Photo: Natalia Pourazar

SAN FRANCISCO-  The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is facing controversy over a new airport regulation that will block access to San Francisco International Airport for hundreds of drivers.  

The new policy, which goes into effect Friday morning, is leading many taxi drivers into conflict not only with their biggest competitors like Uber and Lyft, but among each other, and those impacted by the new policy are expected to protest Friday morning at San Francisco City Hall.  

Medallions, which are small license plate permits that allow taxi drivers to pick up passengers at the airport, will exist in a hierarchical system with the implementation of SFMTA’s new policy. Priority at SFO will be given to drivers who have what are known as purchased or “P” medallions, of which SFMTA has sold about 700 since 2010 at $250,000 apiece.

These drivers  are facing fewer consequences than those with “K” medallions, which are earned by seniority on a waiting list and often take up to 15 years to obtain. Meanwhile, older licensees with “legacy” medallions are being restricted entirely from SFO.

“They are saying that the ‘P’ purchased medallion [drivers] will go in one separate lot and the ‘K’ earned medallion [drivers] will go in another,” said Muhammad Bathai, who has driven an earned medallion taxi for over 31 years. “Three of the ‘P’ medallion taxi drivers will [be allowed to] go down [to] the lot [to pick up the passengers] and then one ‘K’ medallion taxi driver will go down.”

“It is three to one,” he said. “Which is not fair for any cab driver to sit here for many hours [just] because they did not purchase the medallion.”

Meanwhile, despite that taxi drivers are required to have a medallion to pick up or drop off passengers at SFO, rideshare app services like Uber and Lyft are exempt.

Ismael Coronado, an Uber driver for the past two years, talked about how easy it is to pick up and drop off customers at the airport.
“Uber has their own section where you can drop off and pick up ride-shared apps,” he said. “The only restriction is that I can’t take too long when I drop people off or when I am picking them up.”