Monday, July 21, 2014

Abbreviated


Tonight's entry is a shortened version that will be continued either later tomorrow or midweek due to two events scheduled for the morning and afternoon hours.  Later you will understand my secrecy.  Instead I will quickly touch upon typical taxi in all its tainted glory.  What I find sadly amusing is that thanks to 478's security camera I could notify the police and voila! instantly I would have the evidence necessary to have the young ladies arrested if so desired.  Again, why is Mayor Murray insistent about removing something keeping Seattle's cabbies safe and sound?  To this date, there has been no explanation. 

First they requested I pick them up in the alley.  Once there I waited and waited.  Finally four very overly painted young woman strode out balancing upon fashionable but unwieldy high heels. Calling them animated and loud would be kind.  Like screaming sirens they entered the cab, fueled by unknown substances.  Taking them down to Belltown I was repeatedly subjected to multiple grabs and touches, behavior in part prompted by altered and deranged minds.  Adding a final insult to injury, when paying me my twelve-dollar fare one of the not-so-lovely lovelies accused me of stealing her twenty-dollar bill.  Leaping out of the cab and acting like they were not going to pay I said I would have them arrested.  Thankfully the young idiots paid me and vanished into the disco night.  It's a lot of fun being molested.  You should try it sometime!   Again, welcome to the taxi I know and understand all too well, an experience rhyming with hell!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Spat Upon

Greeting from Albany/North Berkley, California, where I am rubbing elbows and sharing Chinese and Indian with "she-who-can't-be-named."  A side note of interest is that, though being the individual responsible for this blog's existence, she now refuses to read a single line.  As stated somewhat recently, like so many others she has had enough of taxi, hating what she feels is my continued involvement in unending madness.  She began howling in pain when I started listening to yesterday's Seattle City Council hearing.  She finds the abuse and injustice appalling.  How can I disagree?

As I always say, linger long enough beneath the top-light and you will experience everything  imaginable or in this particular case, deplorable.  Late Sunday morning, while rushing a very late couple to the Portland-bound Amtrak, I encountered a group of young guys jaywalking in the middle of Second Avenue South.

Voicing my objection, one very misguided individual spit at me through my open window.  Slamming on my brakes, and leaping out of 478, I made it extremely clear that he had just made a very serious error.  Though famously an official  pacifist, the idiot was spared a sound beating only by the urgency of getting my passengers to the train and his companion's quick intervention, firmly grabbing my arm while apologizing for his stupid friend, understanding I was potentially ready to do some serious damage. I told him to hit his friend for me.  He just might have, understanding that the spitter had endangered all of them, having promised one of the friends equal treatment.  After dropping off my customers, I washed myself off, wiping away a momentary indignity.

Yesterday, another insult took place, the Seattle City Council voting to make the
mayor's wish list public law.   I am pleased to report that Council Member Mike O'Brien attempted to send the entire bill back to the original committee for further review, questioning in part the removal of the security cameras.  Thank goodness there was some resistance to the mayor's political maneuvering.  That bodes well if the taxi industry stops the bill from becoming law during the next 30 days, thus opening new avenues for negotiation.  While at the moment that might seem fantastical, anything might happen.

This is all I can say for sure.  Those of us who truly speak for the entire local industry want our collective voices heard.  As I said in an email to the entire city council today, this is not an end but only a beginning.  I only hope I am not speaking through my taxi hat.  Somebody has to have some credibility.  Someone has to be speaking the real and unadultuated truth.  All I can say is that I am attempting to bring about some rational conclusion.  As I keep saying, stay tuned.

And by the way, the Seattle Weekly on-line edition has a good article about yesterday's city council hearing.  There is picture of Mayor Murray signing the bill soon after it passed.  What was the rush anyway!?









