Monday, April 14, 2014

An Invaluable Interlude

It appears that the Uber, Lyft and Sidecar sponsored  City of Seattle voter referendum effort will successfully temporarily block the implementation of Seattle City Council's bill regulating their operations plus adding other unwanted, egregious elements to Seattle's transportation business sector.  Two possible events could forestall the referendum but come this Thursday I am confident we will all be looking forward to the August vote. 

Mayor Murray last week expressed hope that negotiation with Uber would generate a compromise.  The City of Seattle is also exploring whether the referendum process can legally address what might be solely an administrative decision.  I am personally looking forward to an over 4 1/2 month window allowing all of us in the local taxi industry to further address obvious problems inherent with the current bill.  I am hoping finally a real dialogue with the City will ensue, allowing much needed input.  It is about time major taxi industry stakeholders are invited to the discussion.  One way or the other, sooner or later, our voice will be heard.  The current bill is a bureaucratic moth-eaten cloth, certainly not protecting us from the operational cold.  It will not suffice.

The question of genuine of TNC caps persists.  Currently, new, unlimited TNC companies composed of 150 cars each are allowed.  While much is focused upon the current 450 combined driver or car limit, it is only a mirage.  A mere $50,000 dollar filing fee gets you started.  Both Uber and Lyft have contributed $400,000 dollars each toward the referendum effort.   Doing the simple math, their combined $800,000 can be divided into 16 separate filing fees times 150 cars equaling a total of 1800 new cars on top of the 450 now allowed.  If anyone thinks this kind of scenario is pure fantasy you should reconsider.  The TNCs are backed by at least two billionaires.  They can and will do anything they want unless restrictions are imposed.  That is reality and nothing disputes that.  Uber and company are playing "hardball."  It is no joke.

A glaring example of that attitude was displayed in its full guttural glory when two hundred current and former Uber drivers held a news conference and rally yesterday sponsored in part by Teamsters Local 117.  Unwarranted dismissal and intimidation was the order of the day.  The message delivered by the drivers was clear.  If you are not totally obedient and compliant, Uber will kick your ass.  Why it even makes our current taxi association system look good or least putting it into some better perspective.  Who ever thought that could happen?

Regardless of the past year's City Council hearings and everything else, I see the overall conversation just beginning.  Too many questions have been left unanswered.  From how I see it, on a scale of ten, we have reached more or less number three toward a final resolution.  We might be years away. 

What I must reiterate remains true. Whatever time we have between now and August must be used wisely.  If we are to have a fair and final solution, these next four months will prove to be foundational.  There is much work to be done.  The lazy and indifferent will be left far behind and sidelined.  Excuses and self-justification will be just that, pointless utterances registered to the thin air.  Yelling achieves nothing.  It is time for all us to become instant lobbyists working effectively for our cause.  That is our option and no other.  Otherwise we will be out maneuvered.  Our opponents are relying upon our past history.  We must prove them wrong!

Friday, April 11, 2014

It's 8:00 PM And All Quiet Upon A Tuesday April 8th Evening

Sometimes I will drive an extra day if I think it will be "easy money" like the Seattle American League baseball Mariner's home opener.  45,000 plus fans creates a nice foundation to work from, making money all that easier.

Initially it was like old times, fares waiting everywhere, dispatch advertising multiple big trips waiting all over the city.  My first trip took me to the airport, then soon thereafter a flag on 4th South again taking me back in that direction.  Boom! and I had $54.00 dollars.  The flurry continued up to the 7:10 PM game start time, and then, silence, all the air gone from the business balloon.  It remained quiet until about 10:20 PM, and upon the Mariner's 5 to 3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels, 45, 000 fans rushed into the night looking for rides.  My second ride out of all that confusion took me to the Eastgate Park & Ride.  After that, the celebration was over and back to sitting and staring up at the sky.  By midnight I was gassing up the cab, eight hours of pain enough for me, perhaps four falling into the "productive" category.  Sure, given my 25 plus years of taxi knowledge I could have eked out a few more dollars but why do that when sleep better translating into a far more beneficial activity.

