San Francisco taxi drivers want financial relief from medallion debt

Lyanne Melendez Image
Tuesday, April 9, 2024
SF taxi drivers want financial relief from medallion debt
Taxi drivers in San Francisco want financial relief from their medallion debts as the industry continues to suffer in the age of rideshares.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The taxi industry in San Francisco continues to experience hardship even after the pandemic. The closures of downtown businesses and fewer conventions have aggravated the situation even further.

Taxi medallions look like a mini license plate.

Once worth tens of thousands of dollars like fool's gold, today they are a nearly worthless investment after ride sharing companies came online.

"They took all of our business and our business is dead completely 100%. We don't have any business and most of the drivers leave the taxi business because they don't make money," expressed Wahab Al hindawi, a medallion holder.

Here's how it all started. Sometime in the early 2000s, before Uber and Lyft, the demand for more taxis grew in San Francisco.

So in 2009, then Mayor Gavin Newsom came up with an idea.

MORE: San Francisco taxi drivers partnering up with Uber to pick up passengers

Since the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency had a $129 million budget deficit back then, why not sell 700 taxi medallions for $250,000 a pop and bring needed revenue to SFMTA?

Several years later, when Uber and Lyft hit the streets, the medallions fell by the wayside.

"And I put 40 years into here and now they are throwing us all out, hundreds of us, said Stuart Rosen in October 2018 as he protested in front of City Hall.

Taxi drivers who paid for their medallions had taken out loans. But with business down and a worthless medallion, many stopped paying, damaging their credit.

"It's safe to estimate that about 300 of those medallions sold through the program have been foreclosed on," revealed Marcelo Fonseca, who also owns a medallion.

Recently, during an SFMTA board hearing, taxi drivers suggested that the city bail them out.

MORE: SF cab drivers say pilot program that connects taxis to Uber could harm their industry

"The right thing for the city to do now is to return all or most of the money to the medallion buyers," expressed one medallion owner in front of board members.

New York City taxi drivers suffered the same damaging consequences but since 2022, New York has awarded $350 million in debt relief to those affected.

San Francisco has offered nothing.

Ibrar Ahmed is one of those medallion owners who dished out $250,000. Today, he is still trying to pay off his loan while struggling to meet ends meet.

"They don't think we are human beings. If they spend $1 billion on the homeless, they should give us a break on the medallion price," added Ahmed.

On top of that, some medallion owners will be asked to start paying, again, the yearly medallion fee which was waived during the pandemic. The SFMTA needs to balance its budget and this would be one more source of revenue.

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