Friday, September 23, 2016

It's Official: Eastside-For-Hire Takes Over Sea-Tac Outbound Services October 1st

Having just arrived back mere hours ago from our Idaho & Oregon car-trip, my day driver alerted me to an Evan Bush written Seattle Times article announcing that Eastside and the Port of Seattle finalized their five-year $22.5 million contract last week.  So despite all rumors and hand-wringing, the new agreement is going forward.  Factually put me down as completely surprised that the agreement truly went forward, understanding as I do taxi economic realities.  The article notes that the contract requires that 75 % of vehicle operators are previous Yellow Cab operators, thus ensuring that most will survive though under different colors.

 The Port's message behind these actions are clear and blatantly obvious.  That they cared about the current Yellow independent operators and their families while repudiating the Yellow Taxi-Cab Association rings through its decision making.  Call it muted revenge or being knocked upon the head by the proverbial Velvet hammer.  That this is one big economic headache for Yellow should not be underestimated.  If anyone is considering buying a taxi medallion, the time is now.  Before I left on the 12th I was told of a 2009 Prius and City of Seattle medallion going for $30,000.  Not a bad deal, and I predict they will only get better.

One reason amongst many for this is exemplified by statistics presented in the article, stating that in August of this year 70,115 people utilized Uber and Lyft while taxis carried 72, 479 riders, representing a 16.6 percentage decline in ridership from last August 2015. Depressing but you get what you get.   Over two 1/2 years ago Yellow declined to hire me as the then GM's special assistant.  My taxi buddies know that we would now be looking at a different taxi landscape if that had occurred, our various lawsuits just about now coming to fruition.  Instead of roadkill, we would instead be running down the road like those wonderful pronghorn antelope we saw running up and down the hills of Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southeastern Oregon.  They can maintain a constant speed of 45 MPH, one fast and beautiful animal.

Taxi Sucks in Boise? 

When gassing up in Boise, Idaho I talked to a cabbie (six years on the taxi road) who was grabbing something cold in the 80 plus F. heat.  You know his reply.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Greetings From Bend, Oregon---All I Did Was Answer The Call

Sunny here in Bend.  I am on my way to Idaho and the Sawtooth Mountains where hot springs await.  This morning "she-who-can't-be-named" and I soaked in Cougar Hot Springs near Blue River.  Great water and great pools.  I am away from taxi for 12 days.  For shame!  How could I?

But getting back to said subject, after coming back from a post-Seahawk to downtown Kirkland fare, I innocently accepted a fare on Capital Hill located on Summit Avenue.  What I didn't know but soon found out was that a previous cabbie had driven away, leaving the three passengers waiting for another 45 minutes.  I was wondering why the guy jumped on 478's hood, spreading himself out like a flying bird.  I guessed there had to be some explanation and that was it: they were pissed and now I would have to share their combined anger and disappointment.

Ignoring the tattooed eagle I got out and found they had a pile of stuff to be taken to their storage locker.  Once the trunk was filled to bursting, I was told to take all three of them to the storage facility on 12th Avenue.  "Oh you mean the one on 12th and Madison, I asked"  And after receiving some odd affirmative reply from the chap once residing upon the hood, I set off.

Immediately I stated getting flack because they wanted the one at 12th and East Howell but somehow it was all now a big issue tough both facilities were only separated by about 5 blocks.  Finally I told them that I was about to take them back to Summit and they could start all over again.  It was just too crazy to continue.

That silenced them along enough to get to the storage entrance, all the while telling them I had nothing to do with the previous cab, that I didn't deserve what they were dishing out.  Taking five and five only from the ringleader, there were nothing further said.  All this bullshit was for a 7 block-long ride!  It made no sense but there you have it once again, taxi and humans-not-so kind: not always the best combination.

Can I now go soak my head?   

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Making It Happen---What Taxi Is All About!

Needing to move, really move down the roadway is rare but when it is necessary, the cabbie's only alternative is to hit it, and hit it hard zooming down the byway.  There I am, sitting exhausted and half asleep on the train station when two young men stepped up, asking if I could get them to the Edmonds/Kingston ferry terminal by 2:00 PM.  It was then 1:32 PM and I said,  "I think so," but there could be no hesitation, get in.  In they jumped and off we maneuvered through the congested station and 4th Avenue traffic to the Cherry Street I-5 on-ramp.  As luck would have it the north-bound express lanes remained inexplicably closed. Initial thick traffic quickly dissipated and once past the I-5 ship canal bridge we were flying north free and relatively clear.

A Labor Day holiday scheduling mix-up meant the bus they expected to find taking them to Port Angeles and  then Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, did not arrive at King Street Station but instead would be waiting at the ferry terminal.  They were anxious but I was focused, "performance taxi" fun when called upon, blowing up usual tedium into something close to exciting, making taxi almost enjoyable despite the obvious stress of having no time but "making time" nonetheless.

