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 believe it, 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!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Surviving Only 2 Months San Francisco Taxi & What Is Happening With The Sea-Tac Out-Bound Bid?

Saturday morning a passenger told me he was twice robbed at gunpoint while navigating a two-month long taxi stint in San Francisco sometime in 1971.  Both times he was surprised, not understanding he was being set up by willingly taking passengers to "unsafe" addresses.  Having lived in San Francisco 1979-82, it was clear even then there were parts of the city you just didn't enter unless protected by armed escorts. Asking if anyone warned him about taxi's inherent dangers, he said the cabbie initially training him barely said two words, making no attempt tutoring the raw rookie.  The guy is just lucky he wasn't murdered because it was an era when too many cabbies were killed and left bleeding upon the side of the road. At one point, on the opposite side of the country, NYC was averaging 50 cabbie murder deaths a year.

What this guy's story spotlights is one of the taxi industry's few consistencies: collectively a lack of concern for its drivers and ultimate consequences for everyone concerned.  A taxi buddy on Monday told me one Yellow cab's insurance rates had doubled due to a combined four at-fault accidents in one twelve-month period.  The cab is now sitting uninsured, with the single owner losing his financial butt.  This is what happens when the inexperienced, minus all support, get in beneath the top-light.  My night driver first started in 1973, once owning a cab in Los Angeles. He knows the taxi ropes, being the kind of driver we need out here 24/7.

One question might be, how are taxi robberies and taxi accidents related; what are their associated factors pointing to a shared source?  Simply, when rookie drivers are not prepared, with no one---not companies, associations or government regulators preparing them in any meaningful way for the insane experience that is taxi--bad things happen.  It is obvious then, clearly preordained, that when an occupation as unusual as taxi is treated as something mundane and commonplace, you get nationally what we have seen over the years: poor suckers who have no real clue about what they are getting themselves involved in. And I am talking about everyone, including my lifelong friend Marty, a University of Chicago graduate who was robbed by a gun wielding thug when driving a cab back in 1968.   He is smart but clearly at that particular moment the assailant was wiser.

And what, you may ask, keeps a driver safe while plying taxi's mean streets in Chicago, Seattle and elsewhere?  Well, being a human wolverine assists, which helps explain why potential criminals are uniformly scared of me, politely paying their fare and getting out, understanding making a mistake with me could be their very last bad decision, me and other professional cabbies having no time whatsoever for games and nonsense.  They even say thank you upon exiting the cab, perhaps thankful for getting out alive, cultured civility wonderful, making for an orderly and peaceful society.

How could any potential ruffian disagree, knowing full well when they are being measured for a casket. Crooks may be dumb but they not that dumb, desiring, like all of us, the easy over the impossible.  Every cabbies' personal credo then should be the same: my poison more lethal that yours, his/her determination the fatal hemlock, ancient Socrates, on some level, once knowing all about it.  

Rumor and Otherwise Concerning Sea-Tac Service Award

At this point, I am finding it very difficult to sort out the various facts, fictions and rumors currently circulating over the taxi airwaves concerning Sea-Tac's outbound service award but if, as the old saying goes, where there is smoke there's fire, Eastside's hope of ultimately taking over for Yellow could be engulfed in flames. One source pulled me aside on the Victoria Clipper line Sunday, describing in detail what he knew.

One major development is that two Port Commissioners have balked at signing the new contract, possibly meaning the entire issue will remain deferred to at least March 2017, with Yellow continuing on as the month-to-month de-facto service provider.  A major problem it seems, as I reported last week, is that Eastside bid too high, that generous bid having ripple effects across the Sea-Tac landscape.  While much of this was confirmed by another source, all that I have just written should be treated as mere speculation until confirmed by official announcements.  If all is true, it seems Teamsters 117 also made some valuable contributions to the taxi-operator side of the argument.  As normal, stay tuned, and if breaking news develops, I will try to be your reliable source for all Sea-Tac related information.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Questionable Parking Ticketing Upon Upper And Lower Queen Anne Hill

My night driver has been harassed by a traffic division officer assigned to lower Queen Anne, singling him out for special abuse, all of this accumulating in him being ticketed in a three-minute zone when he was there for less than three minutes.  When he told her that he had the right to be there, her response was "Not you!"  Raymond, initially "madder-than-a-hatter" said he was going to court and contest the ticket. I advised him that he also needed to file an official internal investigation report, making sure the compliant goes into her personnel file but now that his initial fire has "burned itself out," it appears he is just going to pay the ticket.