Friday, July 11, 2014

BIG RED HOT RUMOR Plus Other Recent Taxi Topics

A well-placed source orbiting somewhere in the local taxi universe informed me today that given the expected results from Monday's upcoming July 14th City Council hearing, a major Seattle "taxi organisation" has committed to fund a referendum reversing the council's decision.  Clearly I am not the only one objecting to the mayor's and the council's recent actions.  Many I have talked to in the taxi community have said that last Monday's City Council's actions are completely unacceptable.  This after repeated comments from council members that the mayor's new proposals resulted from an inclusive mediation.  Nothing could be further from the truth and they know it.  How can they believe that we accepted remaining "capped" while Uber, Lyft and Sidecar enjoy unlimited entry into our regulated market?  This belief, plain and simply, is total fantasy and nothing else.  Does the mayor and the council think we are suicidal?  I can strongly affirm to the contrary that we are not.  They're making this into a war.  We have been left no alternative but to defend ourselves. 

I personally know this kind of lopsided battle, having beat the Federal Government over my Selective Service Status back in 1972.  I view this current argument as a repeat, powerful government entities dictating my fate and the fate of my friends.  It was not acceptable in 1972 and it isn't anymore acceptable now in 2014.  Just like in the 1960s, justice and morality will win out, right always winning out over wrong.  Power to the people!  Power to the oppressed!

Tuesday's Legal Ruling

Clearly the council's quick actions on Monday were designed to sidestep the legal challenge to the Uber referendum.  On Tuesday, the court ruled the issue moot due to the  council's dumping of it's own bill.  One opinion I have read states that the judge didn't rule "on the substance" of the bill, meaning there is still an opportunity for the judge to decide, with a declaratory opinion, on the issue's substance.  A request has been formally filed.

Another Reason For The Security Cameras

Splashed all over the news this week was some idiot taxi driver's groping of a passenger.  Having security cameras protects both driver and customer.  Kind of obvious you would think, that is if you are thinking.  Amazing is all I can say!  Enjoy the great summer weather!  I have seen Seattle summers that were more like January. Stop complaining and break out the suntan lotion.  Soon enough the moss will again be growing atop your head.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Breathtaking Political Theatre----The Seattle City Council Throws Away A Year's Work

Walking over to the City Hall this afternoon I was apprehensive, truly not knowing what to expect.  Reading the first agenda item, repeated in full here, I got the chills even on a hot 80 plus F. summer day, understanding I was about to witness the public beheading of the taxi industry.  It turns out I was correct, the Seattle City Council launching their invisible but quite palpable razor-sharp guillotine, lopping the taxi cranium onto the chamber floor.  No one else may have noticed but I did, hearing the screams.  It was quite unpleasant.  Agenda item number 1:

1.    C.B. 118139           

                                        Relating to taxicabs and for-hire vehicles;
                                        repealing Ordinance 124441 relating to
                                        companies and drivers of a new type of for-
                                        hire vehicle in order to create a pilot
                                        program for transportation network
                                        companies and affiliated drivers and
                                        vehicles.

This political gobbledygook was introduced June 30th, 2014 by City Council President Tim Burgess.  Given past statements made by Burgess, the writing was on the bureaucratic wall.  We were doomed.

A 20-minute public comment period was allowed, and thankfully I got my next to last 2 minutes, telling everyone that the mayor's mediation committee was not representative of the over 3000 lease-drivers, and that the issue came down to one primary point, that what we were dealing with was an "illegal incursion into a regulated industry" and nothing else.  I made a similar statement to a KIRO TV 7 interviewer prior to the hearing.  I doubt greatly if I will receive my obligatory "10 second" soundbite

As I said, it was exceedingly clear that the city council, having been thoroughly briefed by the mayor and his staff, and perhaps Uber, were ready to scuttle their legislative vessel that was over a year in the making, letting it sink before entering turbulent seas. Why would the city council throw away a combined ten or more hearings plus hundreds of hours of research, interviews and governmental scrutiny?  That is not a sensible response.  Clearly, from my perspective, somebody somewhere changed the underlying agenda.  Who could have done that?

Could part of the answer be that this morning Wall Street announced that Uber overall valuation was now 18.5 billion dollars, up from a mere 17 billion?   Why concern yourself with a handful of scruffy cabbies when instead you can be wined and dined by the cultural upper crust!  The choice is obvious.