What I am describing is what currently passes as a "good" night Monday through Thursday.  The reality is that everyone out here is barely making their $75.00 lease plus $40-60.00 in gas during a full 12-hour shift.  Fridays and Saturdays are better but try to support a family on two day's earnings.  It isn't easy.  It is not possible.

And it is in this environment that the City Council wants to add a minimum of 800 new permanent cars.  As if no one has noticed, Seattle is not close to being a 24-hour city similar to New York or Chicago.  Any thought that Seattle's present passenger base can support up to 3000 thousand cars operating 24 hours a day is living in a self-imposed fantasy.  Not only is the current plan unrealistic, it is simply immoral. 

The question I ask is simple.  Does anyone in City and County government understand what kind of situation they are creating by unwisely adding more cars than the market can sustain?  Stay posted for the answer.  Unless, like me, you clearly think you already know.  I wish it wasn't this obvious!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Nonsensical: Lewis Carroll & Jonathan Swift & Ogden Nash Would Be Proud

I know I am taking literary licence, suggesting Carroll and Swift and Nash would, if alive, give faint notice to what Seattle's taxi industry is facing.  I mention the English Carroll (1832-1898), given his madcap poetry and Alice stories where politics of the day were turned about their absurd head. The Anglo-Irish Swift (1667-1745) took societal satire to new heights that to this day remain unsurpassed.  The American poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971) enjoyed cheerfully poking fun at life's idiocy, wanting everyone to understand that normal people live insane lives.  What I do believe is that all three would understand just how distorted the current crisis is, nothing making sense while entities like the City of Seattle and Uber shout it is all perfectly clear. 

This also reminds me of American poet John Ashbery's poem of about 1976, inspired by the Francesco Parmigianino painting, "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" which suggests to me anyone thinking a bent and broken reality is cohesive and whole need another set of eyeglasses if not new eyes altogether.  This quote from the tail end of this rather long poem says much about the situation:

"There is no other way, and those assholes
Who would confuse everything with their mirror games
Which seem to multiply stakes and possibilities, or
At least confuse issues by means of an investing
Aura that would corrode the architecture
Of the whole in a haze of suppressed mockery
Are beside the point."

One response might be is that Seattle's City Council doesn't realize how poetic they are, but of course I am joking, humor perhaps the best response to blind insults.

Roughly inspired by Carroll, I will add,

"Kings and Queens sat in judgement, not for a moment asking why,
telling everyone without telling anyone why the taxis must die,

dryly commenting it is all for the public good
progress leaping forward embracing a new day

the executor's face hidden behind a black and opaque hood,
a sharp ax slicing off the head minus any final say!"

I also thought of having two frazzled professors entering the council chambers
shouting "Demand, Demand, Demand!" but that's too obvious, isn't it?

Taking hints from Swift,

"In the Land of Winter and Thaw,

  No one cared nor heeded, no, not at all

 When big Shoes trod upon compliant meek,

 Ignoring their death knells, final pathetic, despondent squeaks

 Knowing that what is good is always best

 Not understanding that one day even they too will be called upon

 To confess!"

Or, "In the Land of the Big and Tall, the Mighty decide what is Real and what is Law!

Anyone familiar with Ogden Nash knows he has a lighter and kinder hand.  And in that light,

                                        We all gathered in a room
                                        worried and wrapped in gloom
                                        listening to Operational Society
                                        debate our fate in tones not nice
                                        ignoring our pleas and lament
                                        corralling our argument inside a fence,

                                        knowing we are unhappy,
                                        feeling run over, feeling crappy
                                        telling us our death is the best of health
                                        hidden somewhere within our future wealth
                                        so don't complain, don't cry
                                        as everyone lives, you also die!

Did You Know?

