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!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bulletin: Yellow Cab Seattle Loses Sea-Tac Out-Bound Service Contract---Effective Changeover Date: October 1st, 2016

It appears my blog will be one of the initial, if not the first of the assorted media outlets to announce that Seattle Yellow Taxi has lost the most recent Sea-Tac RFP bid to, of all groups, Eastside-For-Hire.  I express surprise because Eastside is not a taxi company in any traditional sense, having no meter, falling more in the category of "livery cab" or "car-service" cab familiar to anyone in the greater New York City boroughs.

Another part of my surprise is the anecdotal information I keep receiving from taxi customers, that flat-rate for-hire drivers continue to overcharge.  One recent example was $15.00 from Pier-52 to Virgina Mason Hospital, essentially double of what taxis charge for the same ride. Having heard this kind of complaint more times than I can recount I am guessing it contains some validity.  I am told that Eastside's Sea-Tac proposal contains solid instructional provisions preventing such violations from occurring.

Need I remind anyone closely familiar with the situation that the flat-rate for-hire industry operated illegally for more or less three years in Seattle before they received official sanction.  The question is, similar to taxi, does the cat have the ability to change its spots?  Given the cab industry example, one must say that the "jury is out" until more evidence is presented.

Given the Port of Seattle's competitive rating system, Yellow finished 2nd to Eastside's bid.  But when one considers it objectively, how does a six year-old or so company beat out a competitor with nearly 100 years of providing taxi service in Seattle?  Well, when that company, Yellow, potentially underpaid Sea-Tac in the (still effectively unknown) millions of dollars, then you get the results gotten, an inexperienced company taking over out-bound services for one of the busiest airports in the nation.

One could say that collectively the Port Commissioners made a poor decision, but good or bad, can you really blame them for not trusting Yellow to keep its word and not repeat what was done previously?  The Port of Seattle was burned, and while not blaming the good cabbies working Sea-Tac, it seems illogical that the Port would trust the same actors in charge at Yellow.

From my experience do they, the Board and primary majority medallion owners listen to reason and alter behavior once mistakes are made?  I have to say that they don't.  Multiple errors were made this past Sunday by the new call center.  As they occurred I left messages pointing them out to the proper management.  Do I have any faith that anything will change?  Experience tells me otherwise, Yellow expecting everyone to keep paying  regardless of performance.

Do I think that scenario will continue, to remain the same?  I do not.  What the Port decision shows minus all doubt is that bad decisions are consequential.  Obvious I know but to some, perhaps not.  I believe the loss of the Sea-Tac contract will spur positive change.  How could it not is the question.  I truly believe that it isn't possible.  Changes must occur, and soon, before yet another series of dire mistakes, whatever they might be, are made. If this type of disaster  is looked on as commonplace, then we are in serious trouble.  Again, that should be blatantly obvious.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Eaten Alive By Taxi

With this week's entry I promise a short, not completely sour yet not sweet account of what it means to be consumed by the at times insane experience known as driving a cab.  Too many hours, too much stress and not enough rest, along with unexpected pressures making me wish for the moment I am forever not "killing" myself in a cab. Despite whispers to the contrary I am not suicidal, instead truly enjoying breathing untainted air and of course looking around at new and interesting surroundings.  What got to me this past week was the taking of a simple incident and having taxi compound it into something unexpected, unnecessary and unpleasant.  The question  was, and is, what is an accident and what to do if anything when reporting it?

What is true is that frivolous claims has the taxi industry running scared.  While understanding and appreciating that reality, it doesn't make any sense to treat the innocent cabbie as potential or deceitful criminal.  We get enough of that as it is, without people employed to help and assist attacking our fragile credibility. Given my 29 plus years of experience I know when I am being treated equably or not. And when I am paying over six thousand a year for taxi insurance, above all I expect the best customer service available.  When I don't receive it, I wonder what the hell is going on?

Initially I planned on being far more specific but after speaking to someone closely involved I have instead decided to be intentionally opaque while reserving the right to speak out later if necessary.  What I did say was whether anyone understood that in the United States we have very clearly defined clauses against self-incrimination?  The Fifth Amendment to the American Constitution, and part of the Bill of Rights specifically states that a person cannot be compelled to testify against themselves. The crazy part of all this is all of the information is coming from me and no one else, meaning I had been asked, in part, to compose a fiction of my own making.  Unreal but just like taxi.

And what did my last passenger Saturday night shout out after I objected to his bullying and refused to take his money upon getting him home?  Loudly he screamed out into the early morning air that I was a "F_____t!  F_____t!  F_____t!; this after last week's Department of Defense announcement they will no longer bar transgender folks from the military, meaning that while our Federal government has progressed, many of our fellow citizens remain in the cave munching upon raw brontosaurus bones.  Add the ketchup and mustard for a  complete meal!

Anyway, how do you like that for appreciation?  And I took perhaps 3 minutes to get to the call.  There is nothing else like taxi, that is for sure!

