Friday, August 29, 2014

Bypassing Sweet Home & There Is Always Trouble In The Backseat

Instead of greeting you from Oregon I am instead back in Tacoma writing this week's post in a branch library.  Timing dictated on both ends of my central Oregon hiking foray that I make haste to where I was going.  Quartzville Creek, while beautiful, had too many folks for our taste though I strongly recommend the high county, nearly 5000 feet elevation that is offered by continuing east-bound on Oregon Forest Road #11, just above where it intersects with State Route 126.  For me there is nothing like a clear horizon decorated by mountain peaks. 

From there we continued on to the famous Scott Lake which again was a disappointment.  Shallow and suffering from excessive hype, the lake and area was crowded with too many folks seeking a "wilderness celebrity" better left to itself.  The one very redeeming feature were the Benson Lake and Hand Lake trails leading into the Mount Washington Wilderness.  Behind and beyond Benson were the three Tenas Lakes, the middle Tenas offering us a clear and deep Alpine swimming pool.  The Lake Hand trail was different altogether, taking us through late-season wild flower strewn meadows, finally ending for us at a very interesting magma-flow field.  The only problem being post-taxi fatigue got the best of me, almost requiring that I be carried out upon a stretcher, taxi the poorest kind of fitness training.

Today, about 14 miles east of Sweet Home, we hiked the 1 1/2 mile RT jaunt to Soda Creek Falls which doesn't sound like much until you realize the first leg is all uphill.  The falls, a slender cascading thread, was well worth the time and sweat.  The only taxi I saw the entire trip was a Portland-area Broadway Cab north-bound on I-205.  It was my favorite color. Yellow!

Watch Out for the Backseat

When it comes to taxi, separation between driver and passenger is always the best of policies.  Greeted last Saturday with a new system and no idea how to operate it, I stumbled along the best I could.  Passengers can now swipe their debit and credit cards from the backseat.  Wouldn't you know it my first fare was a drunk young woman using a credit card.  Getting her to her Wallingford District address, both of us experienced difficulties processing the transaction, meaning I had to enter the backseat to supervise what neither of us knew little about.  Thankfully the card transaction went through but unfortunately the person in question insisted on hugging me.  Thank goodness though that was the end of that nonsense.  I am sure many wish to repeat the same but I continue to limit the opportunities.  As for putting all of us cabbies out there minus any instruction except a one-page "cheat sheet" I defer comment other than saying only "taxi" would do something like this.    ______ help us all!



Friday, August 22, 2014

Lake Kalcema

My intention to write even a shortened report upon the entirety of the new regulations has been sabotaged by an ill-behaving computer.   Having switched to another computer and having less than 40 minutes left before heading off to dinner, I will instead tell you that off the Mountain Loop Highway north of Granite Falls, Washington resides a beautiful alpine lake nestled in the Boulder River Wilderness, Lake Kalcema.  Luckily yesterday afternoon I found I had the lake completely to myself.  To say I felt blessed is an understatement.  Finding a small sandy beach surrounded on three sides by ripe berry-laden Huckleberry bushes, I leaped into the lake, treating the experience as a kind of naturalistic baptism.  I couldn't have been more content.  The sun was shining and the water, surprisingly, a pleasant temperature.  No taxis, no people, no machines of any kind.  Just blissful silence.  There was nothing else to request.  I had everything I needed.

Next Monday my report might be equally short but even sweeter when I will be in Sweet Home, Oregon with the ever famous "she-who-can't-be named."  We will be camping and hiking in an area near Quartzville Creek.  Known for its gold dust-laden waters we will see what hidden treasures are to be found.  If its only peace and quiet I will be eternally grateful.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Twenty-nine Airport Runs & Wednesday TAG Report

Is everyone fleeing Seattle or more correctly, has the booming local economy created a new wealthy sub-class launching everyone into the air?  Whatever the impetus, it has been impressive, providing me with twenty-nine fares to Sea-Tac over three consecutive weekends, meaning in six total days I have averaged nearly five a day.  Nothing like this has ever personally happened to me before, signifying something whatever that something might be.  And amazingly they are not the only good fares I am getting.  Saturday I got a cash fare from the VA Hospital to Tacoma, that large city about 30 miles south of Seattle.  Last weekend I kept going to the City of Kent, again located about 17-20 miles southeast. While airport runs are always welcome, it doesn't mean they are always the perfect fare, a situation too well illustrated by a fare last night originating in the north end, at about 88th NE and Roosevelt NE, an approximate 18 miles north of the airport.