That of the 200 more or less Flat-rate for hire licenses only 57 are held by individuals.  What about the rest?  Ha Ha Ha!  More upon this subject later but the implications are many.

That Uber is funding a referendum asking Seattle voters to condone illegal activity.  I have decided my next cause will be to do the same for Seattle's shoplifters.  Think of how happy Macy's will be when after the vote anyone can enter their stores and steal to their heart's content.

Much more of course later!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pointing The Finger Correctly

Debate rages throughout Seattle's taxi industry and nationwide on who is to blame for our current woes.  Most opinion centers on Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, saying these folks have no right infringing upon a regulated sector of the business community.  While that cannot be denied, locally I have found our real problem resides with our local administrators and regulators.  Even when criticism is directed at our local taxi associations it is misplaced because the City of Seattle and King County have long held the legal responsibility to oversee industry efficiency.  

When looking for the source of all our troubles, I suggest looking no further than Seattle's City Hall and the King County offices located on 5th Avenue.  You might want to include the Consumer Affairs Office down on South Dearborn Street but it has become clear they are receiving their marching, or more correctly, enforcement orders from City Hall.  While many find their inaction irritating, it doesn't seem to be their fault.

It is time everyone is clear on who is causing all of our distress.  While the lawsuit filed against Uber last week is understandable, ultimately it is beside the point because it was the City of Seattle and King County who decided to not enforce the law and prevent the ride-share (TNC) companies from operating.  I haven't researched it but the State of Washington must hold some regulatory authority on how companies legally operate so I am guessing that on some level the State of Washington might hold also some culpability in the matter.

But clearly locally, given the recent bill passed by the Seattle City Council and signed into law by the new Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, we know where the responsibility lies.  The case is simple. 

The City of Seattle held the ability to immediately stop Uber, Lyft and Sidecar from operating. The City of Seattle's actions over a three-year period told us everything we didn't want to know, expressing that the needs and concerns of the local taxi industry were of small priority.  Disregard what might have been said during recent Seattle City Council hearings.  We can only go by what has occurred since 2011.  Not only were Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, along with the local flat-rate for hire industry, allowed to operate illegally within the legal boundaries of Seattle, the City of Seattle, minus any penalties, legitimized their operational status.  Given that all this is beyond dispute, it should be obvious where any potential legal action should be directed. 

Let us be clear.  Seattle holds its regulatory status as holy.  Just see what happens if anyone tried to take their regulatory authority away.  They would fight all the way past the State Supreme Court to Washington DC and talk it over with Chief Justice Stevens and his black-robed friends.  Since this is indisputable, the City of Seattle should be asked why did they not act in the best interests of the voting public and the local taxi industry. 

As I have said before, laws and rules and regulations cannot be selectively enforced.
When bank robber X holds up a bank in North Seattle and every effort is made toward arresting the individual, bank robber Z, simultaneously robbing a back in South Seattle, is not allowed to elude justice.  Both are actively sought by the police, both held equally responsible for their actions. 

This, you might have noticed, is not what happened regarding the violations perpetuated by the TNCs and the flat-rate for hires.  They were allowed year after year to break the law.  Interesting, isn't it?  And why?  That remains the burning question. Why?  Why won't the City of Seattle tell us the answer?  We need to know.  We need to know the answer now!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Embracing Hope: Clarifying Direction And Options

When thinking about a title for today's blog the word horizon kept popping up, leading me to reference that famous title, Lost Horizon, of course the name of British writer James Hilton's novel published in 1933 about the mythical land of Shangri-La, an Utopian lamasery hidden somewhere in the Tibetan Himalayas.  After an early morning meeting with a lawyer, I am beginning to understand that we in the local taxi industry are entering into a new world that will dramatically change our operational DNA.  Just by legally questioning the City of Seattle and Uber and its ilk, we will be forever altering our approach toward ourselves. While traditionally fairly insular, the current crisis is forcing us to reach out, an emotional expansion heretofore never imagined by that growling crew known as the taxi industry.

