Head of SF taxis to retire

Chris Hayashi, head of San Francisco’s taxi industry during arguably its most tumultuous times, told The San Francisco Examiner on Thursday that she would step down from her post June 20.

The tall, hard-to-miss, curly-haired blonde took over as deputy director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Taxis and Accessible Services Division in December 2008, a time when the industry was in dire need of reform.

A lawyer by trade, Hayashi, 51, maneuvered the transition from the now-defunct Taxicab Commission to the cab industry’s regulation under the SFMTA, and she took the lead in implementing a transferable medallion system that taxi drivers desired. She informed colleagues of her imminent retirement for the better part of a year and leaves as The City’s taxis are in a tight race for riders with Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and similar mobile-app-based services.

“I’m ready to hand off this continuing process to somebody else — in a responsible way that’s not going to diminish what I’ve done or slow down the progress,” Hayashi said. “I’m just ready. Really, a large part of the decision is about timing with my years of service to The City and my age.”

“It’s not,” she added, “because Travis has kicked my ass.”

That’s Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of competitor Uber.

Hayashi said she is “extremely proud” of the changes she fronted, which include a taxi enforcement team after the Police Department backed away from the role, and that it seems the industry in the past five years has moved “100 light-years forward.” Then, enter Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and others formally known as transportation network companies.

“Here I am, trying to steer the Titanic and someone hits me over the head with a baseball bat, is pretty much what the TNC issue is like,” Hayashi said. “We were about to clear, and all of a sudden here comes billions of dollars of venture capital for people who are willing to break every law in the book.”

At that stage, she said, she didn’t have the backing of government officials and it was a state agency, the California Public Utilities Commission, that got regulatory oversight of the TNCs.

Hayashi managed a very difficult job well, one that often had dozens of angry cabdrivers screaming at SFMTA meetings, Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said.

“The one thing I would hear from people from all parts of the spectrum of the taxi industry,” he said, “is, ‘I don’t agree with what she did, but she was fair and listened to us and I respect her for that.'”

SFMTA board member Malcolm Heinicke said, “She gave it her best as a public servant and she deserves a lot of credit for that.”

But DeSoto Cab Co. president Hansu Kim, who agreed that Hayashi shepherded the industry through some of its most trying times, said that with Uber, Lyft and the like, he would be surprised if the cab industry survives another 18 months in The City.

“The bottom line is, the taxi industry is in big trouble and it’s not her fault,” he said. “But she’s leaving at a time when it’s critical to have strong leadership.”

Before becoming the head of taxis, Hayashi spent 18 years as a deputy city attorney with the city attorney, and was a leader in the rewriting of The City’s procurement laws. She reached her current position in part through experience on the city attorney’s transportation team.

“She was gifted at listening to all the stakeholders and finding a compromise,” said Deputy City Attorney Mariam Morley, her former colleague.

The SFMTA is continuing with a recruitment process that started six months ago and had hoped for more transition time for Hayashi’s successor, Reiskin said.

“She’ll leave some very big shoes to fill,” he said.

After she leaves the taxi world, Hayashi, who has long loved Afro-Cuban art and music, will tour the East Coast for books she has translated on the culture.

Her retirement party July 7 will double as a cabdriver appreciation celebration, an annual event that ceased to exist along with the Taxicab Commission. She has booked a Brazilian band with a member who drives for DeSoto Cab Co. and a piano player who drives for Royal Taxi.

“I’ve had a line item all these years to do a taxi driver appreciation party but it was either something we haven’t been able to focus staff time on, or considered a waste of time,” Hayashi said, choking back tears. “But before I go, I’m determined to make sure we have the party they deserve.”