A Spontaneous Poem  (inspiration taken from the "The Cowboy Song")

Watch the Cave People march and scream

all we want and need is free musk oxen ice cream!

and allowed to insult and taunt all cabbies the livelong day

that being our  inalienable right, that being our way!


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Local Taxi Update---The Unfortunate Demise Of Topnotch Insurance, City Of Seattle Free Rides, Yellow Dispatch News

                                Look into the depths of your soul and learn first to know yourself,
                                then you will understand why the illness was bound to come upon
                                you and perhaps you will thenceforth avoid falling ill.

                                                                Sigmund Freud, from "Collected Papers"

After a cool June spell, more usual summer weather is upon us but more importantly, is business heating up? Yes and no but how I didn't get one Gay Pride Parade related fare on Sunday remains a mystery.  I got a few on Saturday but zero on a Sunday when 3-4 hundred thousand people converged upon downtown, clogging the streets and making life miserable for the average cabby.  Maybe it was just my strategy of staying away from trouble because I got three Sea-Tac Airport runs in a row then a discounted run to Everett.  Odd day on what is normally a real "money-maker" but as I have said and will always say, a cabby's only guarantee is a kick in the behind, hopefully avoiding, if possible, frontal attacks injuring more than just the fragile psyche.  

Now that 478's insurance is coming up for renewal  I sent an email to my old taxi colleague, Robert Rashidi, owner of Topnotch Insurance, only to receive a referral to another insurance agency. "What the hell is going on?" was my first thought.  And the answer is something I forgot completely about, and that was a misguided legal action of about two years ago brought on by the Sea-Tac  Airport Yellow drivers and facilitated by Teamsters 117 against two local taxi insurance agencies, Key and Topnotch.  The driver's contention was that Key and Topnotch had secretly conspired to manipulate rates.  Why anyone would attempt something like that in such a small market, and thinking they could create a local monopoly, would have been my first question before getting lawyers involved.  But given that this was early in the Teamster/Sea-Tac cabby relationship, I think the Teamsters were overly eager to do the drivers' bidding, overreacting instead of applying due consideration.

Perhaps now the Teamsters know what I have known for a long time, that over emotional and wrong-headed assessments is the typical cabbie's first response.  Dawn Gearheart, the Teamsters taxi contact, has recently shown real knowledge and judgment concerning us _____ cabbies.  But two years ago it appears a combination of new driver cultural assimilation and taxi fatigue resulted in cloudy or just plainly paranoid judgment that at times was just plainly wrong and misplaced.  Having rubbed taxi shoulders with those guys when I was the nominal head of the fight against King County, I personally know how erroneous their judgments can sometimes be.  That they helped destroy our effort can't be denied.

It isn't that they are bad people.  Instead it is like I said, factors related to taxi and being in a new environment  affecting what they do and say.  Most importantly, listening carefully to these guys is utterly necessary when deciphering what is correct or real.   Again, it is not a matter of intelligence because the majority of this new wave of immigrant cabbies are very well educated,being doctors, lawyers etc in their home countries.  The overall prevailing factor is just how "the awful physical grind that is taxi" affects the body and mind, contorting reality into something that at times seems like hallucination, all of us cabbies residing in a not-so-pretty "Alice in Wonderland" world where anxiety and stress is our drug of first choice.

And the results of that is Key fought a legal battle before settling; and Topnotch's Robert Rashidi decided to "toss-in-the-towel," tired of dealing with never ending madness.  Knowing both Robert, and Manjit of Key (we served on the taxi advisory commission together) well, I understand their strengths and weaknesses but fairness has never been an issue. That they were subjected to legal harassment says much about our industry. Our real opponents and adversaries lie elsewhere.  Uber, Lyft, Mayor Ed Murray anyone?

Pride Parade Free Rides

Again the City of Seattle teamed up with a ride-share company to provide safe and free rides.  A contact tells me that the City of Seattle does want to unitize taxis but has been unable to reach anyone in the industry to make this happen.  I will avoid any commentary but I will say  I was able to post the collective bargaining workshop info because I received a detailed email from the City of Seattle.  I am told there is money available for taxi participation.  I am glad that's true and if anyone involved in this effort is having problems reaching anyone at Farwest, Orange, Yellow, Northend etc, I suggest they contact me.  I will make it happen.  No problem.

Yellow Zone Queues

I was under the mistaken impression that the "queuing system" would be turned on "zone-wide" but that isn't true.  Instead there are currently 6-7 outlying zones that are "turned-on" to the queue, allowing dispatch to make evaluations.  One approach being considered in having the queue on for all zones only during school-run hours.  One major factor concerning this is that many drivers are saying they want the "closest-car-to-the address" system to remain.  Again, your input is important.  Tell dispatch what you think, what you want. And do it sooner than later, not waiting until autumn comes along.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Road Rage But Why?---More Antics Beneath The Seattle Taxi Full Moon

                                                    "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten
                                                     that we belong to each other."