At 1:54 PM we were there, everyone relieved to see that the ferry was still unloading its previous run. Getting $60.00 was great but secondary, success over an at least 20 mile city/freeway combined stretch the real point of a victorious taxi moment.  For 22 minutes I can say I had fun.  I never, almost ever can say that when driving the cab, good to know I passed taxi's instantaneous test, awarded an "A" on the taxi report card.  And as every cabbie knows, taxi is a stern teacher, no fooling around come exam time.

On Robert's Behalf, Thank You!

Last night I picked up the second week's collection for Robert Stanstell, this time coming up with $183.00, making for a total of $329.00.  I delivered it this morning.  Thanks to everyone who donated, your taxi brother appreciating your kindness and concern.

No One Likes Being Called Names

Yesterday on Pier 69 an enraged cabbie recounted how, when stopped near Pike Place Market finishing up a credit card transaction, an insane road-rager jumped out of his car and called the driver a n _ _ _ _r!   The cabbie couldn't stop expressing his anger and disbelief.  As I keep saying, welcome to taxi as it really is, not as it isn't!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Times And Travails Of A Sole Proprietor Taxi Operator & Taxi Industry Work List 2008

Last week all it would have taken was for someone to lift the caps off 478's battery to discover that two of the six holes were dry, missing the vital acid that filled the remaining receptacles.  Night driver Raymond had called me last Wednesday, complaining of poor starting.  Taking time out of his shift, he first went to the Yellow garage, then to the auto parts store where I have a full replacement warranty on the battery purchased only last February.

Instead of doing a full and thorough check, both my friend Taki (one of the world's great mechanics) and the O'Reilly's store manager said the battery was okay when it wasn't.  Having no problems this past weekend I stupidly decided it wasn't a serious problem until day driver Tom called me yesterday morning saying "he was dead in the water."  Directing him to yet another O'Reilly's, Tom again received the same verdict given to Raymond.

Telling Tom that "enough of all this," I threw on my clothes and drove down to Seattle (from Tacoma), taking 478 back to the garage where Randy ( working on cars since he could barely stand up) figured out what the issue was.  Taking the car back to the White Center O'Reilly's I showed them the problem, and instead of paying yet another $144.00 I got another warranty covered replacement battery.

Tom now reports that 478 is starting better than ever.  And tomorrow, after Tom's shift, I am taking the car back to the garage for front and rear brakes, a new radiator (Randy showed me the leak) and yet another oil change.  How long does it take to put 3000 miles on 478?  Two weeks more or less.  478 is a "real runner" and in appreciation I am attempting to "baby it" as much as I can.  With over 500,000 miles I know I will be replacing it sometime next year.  But for the moment it is our steady steed, truly a good taxi horse.  Can you love a car?  Yes I believe you can.

Taxi Work Sheet Circa 2008

Clearing out a storage room I came across a box containing reams of paperwork and documents from our (Seattle & King County taxi industry) legal disagreement with King County.  In that box I discovered a work sheet I had composed (when president of the "Alliance of Taxi Associations")  for goals spanning the years 2008-2010, outlining what I thought was and could be achievable.  What it tells me is that at least one cabbie eight years ago was attempting to be constructive.

For your interest, I present this walk down taxi memory lane, keeping my comments brief because as soon as I finish this week's blog posting I blast off to yet a another past-due project.  One humorous note was my conversation during the most recent TAG meeting with Eddie Cantu, the current KC Licensing Director.  When I said that the Green Cab licensing situation remained unresolved, he said that wasn't the case at all, given that Green Cab had successfully completed the "pilot program" and were issued permanent KC licenses.  How that occurred is a mystery, given that no "taxi driver employees" were ever hired per the KC agreement.  Oh well!  Last week I found out that the permanent Green Cab county licenses were issued in part of backroom "wheeling and dealing" during that Uber negotiation almost three years ago.  As usual, I don't know whether to laugh or cry, or making a bad rhyme, sigh?

Work Sheet

Of Immediate Concern

---Green Cab & King County

---Mayor's New Taxi Initiatives

---Viability of  the "Alliance of Taxi Associations"

---Schism between owner and driver groups

---L&I and other benefit issues

Longer Term Concerns

---Change license leasing model (City & KC) into actual property ownership (medallion model)

---Develop permanent lines of communication with the City of Seattle and KC

---Incorporate new driver training and preparation as functional and operational model

---All taxis City & County plates

---Recognition of taxis as transit (allowing HOV lane use, etc)

---Expansion of 24 hour taxi zones (City & County-wide)

---Maintenance of cars and equipment (MDTs, radios,etc)

---Development of mediation procedures between drivers and owners and company ( association) management