This morning I asked him "What if she does this again?" which prompted a "if she dared to do  that" but of course she will, which is why I told him you need to follow through, ensuring she gets the message that she can't target cabbies. Part of the new ticketing appeal procedure is optionally writing a general letter to the SPD, which, while a nice band aid for a gaping wound, does nothing to stem the bleeding.  As I know personally, the only effective response is to follow through over all official channels, and especially now, since positive results usually occur, police now on notice nationally that obstructive behaviors are no longer tolerated. .

Recently, when SPD again closed off King Street Amtrak Station access, I drove right up to the two officers, telling them that I knew we (Yellow Cab) were allowed free access to pick up our passengers.  All they did was shake their heads but after I found another way in, I saw they had reversed themselves, removing the barriers and putting the "King Street Station Access Only" sign into place, suddenly remembering what they knew already, doing what they were supposed to do. This is what happens when you complain like I did two years ago when issued a bogus ticket: you get results, with the police now realizing someone is watching, or could be.

Maybe the cops in the most recent incident understood they might have been talking to the very same cabbie who caused the traffic division  to permanently change their policy.  Who else would boldly confront them like I did?  Not many, I can probably guess, the police making a point intimidating the public, "standing down" remaining an effective method for gaining complaisant cooperation.

It works but not with me, at least to a point it doesn't, not looking nor never seeking confrontation with anyone, especially the police.  I do respect they have a job to do but knowing  it must be done honestly and fairly, minus intimidation and provocation.  Cooperation and mutual respect is the key.  That is what works best, something we all must encourage.  Bullying should  never be considered a positive option, whether you are the police or a current presidential candidate.I stop listening when someone begins shouting, tone and approach all important.  Do I have to say the obvious, that life is not a "comic book?."  I guess I do because it seems too people many are becoming "fictional," composing a reality existent only in their minds.  Time to turn the page, making sure Donald Duck or Batman haven't become your personal adviser. I like them too but Seattle isn't Gotham City, it just isn't, despite wishful thinking and overactive imaginations, the city destined to remain mundane, never to be an illustrated comic strip in the featured Sunday funnies, Robin never having to come to his master's aid. . 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Seattle Taxi News Report: Totally New Medallion Lottery Draw & More Sea-Tac Award Details & New Licensing Office

This past Wednesday I attended the Summer 2016 TAG (Taxi Advisory Group) meeting and glad I did because for once it was both informative and helpful.  And for once I wasn't the only Yellow connection in attendance, my WAT (wheelchair taxi) friend Dawit and Sadik M.from the Supt's office also shared the table.  Many things are happening concurrently, including the ability to form a collective-bargaining Union.  I attended (along with Dawit) the City's last information session and there is a definitive timetable. More on that later.

One important development is the legal action taken by the United States Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Uber questioning Seattle's ability to proceed ahead with its plans, a court hearing that also occurred this week.  You might notice that not once have the US Chamber of Commerce intervened on our behalf. According to them, we don't exist, and if they have their way, we won't.

Also, it is amusing to report that ex-US Attorney General Eric Holder went to work for Uber, currently at odds with the City of Chicago.  Watch out for those Liberals.  You know how much they love you!  Head on over to City Hall and get a big hug!

New License Lottery

Whether it makes any sense to add yet more taxis to an already struggling business environment, the City of Seattle will be operating yet another lottery with a completely new drawing of numbers, meaning that if you had a high number last time, you will have another real and viable opportunity to get one of, I believe, 110 new medallions that will be released in either late 2016 or early 2017.  Rules have changed and when I have the time, I will look them up and tell you all about them.

New Sea-Tac Out-Bound Award Contract

As usual, meaning as usual with anything pertaining to the taxi industry, confusion and contrary reports reign supreme.  Reports are rampant that Eastside-for-Hire is having difficulty signing up the required 200 or more cab operators due to higher than expected costs.  The City of Seattle reports that there will be a $7.00 charge per out-bound Sea-Tac trip per taxi.  My colleague who wrote the Eastside bid says it is not true.  He says the final per trip price is a function of how many trips are provided over an annual year.  Got that?

Eastside guaranteed $4 million per year per 800,000 trips. The trip total expected now is up to 920,000. There is a future projection of $6 million for one million trips completed.  How all of this is affected by "short-hauls" I have no idea.  Stay tuned because if the current Yellow operators decide this isn't a good deal, I think there is a remote possibility that the Port of Seattle will have to revisit their decision.

 What has never made sense to me is why the Port of Seattle thinks Eastside will, or can be better managers than Yellow.  Yes, as I said previously, Yellow messed up but does it warrant such a dramatic change in the players.  If everything proceeds as expected, all the Sea-Tac Yellow cabs will be re-branded as "E-Cabs" with their black and grey coloring.  I know the color scheme because the past two months the one solitary "E-Cab" in current existence has been visiting the train station in repeated attempts to steal fares.  Does anything truly change in Taxi-Land?  No!