                                                     Mother Teresa (Anges Gonxha Bojaxhiu)

War is war regardless of the locale or participants or justification or size.  Declarations of war then, more than commonplace, they are ubiquitous and continuous, something never ending in our usual and daily experience.  Road rage, that singular modern expression, is extremely popular is Seattle and area, seemingly nothing at all providing permission to go berserk and do anything one wants to do minus civility and commonsense.  That I experience this kind of behavior is unfortunate but why, why does it happen and what are the long-term consequences being subjected to nonsensical violence?  What is achieved?  What is gained?

This past weekend I was perplexed concerning the insanity around me until the cloudy night sky cleared and there it was, a mischievous full moon smiling down upon its unknowing victims.  "So that's it," I said to myself, "it's you that causing all this nonsense."  As I have said before, the color Yellow incites the weak-minded, impulsive bulls attacking the taxi red cape.  But the reasons behind it are not simple unless you just say that violence, all kinds of violence---physical and verbal and all combinations therein, are inherent to the human psyche, knocks to the head and shouting matches entertaining, making it worthwhile to spend money and time upon the infliction of indiscriminate pain and suffering

While ultimately a promoter of peace, the late Muhammad Ali got his start punching opponents in the face, knocking people down, winning Olympic gold medals and World Heavyweight championships.  If instead Ali had become a doctor, volunteering to work in America's most segregated ghettos, his fame and fortune and influence would have been far less though his care and skill more directly beneficial.  Again, why cheer for the caregiver when instead, isn't it more exciting to see men beat each other mercilessly?  For the vast majority, it is not only their first choice, it is their solitary preference.

The sun was shining.  No, not hot but the cool blanket enveloping Seattle had lifted.  At that moment business was slow, and knowing that the Pier 69 Victoria Clipper was due in about 50 minutes I decided to methodically work myself down to the waterfront, hoping for a "flag" along the way.  Knowing that the tourist pedestrian traffic was heaviest nearest Pike Place Market, I drove that way full knowing well I would be encountering traffic.

Wanting to turn right (north-bound) from Stewart onto First Avenue, I got behind another vehicle turning right, its turn signals on.  Like so many other Seattle drivers, the driver did not take the free right turn available but not being in any hurry I remained patient.  As the signal turned green, the slug in front of me now waited for the many pedestrians now in the way  to clear the intersection before turning right.

When I too began my turn a car next to me suddenly turned into my lane, cutting me off, the male driver, mid-50s, white and upper-middle class, leaned across his poor wife to inform me I was, according to him, in the wrong lane.  Waiting for him to move, I finally took my turn, remaining a good 20 feet behind when the guy abruptly leaps out of his SUV, taking a few steps forward, yelling that he had had his turn signals on. Why he had to tell me this is anyone's guess.

All I can say it that this very threatening individual was lucky that no SPD  were to be seen because they might have drawn their guns.  The question is, how did taking a right-hand turn warrant this kind of response, potentially leading to a serious altercation?  It was so outrageous an escalation that my only response was to laugh, his response past rationality leading to the ludicrous.  Why would he risk getting out of his car over absolutely nothing?  Fortunate for him this isn't Chicago or Philadelphia or NYC, his fate potentially far different.

Earlier in the day  I was transitioning from Beacon Hill north-bound onto north-bound I-5 when a driver, again a white, 50s, upper-middle class man, rudely tired to fill the gap in the lane I was entering, honking loudly, shouting, then chasing me while the traffic was barely moving.  I didn't react and just continued on down I-5, exiting at James Street.  Thankfully he finally backed down and fell 20 cars lengths back.  I appreciated his deescalation.

Also that same Saturday I picked up at a couple at a tavern, both clearly drunk, the man immediately ordering me around in loud drunken, angry, authoritative tones.  Since they were barely going a mile I resolved to just get them there when his demeanor worsened, taking on an overtly aggressive air.

I then pulled over, telling him he would have to stop or he would be getting out of the taxi.  Grabbing his female companion arm he jumped out as I told him his "violence" wasn't acceptable.  Calling me a "hippie f_ _ k!" and making an incorrect reference to 1976 (should be 1967),  that era of peace & love, he stormed out, denying he was violent.

 Being a big guy, he was clearly accustomed to intimidating if not actually beating people up, not used to anyone telling him his rough behavior was inappropriate.  That I wasn't afraid of him told him  his best option was to leave.  I am certainly glad he did.  And why the Reservoir Tavern "over-served" this couple is something they don't want to answer for.  I called the bartender about their customers but I understood that she wasn't interested in the subject, quickly hanging up.

Some people, even some very smart writers have insulted Mother Teresa for doing what she did, intervening into the lives of the poorest of the poor.  What I am sure of is that she never engaged in road rage or drunkenly threatened people.  What her quote indicates, since we are all sharing this interesting reality called life on planet Earth, is that kindness and understanding should always be our first and only option.  I know it is hard to disagree but violence, being so much fun, what would our species do without it?   I think we all know the answer.