SFMTA Didn’t Rip Off Taxi Medallion Lender


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has not reneged on its deal with a credit union to give loans to taxi drivers so they can buy medallions, the pieces of tin that make it possible to drive a taxi, a San Francisco Superior Court jury ruled on Monday afternoon.

12-member jury verdict after less than a full day of deliberation dismisses a multi-year quest by the credit union to seek millions of dollars in compensation for locket loans that lost value once Uber and Lyft have decimated the taxi industry. Dozens of lockets were seized, but no one wanted to buy one at the purchase price of $ 250,000. The last medallion sold dates from April 2016.

The credit union granted loans to more than 700 taxi drivers for $ 250,000 medallions as of 2010. But soon after, Uber and Lyft upstarts caused the market for taxis and drivers to collapse. struggled to make their payments, with scores in default.

The credit union sued the SFMTA in March 2018, alleging that the agency had promised to buy back the medallions if the program collapsed and blaming it for letting Uber and Lyft kill the taxi market. (Rideshare companies are regulated by the state, not by individual cities.) The case originally called for $ 28 million in damages plus $ 125 million to redeem all the loans.

The three-week trial was chaired by Judge Harold Kahn.

The jury ruled that both parties had honored the contract. He rejected the credit union’s claims that the SFMTA was forced to reduce the price of the locket loans, that the SFMTA did not make enough efforts to resell the seized lockets, and that the SFMTA should have officially declared the end of the medallion sales program.

“This case was still about a bank bailout, outright,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “The City and the fund have a contract. The City did not break this contract, so taxpayers should not have been forced to bail out this bank. “

The credit union did not immediately return requests for comment.

The city’s taxi drivers, who followed the case eagerly, were disappointed with the verdict. Both sides – and the judge – made it clear that whichever side prevailed, taxi drivers would not receive any compensation. Still, many drivers hoped that a credit union victory could result in the SFMTA buying out their medallions and prompting a lawyer to represent them in an emergency in a class action lawsuit against the agency.

Drivers hoped for validation of their long-standing grievances with the city, which began selling the medallions for a quarter of a million dollars each in 2010 after decades in which coveted permits were available for free, but only after drivers have spent years waiting. listing.

“The loss of the credit union is our loss,” said Marcelo Fonseca, a longtime taxi driver. During the trial, he said, “a box of 285 seized medallions was presented to the jury; 285 ruined lives … a mass grave of taxi drivers.

He fears that there are no more foreclosures to come.

The drivers, who are largely working-class immigrants, enthusiastically bought medallions, seeing them as a ticket to owning their own small business and fulfilling the American dream. Now, many believe the city and the SFMTA made millions on their $ 250,000 loans, then compounded the injustice by allowing Uber and Lyft to thrive without regulation.

Many drivers say they desperately want relief from the overwhelming burden of their medallion loans. Before the pandemic, some drivers even worked for Uber in their spare time because driving a cab did not make enough money to pay the payments.

Carolyn Said is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @csaid

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