Forget About South Dearborn Street

All of the functions, other than meter testing, has been transferred up to the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Avenue, on the entire 42nd floor.  No, your cab will not fit into the elevator.  You will have to find a parking space and take the elevators. Good luck not getting lost!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Seattle Police, Ron Sims & Me

About a week ago local Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote, that in a conversation with former King County Executive and Federal Assistant Secretary of Commence (in the Obama Administration) Ron Sims, Sims revealed he had been stopped 8 times by Seattle Police officers in what he termed as racially motivated incidents.  Each time he was not ticketed.  Once he was asked where he was going. Another time he was laughed at.  Let it be clear that Sims looks exactly like what and who he is: an upper-middle class government professional.  The only problem is is that he is black.  That alone separates him from the current Seattle Mayor and the current King County Executive.

In a later Seattle Times edition, Sims wrote his own opinion piece; and just this afternoon on local NPR radio KUOW, there was discussion about what had happened to him..  Amazingly, since Westneat first wrote about the Siims traffic stops, he has received a flurry of response from white readers saying this all must be some kind of mistake, that there must have of been some kind of "just cause" etc, many readers clearly not wanting to understand  the every day reality the average black man faces in today's  21st Century America.

As I have said, denial is a very popular cultural response but if you are the one being profiled, it is no joke. In 2013, the NY Times reported that in the year 2012 the NYPD made over 400,000 "stop and frisk" stops of innocent  young black and Latino men.  Why were they stopped and searched?  Because of the color of their skin, nothing else.

Another important factor is that the person initiating this policy was none other than that great Republican Liberal, the now former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  I should also note that Seattle,over the past 30 years, have had mayors that can be described as both "liberal" and "progressive."  Ideology then not altering what appears to be true in New York City, Seattle and elsewhere: racial profiling being an everyday and ongoing practice.

If you remember the incident concerning the arrest and subsequent death in April 2015 in Baltimore of Freddie Gray, you will recall there was no basis for his arrest, Gray only becoming nervous when looked at by police officers, which was the sole justification for him to be handcuffed and tossed in a police van. Clearly Mr. Gray had reason to be nervous because he died while being transported.  To this moment, none of the officers involved have been found guilty, acquitted on all charges.  Does this mean that Gray himself is solely responsible for his own death?  So far, that is what the Baltimore courts are saying. One might glibly comment that being poor in itself is suicidal in today's America, poverty Gray's only crime.

As someone who works in an industry dominated by people of color; and also as someone who continues to be profiled due to not getting a haircut, I can attest to the bad treatment Sims and others have received.  This past week, that very conservative black politician from South Carolina, Senator Tim Scott, told about his 7 racially motivated traffic stops by the police.  If people like Scott and Sims are subjected to police harassment, what do you think happens to alienated black and Latino teenagers?  And what about taxi drivers?  What happens to us?

My personal connection with Ron Sims stems from the lawsuit I led against King County over the award of fifty so-called "green" county licenses. I won't elaborate upon that fiasco but it was clear then, and remains true, that all King County was interested in was maintaining their governmental authority.  The sad part of these eight Rom Sims traffic stops is that, if the worse had happened, Seattle could and would have maintained that their officers were operating within their own governmental mandated authority, again taking a familiar position that was used against us.  In other words, when you have the authority, and the bureaucratic dollars to back you, you can essentially do anything you want, even if that means killing someone in a traffic stop. While Sims rightfully felt insulted, at least  he wasn't shot. He should be thankful. Other obviously have not been so lucky.

Since my first days driving taxi in autumn 1987 I have been reminded at least 40 times, if not more, that local police regard me as some kind of criminal simply by operating a cab.  It is not dissimilar to being black or brown because, to them my color is yellow, something inciting suspicion.  Over the years in the blog I have listed many of the traffic stops I have experienced, including telling about the two letters of apology I have received from the King County Sheriff and Seattle Police departments, along with one from an out-going Seattle Chief-of-Police I haven't opened, remaining furious that an officer perjured himself in writing, saying I had confessed to my "transgression" on the spot.

Though obviously Caucasian I have been put through the taxi-wringer, and like Sims and Senator Scott, I remain unhappy. Like them I don't like being targeted or profiled.  I find it unfair and unjust.  And ultimately, what can I personally do about it?.  Very little is the true answer.

Certainly I can complain, and sometimes the system works but still, that doesn't mean there won't be a next time.  Last night, after yesterday's baseball game,  I was shouted at by a female cop to "Move on!" when two passengers were just opening the door.  But a kind of instant justice was granted when, turning the corner onto north-bound 1st Avenue South, two guys jumped in going to a Southcenter Hotel, getting $50.00 including ten for the tip. Thank you, Ms. Officer, ( I think?!) I needed that fifty!