Sunday night in Seattle can be and is one of the best times to latch onto an airport fare, given the many "red-eye" flights leaving for the East Coast.  Knowing this, I have gotten into the habit of working the more demographically prime areas for such fares. And sure enough, just before 9:00 PM the fish bit, and all I had to do was drive about 3/4 of a mile to the required address.  Not being a time-call I assumed the person would be ready to leap out and go.

Alerting the passenger by telephone I pulled up and began waiting.  Minutes passed and no passenger.  Getting out of 478, I made sure I was at the correct address.  Verifying I was there I relaxed and soon the garage door opened, signalling the guy was finally coming.  What shocked me was his flight's departure time.  It was now 9:10 PM and his New Jersey flight was leaving at 10:57! 

Ridiculous but there it was, provided no choice but to fly like a taxi banshee.  Voicing my displeasure and clearly hinting this effort was worth a good tip, off we roared down south-bound Interstate 5.  Further complicating the drive was a very congested roadway, prompting countless maneuvers and lane changes at 60-80 MPH.  More than once I told him his poor planning was unwise and hazardous, endangering all concerned.

Arriving at the ticket level exactly at 10:31 PM he had 26 minutes to make it aboard which I assume he did.  He gave me with tip $68.00.  He wasn't generous.  What else is there left to say?

Craig Leisy's TAG (Quarterly Taxi Advisory Group

Much more on this later but I made a point of attending because Mr. Leisy would be providing everyone an overview of the mayor's Uber bill which became operational in part last week.  Am I pleased that the Office of Consumer Affairs is as confused as everyone else concerning it?  No, I am not happy.  Tomorrow I am going hiking and camping in the North Cascades.  Part of the reading material I am taking along is that damn bill.   Expect a thorough review next week unless I run away with a pack of woolly marmots, never to be seen again.  Sounds like a rational alternative.












Monday, August 11, 2014

Conversations

Last week and today I had conversations with two City of Seattle officials, today's meeting being with an individual responsible for direct TNC, taxi, flat-rate for-hire and town car enforcement; and last Thursday's meeting, where me and four others met with the criminal division's lead prosecutor, seeking information concerning prosecutory status and other related issues. What has become clear, beyond any suspicion, is that the mayor's office is holding up all and any TNC prosecution.   Just how questionable that tacit is appears clear, especially since during the 55 day mediation period, the taxi industry received  over 100 citations while Uber, Lyft and Sidecar received sum zero criminal misdemeanor notifications.  The contrast is startling, especially since Mayor Murray is requesting yet another "grace period" that appears to be directed again toward his TNC friends.

And what will the taxi drivers receive during this same time period?  I think the answer is unfortunately obvious. The prosecutor, a perfectly nice and seemingly fair and straight-forward person, is currently seeking clarification.  In the meanwhile, questions concerning TNC insurance persists, potentially setting up disastrous incidents, consequentially perhaps answering what everyone clearly understands: a dangerous situation for the passenger public persists, catastrophe and  tragedy just one uninsured driver away.

Something else I found out today is that many suggested positive taxi regulatory changes have either been ignored completely or allowed to languish upon the legislative shelf. I commented this afternoon that it goes back to what I said last week concerning the lack of important governmental relationships.  Doesn't the primary Seattle taxi associations understand that their existence is tenuous and situationally out-of-control?  No, they do not understand.

 Denver Comes For A Visit

A taxi buddy, reader of my blog from Denver dropped by yesterday while on an extended layover en route to Anchorage.  He rode along for a couple hours, experiencing the _______that is my taxi-style.  Loyal, though still a relative taxi rookie, is smart and tough, just the kind of guy our industry needs to battle our way back to operational sanity.  Hey, thanks for saying hello!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Taxi Essay: Headlong Toward Oblivion: A Failure To Build Relationships

When does blame end and accountability begin, allowing for a rational analysis of what is a systemic disaster born how many theoretical decades ago but only now displaying its true face to a shocked and disapproving general public?  In this case it begins when you are nearly completely submersed and gasping for breath, going down for a final time, not realizing the depth nor the dimension of the problem.  Another way of explaining it is claiming surprise you are totally drenched while standing  unsheltered amidst a torrential downpour. After a while it all looks like buffoonery which is difficult to deny when everyone is pointing fingers at you and laughing.  This is what it has come to for the local and also national taxi companies and associations, a damning assessment of what has been operational for the past 100 years and where the regulators currently think you are heading, which for them appears to be absolutely nowhere, akin to driving in circles.  I can understand that.