Something persistently enjoyable has been Uber's presentation as the victimized and misunderstood party.  Pathetic but humorous.  Wonderful to picture an abject billionaire crying upon Mayor Murray's shoulder.  "There, there," Ed Murray soothes, "don't worry, soon everything will be okay, I promise you."  Touching picture, don't you think?

Today's true dramatics began with Sally Clark, the prime and once proud Ordinance 124441 architect, giving what could be described as an eulogy upon her own creation, something that must be unavoidably euthanized.  As today's title suggests, it was a breathtaking performance, personally finding it simultaneously confusing and sad.   After that, it was all perfunctory theatre, the conclusion preordained, Council Bill 118139 winning by a 6-3 margin. 

What comes next is a week of "negotiation" with the defining vote concerning the mayor's proposal to be taken next Monday at again 2:00 PM.  Thankfully I will be in San Francisco, having a good excuse not to be in attendance.  I'd rather be eating Chinese any day of the week.

RCW 8172.10

This obscure statue might be the basis of potential legal action.  Line 6 says:

"Any other requirements adopted to ensure safe and reliable taxicab services."

Stay tuned!








Monday, June 30, 2014

Be There! Seattle City Council Hearing: Monday 07/0714, 2:00 PM

Whether you like Seattle Mayor Murray, you must respect him as a political animal, someone who understands well the legislative forest, instinctively aware of impending threats.  Unless there is a postponement, the lawsuit questioning the legality of the Uber-sponsored November referendum will see its first trail date this upcoming Thursday July 3rd. 

It is now extremely clear that Murray understands, like we do, that the referendum is a political overstep destined for the judicial dustbin, prompting him to accelerate his TNC advocacy.  Next Monday, at 2:00 PM, per Murray's request, the Seattle City Council will be considering what action to take concerning two new ordinances put forward by the mayor's administration.  One asks the City Council to commit political seppuku, more commonly known as  hari-kari, disemboweling their own bill.  The other is to immediately implement the mayor's mediation agreement of two weeks ago. 

This kind of panic is sending a message, Murray obviously concerned that he about to lose political momentum, allowing those opposed to his policies to gain a perhaps insurmountable advantage. I truly don't think Murray wants to be asked just why he wants nearly 1000 security cameras to be removed from Seattle's and King County's taxi fleet.  The associated questioning might be embarrassing.  Do you really want to endanger thousands of drivers? Or perhaps even more telling, why is it so personally important  to you to take the cameras out of the cabs?   Mr. Mayor, what is your prime motivation for doing this?

Instead he would rather avoid scrutiny and push his agenda through.  Given that this new agreement will destroy our industry, leastwise as we know it, it is clear that we who care about livelihoods must show up in force Monday and display our joint resolve to scuttle Murray's misguided maneuvering.  Please be there next Monday afternoon.  I will be there, I can guarantee you that.  Tell all your taxi colleagues and friend that its a matter of life and death for our industry.  It is essential we tell the City Council that we do not want the TNC's to dominate the local transportation industry.  Cap them and let them compete fairly.  That is what we want.

Like in the Wild West of Old, it is time to circle the taxi wagons.  We are under attack and it almost getting too late to counter the mayor's efforts.  Clearly the mediation period was a orchestrated pantomime.  Please, lift the curtains and let the real performance begin, time for real and constructive conversation.  The mayor knows how to reach us, all of us easily located in his own telephone book, Murray fully knowing who we are.  Just leave a message, your honor, we'll get right back to you, and that you can be assured is a guarantee.

Change At The Taxi Helm

Last week Puget Sound Dispatch, the dispatching arm of Yellow taxi, experienced an old fashioned palace coup, with Tommy K. being quickly replaced by Amin S., better known as the leader of the WAT (wheelchair van) owners.  It was completely unexpected.  One source told me the impetus was needing someone who thoroughly knew the taxi business.  Amin has been driving over 18 years so he obviously understands the business from both a driver and owner perspective.  And given that he was most recently involved in the mayor's mediation group signals some political savvy.  I wish Amin the best.  And Tommy too, who appears to have quickly rebounded, is making new and positive plans.  We in the industry appreciated Tommy's sense of fairness. Good luck, Tommy, good luck!  Thanks for the helping hand.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Seattle's Uber Solution, The Why & How Of The Agreement: Part Two

Before I continue examining the insurance equation, I need to say, as mentioned yesterday, that the agreement presented by Mayor Murray had its prime architects which were more or less responsible for its final design.   Is it too obvious to point out that with different architects----meaning members of the negotiating committee----the outcome would have been vastly altered?  In other words, it would have been a different construction and final building altogether, especially if true and experienced taxi industry representatives had been included.

