Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Uber Referendum: What They Are Asking The Seattle Voters To Do

An op-ed piece has recently been percolating away upon my stove top, nearing the pouring stage into a favorite ceramic cup.  Preoccupied with the everything else I am doing, it's time I give it a flavor check.  Submitting a later version will come later but I can't wait too long, as Mayor Ed Murray announced last week what he is calling a "45 day negotiation period" with Uber and friends. I think it is extremely important that Seattle voters understand just what they will be voting for, and what their mayor might manifest through his talks with big money Uber.  Like the season's April pollen, compromise is in the air.  Pardon me while I sneeze.  Achoo!

Another item upon my taxi kitchen counter is a remarkable book I have been reading about WWII before collapsing asleep each post-taxi evening, "The World at War" by Mark Arnold-Forster (1920-1981).  WWII and the subject of war in general has held my interest since first poking my nose into a set of World Book encyclopedias at about age ten, and after reading many, many related books this might be the best yet.

 Not to be either grandiose or silly but after reading how British Prime Minister  Neville Chamberlain and advisers like Lord Halifax dealt with Hitler and his successive annexations of Austria, Sudetenland and then soon thereafter Czechoslovakia in its entirety, I find similarities with our situation, our sovereign "business territory" bargained away by the City of Seattle.  Despite our protests and repeated "territorial violations over these past three years, we are still awaiting a  theoretical justice remaining just that, chimerical and unfortunately entering the realm of the mythical.

Sample Draft Op-Ed Commentary

Now that Uber and friends have their pending August 2014 referendum vote, overturning  Seattle City Council's new ordinance regulating TNCs, its a fair question asking just what will Seattle be voting for or against.  If I said, that by voting yes, you would be sanctioning, and in effect, legalizing criminal activity, would you call me a liar?   Uber says the vote is all about the capping of their business operations without for a moment acknowledging that what they have been doing in Seattle and literally around the world, is illegal both here and in San Antonio, Texas and Paris and Berlin.  What Uber and friends have done is enter a regulated business environment, and flatly told all the involved municipalities to "Screw off! We will do whatever we want regardless of consequences!"  Its an amazing statement but completely true.  What Uber's referendum requests is to continue permitting their operations within a wholly self-created "business anarchy," a lawless land where anything goes, where they, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, are free to make up the rules minute to minute, day to day, the kind of Utopia never envisioned by Thomas Moore.

Imagine if the restaurant equivalent invaded Seattle, setting up shop upon the sidewalks adjacent to every eatery in the city, proclaiming they have no need for permits and licenses and health standards.  When Seattle administrators ask them to stop, they say "Go to Hell! We are not moving!"  And making the situation worse, when restaurant owners like Tom Douglas and the Canlis family tell Seattle to do something about it, to begin enforcing the very same rules they obey, Seattle ignore their pleas. 

Envision this occurring  daily for over three years and you now understand what Seattle's taxi industry has been facing.  Can you imagine the outcry if these same culinary invaders put a referendum before the voters validating their impertinence?  Where, you might ask, is the outrage concerning Uber's referendum?  It's an intriguing question.

One also might ask just what is Uber and friends complaining about?  Despite operating illegally for three years in Seattle, they have remained free from legal consequences, receiving not one penny in fines and penalties.  While they complain, Seattle's taxi business community have watched helplessly as the invaders encroached upon their sovereign business territory, craving up their business like an Easter Sunday ham. 

Taking the example from the late 1930s, Czechoslovakia's leaders, when faced with annexation from Hitler's Germany, pleaded with the League of Nations and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for help.  And what assistance did they receive?  Not once but twice Chamberlain flew to Germany having lunch with Hitler, negotiating the demise of an completely independent nation.  We all know what happened after that!

It appears then that Seattle voters are being asked to do the impossible, sanction an invasion and hostile takeover of a once thriving business community.  How can this be happening, something akin to a more recent and modern Alice in Wonderland tale?   We could also ask what everyone has been smoking but since its Seattle we are talking about, we know beyond any doubt what kind of cigarette everyone is smoking, Seattle living and perpetuating an altered reality.  Is this legal?


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taxi Bulletin: Wed 04/16/2014 Stakeholder Meeting With Seattle's Mayor

You are probably reading it here first, an exclusive scoop.  Yesterday afternoon, twenty taxi and flat-rate for hire stakeholders, including two Teamsters Local 117 representatives, were there in a meeting with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and his advisers.  I obviously wasn't on the guest list but why, I ask you, would you want a local taxi reporter asking pertinent questions?   I can understand that.  As far as I know, not one lease-driver attended. 

If true, it was a glaring omission, given that we, over three-thousand strong, make up the vast majority of the taxi industry community.  Its past time this parental attitude, viewing lease-drivers as taxi children, be forever suspended and gotten rid of.  It is derogatory and part of the problem.  Assuring that lease-drivers are legally empowered must be part of any permanent settlement.  There can be no other option.  When the City and County mandated association membership, they unthinkingly created a system negating lease-driver, independent operator's rights.  The association's don't speak for the lease driver and how can they?   They are independent businesses, just like the lease-drivers are, each holding individual business licenses.  Though certainly working together cooperatively, still each party hold sometimes opposing agendas.  It is time this is recognized.

Rumor has it Mayor Murray and his entire advisory staff walked out of the meeting in a huff, and only after some persuasion, returning later to the forum. What I am surprised about is that they, the Mayor's office, agreed to meet at all.  I am completely guessing it was the Union's handiwork, their political firepower retaining some influence.

Sources tell me little was achieved, discontent voiced that "the City will be doing nothing for the taxis."  Nothing new here, everyone, from the mayor to the council, relaying that message loud and clear.  Anyone who has driven by SafeCo field since the baseball opener can tell you that yet again the City of Seattle has made no provisions allowing fans to be legally dropped off or picked up. I have been trying to get a viable stand for too many years now.  No, nothing has changed. 

Some feel this new situation represents new opportunities. It is clear that the next 3-4 months will distinctly spell out  how true that assessment is.  As stated previously, this conversation is in its infancy.  That some of the parties involved are not interested in talking is truly beside the point.  Dialogue in whatever manner has begun.  Soon we will see who the eager participants are, and who continue to remain reluctant, joining  in with what hopefully are constructive negotiations. Nobody wants to drag anyone kicking and screaming to the  bargaining table, not wanting to use earplugs!

In a related development, local news sources have reported today the TNC (ride-share) folks delivered over 36,000 signatures, many more than the required 16,510 needed, putting the recently passed City Council bill restricting and regulating Uber, Lyft and Sidecar operations before a Seattle voter referendum yes or no vote.  One positive is the $3.00 per signature paid to the petition gathers, putting a little share change into the pockets of the local impoverished.  Now there is a group that could use a little reinforcement and organizing.  Teamsters, are you listening?        

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.