There you have it.  Yes, medallions are now real property but in exchange we now have 14,000 Uber cars.  This is a good trade off?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Waning Full Moon Tales & GoFundMe Info For Terminally Ill Cabbie

I will always refer to that troublesome and mischievous moon when the unexpected occurs, shifting not only the tides but also the water composed blood surging through our veins and arteries.  Yes, upon our internal physical seashores the moon's waves erode our fragile sanity, providing what I see and experience: a road-rage demented driver who actually stops and gets out on the Ballard Bridge and approaches my cab; to the woman who said she lives at 18th South and Yesler Way, and upon our arrival says she doesn't know where she is.  Though living at 221 18th South for a full year, it seems not taking her usual route (Boren to Yesler, take a left turn) disoriented her though how I cannot tell you.  "Why didn't you just give me your address?" I asked.  She didn't have an answer.

On top of all the crazy drivers and aggressive passengers the full moon truly howled when I was approached outside the ReBar by a young woman who was in a five-hour search for her parked car.  Having attended the Weekend Hemp Fest, she somehow forgot where she parked and had been walking in circles for hours. Listening intently to to her descriptions, off we went in search of the elusive parking lot.  That it was already One in the Monday morning meant I was exhausted, making the assignment all the more difficult as we circled the greater area near the Seattle Center, having told me she had "seen the Space Needle." from the lot.

45 minutes later I was done in physically, drained from checking out every damn parking lot in a about a 1 1/2 mile circumference. But would you believe it because I still can't, driving south on Elliott near Bell she suddenly shouts "That's it!" and it certainly was, amazingly locating her 1984 white Honda.  Getting $40.00 for the ordeal was great but achieving "Victory!" in the face of guaranteed defeat was amazing, making me happy for a few sleepy minutes, meaning she would make actually it home to Bremerton in time for her morning shift.  Thank you, full moon, I think!

Money Donations Needed for Dying Cabbie

A friend of a terminally ill Seattle Yellow taxi driver located me through my blog, telling me Robert Stansell (YC 867) is dying from irreversible colon cancer.  He can no longer work and is facing eviction from his Queen Anne apartment.  Any and all monetary donations are appreciated.  There is, as far as I know, a collection jar now sitting at the Yellow cashier's window.  A more direct way to help is his "gofundme" account.  Great thanks to Jenny to notifying me of Rob's dire situation.

California Uber Driver Settlement Tossed

Last week a judge tossed out the settlement negotiated between California Uber drivers and Uber, saying it was too small, representing less than .01 of Uber's net worth.  Stay tuned.  And I must add the warning to please avoid all lawyers who do not understand the independent operator experience.  The hotshot lawyer the drivers had hired clearly "sold them down the river!"  I had sent her a email months ago.  No response was what I got. Too typical, the Bhramin not touching the dalit, this bad story never ending.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Surreal (And That Is Putting It Mildly)

The definition of maelstrom is twofold at least, one being a violent or turbulent situation; or if upon the water, a whirlpool of the kind Jules Verne describes at the end of his novel, "Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers" (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).  That taxi driving meets that first definition was exemplified Saturday night by a drunk mother and daughter team going home to West Seattle's Admiral District from a White Center tavern.  The mother, in her mid-70's, was totally saturated while the dutiful daughter shifted from coherency to occasional mild incoherency.  Initially the daughter was able to keep Mom under control but toward the rides' end Mom was actively tugging upon my right shoulder while repeating I was a member of ISIS.

How all this got started I can't tell you other than I appeared to not have taken their expected route (longer and more expensive) than the one chosen, taking them directly to their destination, 3303 California SW, turning right off SW Hanford onto California.  Making this all the more surreal was simultaneously having dispatch (the Las Vegas Call Center) repeatedly calling me and asking about a very generic no-show occurring three or more hours previously.

Here is the chaotic scenario, the crazed mother assaulting me while screaming I am an Islamic terrorist  and dispatch haranguing me with "what are you talking about?"  I never did quite understand what dispatch was doing other than perhaps conducting some kind of daily no-show audit that is now somehow required.  I am only guessing because taxi no-shows are as common as rain in Seattle so why dispatch would be sorting through hundreds of daily no-shows is beyond me.  That they were checking up on me in the first place is insulting.  Why was any of this necessary?  Yes, I know some of our drivers are awful but making a blanket sweep just builds resentment, no one wanting or needing to be treated like some kind of "taxi child."  As an effective approach to a real problem it just isn't.

After getting the the drunk pair safely out of the cab I called dispatch back, trying to make sense of what they were requesting.  They had even sent me a message asking whether ______ ______ had been picked up.  Who? What? And all this happening in the middle of my personal maelstrom. Call it oddly hilarious.  Call it completely nuts.  But also always call it taxi as I know it, insanity rolling upon four hopefully inflated tires. Ain't it all fun?  Not really!