As recently as yesterday, Mayor Murray was found reporting to members of the King County Council that his agreement was supported and backed by the entire local taxi industry.  Sadly, he knows this isn't true, knowing full well that the lobbyist hired by the taxi associations was speaking for what must be said is a minority viewpoint.  Taking that a step further, it could be said that the lobbyist Don S______doesn't even know true industry outlook and opinion.  Don, while a true gentleman, is, in the clearest definition of a lobbyist, the proverbial "hired gun" working for the next bidder regardless of prior assignments.  His firm's last job?  Lobbying for the big business interests that were against the Tukwila, Washington $15.00 per hour minimum wage campaign.  The professional lobbyist in the purest sense is non-ideological.  While that may be good for the bottom line, it might not be the best approach for future clients, lobbyists too often weathervanes shifting with the wind.

Insurance, continued

During recent weekends I have been observing Uber drivers picking up customers who have been flagging or hailing from the street.  Regardless of the final outcome, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar drivers will only be permitted to pick up prearranged fares.  Since that is true, what it MUST mean is that every customer picked up off  Seattle's streets minus any app-derived appointment is riding in that car completely without insurance coverage, meaning that if in the next moment that Uber car is slammed into, one, there is no liability coverage for either driver or passenger, and two, all legal responsibility falls to the Uber driver, especially if the accident involves an uninsured driver. 

That is what makes this entire mediation agreement so disturbing, allowing a criminal situation to continue unabated.  I know who the majority of Uber drivers in Seattle are.  They are taxi drivers who have brought their own private car onto the road, not understanding the full legal consequences of their decision.  I must add that this attitude is not dissimilar to one associated with their past operation of a taxi, again having little idea concerning legal consequences, just wanting to make a living and nothng beyond that initial thought.   

What should be clear to Seattle's City Attorney's Office, that, provisional period or not, enforcement, meaning the protection of the public, must commence.  I envision a scenario where a Uber-related accident generates a lawsuit against the City of Seattle for failure to protect the public.  What puzzles me is that this clearly is a potential outcome.  Why then is the City of Seattle failing to enforce the law?  It makes no sense.

Training

Training is gutted.  An on-line defensive driving course is proposed.  There is also language about new training systems being developed or allowing the use of existing systems.  There is language about license endorsements but what kind is unclear to me. All language testing will be eliminated. And finally, there will be no dress codes, meaning all future Elvis Presley  impersonators will be welcome.  With these new rules, not only can your future driver look like a "walking thrift store," but he or she needn't understand basic and essential English.  Who came up with this stuff?  Soon I will tell you.

Vehicle Regulation

Vehicle regulation and safety is gutted.  Instead of the City/County having a direct hand in car inspection, safety and all other inspections will be farmed out to approved and certified ASE technicians/mechanics.  While all well in theory, isn't this a bit naive?  Doesn't the City of Seattle understand who they are dealing with?  No!

Another new twist is the elimination of in-vehicle cameras, something that has been keeping drivers safe from assault or worse for years.  It was the in-taxi camera that made the conviction of the kid who murdered the Tukwila cabbie possible.  Too often to remember "real-time criminals" have queried me concerning the camera, wanting to know how it works.  The goal of eliminating this valuable tool is transparent.  By requiring Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to have cameras in their vehicles, their entire current business model would be destroyed.  This is a preemptive action.  If a taxi driver murderer gets away and is never found, so be it.  I view this proposal as both cynical and bloodthirsty.  Who the heck agreed to this?

Top lights are only allowed on taxis.