In a sense, the horizon we are passing through is mostly an internal one, crossing up and over our own psychological barriers.  While our potential is immense, it has been chiefly us, only having ourselves alone to blame for stunting progress and development forward.  Many feel perhaps rightly we will stumble and fail.  I feel that assessment is an underestimation of taxi drivers and our in general collective industry.  I know we can prove our doubters wrong.  What I do know is that the answer will be known soon as our window of opportunity, as I have noted recently, is rapidly expiring and disappearing, having no choice but to stop a quickly spreading malignancy.

From This Morning's Meeting 

Three possible legal starting points:

1)  Consumer protection

2)  Takings, which translated means Uber etc illegally competing and taking profits

3) Takings, from the municipal prospective, meaning Seattle's lack of adequate enforcement allowing unfair and illegal business practices overtly affecting taxi industry profitability. 

Much more upon this subject later.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Taxi As It Is Today In Seattle

In the middle of all this bureaucratic and cultural argument I have the strong impression that what defines taxi, what taxi really is all about has been forgotten and lost.  A driver told me this year is Seattle Yellow Cab's 100th anniversary, serving at this point millions of passengers over an untold zillion pothole miles. 

Imagine a century of service from the beginning of the First World War to the Space Age and now to the Age of the Internet and beyond.  Love them or hate them, taxi here in Seattle and across our spinning globe is here for you when you step off that jet, train, bus or boat.  Having travelled round the world I have and continue to utilize taxis.

When in March 2011 I was in Moldova and wanted to visit a remote cave monastery in the countryside, how did I get there?  By taxi of course.  The driver was professional, taking me directly to the monk reading scripture by the dim light provided by his rocky cell.  That is what I and almost every other passenger receive, quick and reasonable and mostly cheerful service. Taxi drivers serve everyone regardless of social class.  We are there for you, including these few examples from last weekend, fully illustrating taxi as it is minus myth and hyperbole.

----I found the old guy at a motel, totally dismayed, not knowing what he would do.  His debit card wasn't allowing to him to pay for his room.  Discharged after 3 months in Harborview and no home to return to, having burned to the ground while in the hospital, he was utterly stranded.  Knowing that I too might not get paid I took him anyway in a further search for motels.  After $25.00 dollars on the meter and again his card malfunctioning I drove him to the nearest Denny's, gave him $5.00 for coffee and told him to call his bank when it opened.  Whether I will ever get the card authorization and be paid I don't know but for me the way I responded to his dilemma was my sole option.  Yes, taxi as it really is.

-----Bar-break and they are going east of  Mill Creek.  Nearing the Melrose freeway entrance, the young woman suddenly begins vomiting, thankfully missing most but not of 478s interior.  Finally we again get underway and drive first north then east into the suburban wasteland. The guy sitting in the front seat spontaneously says "I like you!" which I respond by joking you better not say that on Capital Hill!  What he meant was I remained calm and collected and friendly despite all the distress.  A $73.00 fare became $120.00.  The post-ride clean up was minor.  Again, taxi as it is.

-----I fly over to the 265 from the 285, finally picking her up on the 9200 block of 17th SW.  She is fine until 13 dollars later she hands me an one hundred dollar bill which would had been okay except a couple rides back I had cashed another hundred dollar bill for a five dollar fare.  I asked her why hadn't she warned me she was paying with a large bill and why didn't she cash it at the 7-11 store we stopped at?  She started yelling, "You are the taxi driver, you have to have the change." as we drove up the hill to the next 7-11, interestingly telling me she was going to report me to "Jim" who is none other than the head of dispatch, meaning Jim would certainly know who this clown was.  Long and short of it the 7-11 didn't have the change and before I could respond she and her money ran out the door and down an alley.  Funny thing is she left her radio/headset combination in the cab.  Ha Ha!  Taxi, folks, as it really is.

