her driver number, and the driver wearily asked him to leave the cab. He continued to ask for her medallion number. Finally, getting the number, he still remained in the cab, repeatedly asking for her name. The passenger kept insisting: “Give me your name. Give me your name. Why don’t you give me your name?”

Drivers may be planning a full-day strike unless MTA comes up with a compromise. A possible fare increase and other issues won't be considered until the agency meets on August 2, the AP reported.

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Rose Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked in print, broadcast and radio, both mainstream and community oriented—including being a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets on social justice issues.

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