Personally, the funniest part of the entire agreement are sub-sections 6 & 7 included in the language governing car regulation.  Six specifically addresses United for Hires paint job, with Line 7 saying future for-hire vehicles can not use "known" taxi colors. 

While that is humorous, what comes next isn't, stating that there will be no TNC vehicle cap.  Translated it means that every licensed driver in Seattle and King County of a certain age can buy a new car and contract with Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.  What it means is doing away with driver professionalism and the craft that is taxi driving, introducing instead a new taxi "Wild West" where free-form driving, once criticized, is now sanctioned and embraced.

I guess it is funny that the agreement allows for 200 new taxi licenses over a four-year period while the TNCs can put on a million or more cars.  The only positive is that the new taxi licenses are limited to non-taxi license owners.  In the past they gave out new licenses to everyone, including current taxi-license holders.  Now that didn't make much sense but to those City of Seattle folks it was perfectly okay.

The Ruling Class

The Negotiators:  Mayor Murray and his staff

                            Reps from Uber

                            Sam, from Eastside for Hire, Abdul from CNG for Hire

                            Leonard & Dawn from Teamsters 117

                            Don S., the taxi association lobbyist

                           Amin Shifow, WAT group president 

                           Orange Taxi GM (she dropped out before the final resolution)

                         There could have been others, including folks from various City        
                         departments but those listed were the primary players.

Clearly missing was anyone who is currently driving a taxi.   Why have someone who understands the industry intimately when instead you can have well meaning folks like Don S. and the Teamsters, thus justifying Seattle's position that the taxi industry was thoroughly represented.  Without knowledgeable and dissenting voices, Uber's position was rubber-stamped despite the inherent problems connected with doing that. The flat-rate for-hires got everything they possibly wanted, knowing full well that no one has or will stop them from encroaching upon taxi stands. 

The mayor's goal entering this negotiation was the essential deregulation of the taxi industry, not caring if Yellow, Orange, Farwest, and Northend disappeared from the transportation planet.  He stated this when he made his announcement and he should be lauded for his honesty.  He doesn't like us and isn't concerned about what happens to the drivers and their families.  His priorities lie elsewhere.  For the reasons why, you will have to ask him for yourself. Anything I could say would be guesswork and speculation.

As for our taxi lobbyist, his mission was little more than limiting the damage, knowing the war was already lost.  His goal, unlike what mine would have been, was not victory.  A real fight from the taxi industry meant making a large financial commitment without any guarantee of a win or even a draw.  While the taxi industry didn't completely capitulate, it didn't battle forcefully.  The Orange GM, while a great person, was over-matched.  The Teamsters unfortunately tried simultaneously to please too many opposing factions, thus diluting any real effectiveness.  What was needed, and what the City had no interest in having, was a strong industry voice backed by both owners and drivers.  Maybe in any future negotiations, that person will emerge.  What will happen next is any ones guess, with the regulatory ball in the City Council's court.  As always stay tuned.  I hope I have provided some necessary and helpful clarification, guiding you through the bureaucratic maze.









Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mayor Murray's Uber Solution, Municipal Comedy: An Analysis---Part One

Having now read and examined Mayor Murray's Taxi/For-Hire/TNC Mediation agreement, I have been fighting off astonishment, completely taken aback by a document that, while intended to be a final and healing resolution, fails, by all usual commonplace and known standards, to reach sensible compromise.  How a document this flawed was released for public discussion baffles me. 

I see my task as twofold, one to explain the agreement's components, the other to offer an understanding of how the document came into being.  My intention is to both be fair and precise minus unhelpful and empty rhetoric.  Rancor is easy but apperception, understanding new ideas and the consciousness behind decisions is a whole another story.  This examination is just that, an attempt at deciphering, bringing the back story into the forefront, making the confounding accessible.

Before examining individuals parts, I first have to question, given that the entire matter seemed to center around ride-share or TNC regulatory compliance, why were others parties, taxi etc, included in the first place?  It was the TNC companies and no one else who sponsored the now November 2014 referendum.  While the taxi industry hold their own interests, this argument was between Uber, Lyft and Sidecar and the City of  Seattle.  Not only was the inclusion of taxi and flat-rate for-hire issues not necessary, it was nonsensical to have them involved with this particular discussion.