If only all these folks making these important decisions for us knew taxi as I do they would respond differently.  I know that.  Driving taxi changes you.  It really does, opening your eyes to the great wide world!

Monday, March 24, 2014

More Analysis Of Seattle Council Bill 118036 & First Law Suit Filed

Consider this only a second installment concerning last week's bill and ordinance which incidentally was signed over the weekend by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.  The 30-Day window alluded to last week is now tick, tick ticking away like a well-placed time bomb.  Four bomb technicians including myself met this morning, beginning discussions on how to disarm and defuse something that could potentially "blow-up!" our local taxi industry into smithereens, into so many irreparable pieces. A law suit was filed against Uber today.  More on that later.  Our potential litigation is broader and would be connected to similar efforts across the country.  Our situation here in Seattle is uniquely our peculiar conundrum given we are also confronting the well-established problem presented by the flat-rate for hires and their newly received sanctioning by the City of Seattle.  Call it a double whammy though doubling the pleasure, doubling the fun is not how I would describe our confounding situation.  Other adjectives are more appropriate in our case.

Today I finally took a few minutes to review Council Bill 118036.  So far I haven't found the finished version signed by the mayor but what I have read in the nearly finished version is instructive.  What had me shaking my head in disbelief was the admission the City of Seattle made stating they understand that the ride-shares are illegal.  As I said last week, how does the City of Seattle pardon and legitimize companies they understand have acted completely above the law?  Quotes from sub-sections 6, 7 & 8 fully illustrates this.

All these quotations originate from the bill's "Section 1.  Next week I am guessing I will have additional commentary but given my complete post-taxi exhaustion this short examination will suffice. 

A fragment from Section 1, sub-section or item number 3 says "demand study supports that the public is receptive to application dispatch technology," which seems to justify much of what the City has done and is now intending to do.  I could pick this sentence to death but I will let it speak for itself.  I personally am receptive to chocolate cake.  Does that mean the City should have bakeries mandated for very city corner?  Some I am sure would support that.

Item #6 says "The council finds that the use of application dispatch technology by unlicensed companies and drivers are competing with existing licensed taxi cab and for-hire drivers in the transportation market and causing negative impacts."

If they understood we were being subjected to unfair and illegal competition, why didn't the City of Seattle stop it?

Item 7 says "they are operating motor vehicles used for the transportation of passengers for compensation and these drivers are currently operating illegally without for hire driver licenses or regulatory oversight." 

My same question again.  Why didn't the City of Seattle intervene?

Item 8 says, "that companies providing transportation services via application dispatch with unlicensed  affiliated drivers are operating illegally without a license or regulatory oversight."

I find this kind of language amazing.  How did the City of Seattle not understand the implications?  It is a total mystery to me.

Item 14, authorizes the 100 new taxi licenses to be released this year, with another 100 in 2015.  All of this would have been reasonable say five years ago but adding to an already saturated market now makes little sense other than throwing a sweetener into a sour mix.  One thing this new bill doesn't do, at least I don't think it does, is address the 1,100 town cars illegally cruising DT.  Only the uninformed would think the City of Seattle can sustain nearly 3000 cars taxis and taxi-like vehicles.  Maybe in 50-100 years but not now.

In Section 26, City Code 6.310.540 allows County-only cars to pick up contract business.  More on this interesting deviation later.  While personally supporting dual-plating this idea is just silly, implying that county car XXX will drop off at 9 AM and wait around until 5 PM for the return fare.  I say this because the primary focus of this inclusion is to eliminate "dead-heading" but of course it doesn't do that at all.  Car XXX would just go back to work in Bellevue and return empty to Seattle at 5 PM for the pick-up.

Law Suit!

More on this but today the single owners at Sea-Tac Airport, known as the Western Washington Taxi cab Association, filed a suit against Uber in King County Superior Court.  I am guessing this is the first of many.

On the Uber front, they are planning to put a voter referendum before Seattle voters.  Quoting the late C&W singer George Jones, "The Race is On."