Quick Taxi News:

---Last week the US Chamber of Commerce's anti-union lawsuit against the City of Seattle was tossed out, the judge saying they had no standing and can not show how they have been harmed.

---Yellow Cab has reduced its monthly medallion lease rate to $425.00, that from an initial one thousand per month.  Good for people like me but indicative of something bad afflicting Yellow.

----NPR local radio station KUOW reported last week of more Sea-Tac cabbie grumbling at a Port Commission meeting, operators voicing further unhappiness with the Eastside-for-Hire outbound service award. Clearly the Port never considered that they are asking current Yellow operators to enter a system that does not have a clearly established "taxi" dispatch, meaning their money-making options are further diminished. I believe the Sea-Tac cabbies are being requested to pay up to $10,000 dollars each to just stay where they are while accepting a less-than-positive business environment, including competing directly with Uber at the airport.  Eastside has reportedly told the cabbies that they can take Uber calls to make up for the missing dispatch. Isn't that  funny?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Finally, A Major Seattle Media Outlet Writes About The Sea-Tac Outbound Service Award

It was long in coming but last Wednesday, August 3rd, the local weekly newspaper, The Seattle Weekly, featured an article written by Sara Bernard entitled "A New Airport Contract Puts Taxi Drivers in a Tough Spot."  Overall it is good but it appears working from both old and erroneous information.  The old (and it might be the correct) reporting works from the premise that Eastside-for-Hire's winning of the Sea-Tac service contract is confirmed but as I reported last week, that might not be true.  As the saying goes, silence from the Port "is deafening;" and quoting from Bob Dylan, "No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden." And for me, that is the best part of Bernard's piece, splicing out a Port of Seattle regal in its pretentions, in its royal decrees.

Evidence for this is the article's comparison of outbound fees between Sea-Tac and three other airports: Phoenix, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.  Currently Yellow Sea-Tac taxi drivers are paying $5.70 per outbound trip.  Based on Eastside-for Hire's 22.5 million dollar winning bid, in the beginning each outbound trip will cost $7.00, ending with $9.00 per trip regardless of fare length, meaning a ride to Olympia costing the same as driving across the street to the Double Tree.

The three cities mentioned have outbound rates that are considerably less.  Phoenix charges $1.00. Philadelphia charges $1.50.  Washington DC, our center for all things democratic, charges $2.55 per outbound fare.  One must ask why there is such a huge difference between Sea-Tac and the other airport's outbound rates? And when Sea-Tac's rates are compared to Seattle Yellow Taxi's weekly $180.00 dispatch fee, one might again ask just how and why is Sea-Tac getting away with charging so much money?  Given that, I decided to use my own experience as a best case example.

My following example is based upon me driving a seven-day work week while averaging 20 fares per shift, something I have been doing for years, even in these down times, equaling in 140 fares total.  Divide 140 into my weekly $180.00 fee and you come up with a individual fare cost of about $1.30.  Now if I add just 10 fares per my night driver's shift over a five-day period and the total comes down to about 95 cents per trip. And since I know I make a lot more than the average Sea-Tac-based cabbie, why are they paying so much for a lesser return?  Another question is why don"t they understand this discrepancy?  Does any of this make any sense?  From my point-of-view, clearly it does not follow any reasonable logic.

Maybe all of this is because both the cabbies and the Port of Seattle share a mythology, a misconception that Sea-Tac represents the "pot-of-gold" at the end of the taxi rainbow.  That it doesn't, and never has, should have been acknowledged fact a long time ago but it seems it is to Sea-Tac's economic benefit to perpetuate a self-serving myth.  And perhaps it can also be said that Sea-Tac is literally banking on the hope that the cabbies will never figure out the true financial story.

Yes, one cabbie might, meaning me in all my exhausted glory, understand the real story and its distorted monetary figures but one individual will never stop an advancing tide, taking all of us to tell the Port of Seattle that their game is up, wanting a fairer rate for outbound fares or simply we will boycott Sea-Tac until you do. I know this approach might work because I believe they know what I know: taxis are the best transportation alternative for their airport customers.  It was true before Uber and it remains true.  Taxi remains "king," or if you prefer, "queen" of the passenger  transporting services.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that there was some misinformation in the article; and that being the quote of how much one cabbie was making, stating he is subsisting on $11.00 per hour.  It reminds me of another quote a few years back when the reporter actually believed a cabbie when he said he was making only $8000. a year, the writer not understanding the cabbie was speaking to the IRS and no one else.  This is what happens when well meaning and innocent reporters jump unknowingly into the taxi whirlpool, their reporting becoming a trifle dizzy.  Not a criticism as much as fact.  How can you know when you don't?   But the truth is, I know, and look at me, I am standing upon my head spinning in place!  Wonderful!