From what I understand concerning this preliminary and yet non-binding agreement, it attempts to answer too many questions simultaneously, a reshuffling of the regulatory deck.  Need I point out that City Hall is not a casino and the issues faced not a poker game.  The issue was and remains basic.

 Uber, Lyft and Sidecar blatantly entered a business sector that is regulated on a municipal, county and state level, and probably in the case of some European countries, nationally, the TNCs disregarding standard and well-founded laws, rules and regulations governing taxis.  It was, and never has been, an issue of technology.  Instead it has been a question of rule of law, and why the TNC companies felt exempt. 

The efficiency of the entire taxi industry, one way or other, is a completely separate issue, one that needs to be examined.  But mixing the industries up, as I said, like a deck of playing cards, seeing who is dealt the aces, the winning hand, is something directly akin to something out of Lewis Carroll, surprising to me that the "Mad Hatter" and the "March Hare weren't invited to the party but given the results, perhaps they were there after all, only in some new and modern disguise, sipping some variety of mushroom tea.

Now a quick breakdown of some key agreement components:

Accessible Service

A 10 cents surcharge on all taxi, for-hire and TNC rides, designed to supplement the 40 WAT (wheelchair) vans currently operating, has been proposed.  What a sweet deal this is!  One, it gives the TNC companies the legal permission to not have to offer wheelchair service while providing WAT owners a free (under current estimates) $20.000 dollars per year to assist their operation.  What Mayor Murray and friends missed is that every taxi owner in the city will now convert their cabs to WAT vans, understanding that it is now a taxi Christmas beneath the municipal evergreen.  I thought I heard carols emanating from 5th & Marion!  Now I know why.

Adding to this fantastical quality, is that Uber, given their WAT exemption, will tell their favorite taxi company when someone has requested an accessible ride, the kind of service the taxi association MUST provide but not the TNCs.  One must ask, how did they come up with this agreement?

The long and short of it is that I must pay out of my pocket so the TNCs can avoid what is legally required of taxi companies.  I highly doubt that anyone, other than the WAT owners of course, would agree to this.

Fares

Another startling proposal is the creation of wht appears to be a new two-tiered rate system.  What Murray's agreement says is that ALL app arranged and generated fares from TNCs, taxis and flat-rate for-hires will be subject to variable pricing, meaning higher rates will now be permissible whenever the companies feel it is in their operational interest.  In short, just because you used your smart phone app  your  fare could be higher.  But if you use that same telephone to call the taxi company your fare will be or could be cheaper.  Huh?

Another part of this is that flat-rate for-hire cars will have full hailing rights but not able to sit on taxi stands.  Also ten new taxi stands are also proposed. 

Insurance

This has been the contentious issue all along, the TNCs seemingly not interested in ensuring that their passengers are protected in case of accidents.  For me, this is the scariest part of the agreement because it appears to let the TNCs operate with unrevealed and unknown insurance coverage.  This is how I understand the agreement:

During what is termed a provisional period, insurance requirements of, $100,000, $300,000, & $25,000 liability coverage will be required. Understand, this is part of the provisional period.  What coverage the Uber, Lyft and Sidecar currently have, as I have stated, appear to be unknown.

This provisional period will begin once an agreement is reached----ratified by the Seattle City Council----and ends on the effective date of State insurance law changes; or two weeks after the end of the 2015 legislative session, which in an odd-numbered year runs a total of 105 days which I don't think includes weekends.  At the conclusion of the provisional period, ALL operators must comply with State law. 

In terms of public safety, this all seems fairly suspect.  Given initial City Council response, this agreement appears to have little chance of becoming law.  What this appears to do is leave the current insurance question unanswered.  The question is simple. 

If someone, say tomorrow or any time in the near future is seriously injured while riding in a TNC car, what will be their ultimate fate?   Will their hospital and rehabilitation bills be paid?  Right now it appears it be unknown.  How can that be reasonable, and legal?   Part two tomorrow.