Anyone close to the taxi industry, me for instance and my over 26 year relationship plying the taxi streets, quickly noticed a minor criminal attitude governing many of the individuals involved, be they driver or owner or mechanic or dispatcher.  The obvious problem I saw from the beginning with this attitude is that instead of lurking down dark alleys the taxi industry was fully illuminated by the bright glaring light of governmental oversight and regulation.  It was like robbing a bank with an official name tag, meaning clearly you were going to be instantly caught, which is exactly what happened, smiles replaced by frowns, handcuffs replacing handshakes. It made no sense but when you are not paying full attention it is difficult to comprehend your own foolishness. 

That we in the Seattle taxi industry are about to be dismembered should come as no surprise.  We are only receiving what we asked for, the rampant sinner fully expecting God's wrath.  Why wouldn't you expect a strong response after your cars became disintegrating "death traps," with owners deaf to any and all complaint or friendly suggestion. Both mechanics and dispatchers found bribery a lucrative sideline activity while too many taxi drivers fifty years ago and even still today think their cab is a shortcut to chaos and personal anarchy.  Like I said, all very stupid when Big Mommy and Daddy government observes your every move.  What was everyone thinking? 

If instead, starting way back in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, the taxi industry, like other regulated industries, had begun constructive conversation with regulators, they would have built the necessary connections protecting them when someone like Uber came knocking.  Some cities, Portland, Oregon for instance, did step up and protected their endemic taxi industry. Clearly in Seattle that did not come close to happening.  Instead, everyone associated was labeled incompetent and beyond rehabilitation.  When told their assessments and conclusions were incorrect, they ignored our complaints, actually stating they knew more about our own industry than we do, understanding how to better serve the general passenger public.  Friends do not do this to friends, and clearly our friends in City and County government are few.  The mayor's bill, replacing the city council's, soundly kicks us squarely in the butt.

All of this could have been avoided by sharing a weekly cup of coffee in 1926 or 1966 or that important year of 1987 when I first got started in the business.  Of course I quickly noticed something was extremely wrong but feeling I was only passing through felt I could ignore the obvious.  I couldn't have been more incorrect, dragged down with the rest of my taxi brethren, ground beneath the heel of vengeful government authority.  A lesson learned yes, but how do we recoup what has been lost?  Plain and simply I don't think we do, at least not quickly nor easily.  Having been our own worse enemy it will take maybe decades to regain market share.  Hard times are upon us and come January a mournful bell will toll for the dead and the dying.  It is inevitable. It is our fate.








Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Factual? Yet To Be Seen & A Schell Post-Script

Part of the history, or potentially part of the story behind the Seattle City Council's abrupt disavowal of its own hand-crafted bill, was whispered to me by a trusted confidential source.  Whether this truly unravels part of the mystery I don't know but in the public interest I think it is important to provide a peek behind the drawn governmental curtains.  Aren't these folks supposed to be working for you and me minus hidden or contrary agendas?  While theoretically that's probably true, in actual practice it appears to be another story altogether. 

This is what I was told:

Working behind the scenes with City of Seattle legal staff, an individual associated with the local taxi industry crafted an agreement where the City Attorney's Office would officially back the legal challenge to the Uber referendum effort.  What happened was:

1)  Within the highest echelons of Seattle's governmental hierarchy came the word to

2) A second tier authority to quash any and all legal ambitions which

3)  Was relayed to the Seattle City Council who essentially acquiesced to the command structure.

By reading between the taxi lines it should be clear who told what to whom.  Ultimately the question remains is just why did the dominoes fall the way they did?   Who provided the motivation for this chain of linked events?  I certainly wish the local media would pick up the mantle and investigate what I believe could result in a very revealing story.  Anyone interested in a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting?

PS: More Schell

A small obituary mention in today's Tacoma News Tribune has prompted a few more lines upon the late Seattle mayor.  Call this a little post-mortem remembrance.

While much is made about Schell's contribution to Seattle's library system and the arts, nothing is said about added functionality, Seattle's main DT branch externally is a real architectural beauty but internally is where the questions arise.  Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars resulting in less not more efficiency, an enduring if not quite sensible legacy?

Articles also make reference to the WTO riots occurring during his administration's tenure.  Working the WTO conference like any other large revenue generating event, I was driving my taxi in the curfew-bound DT and greater Belltown and observed a small squadron of armor-clad police bear down upon some crack dealers who clearly had not gotten the word to get out of there.  I turned the corner quickly, not wanting to observe the inevitable.

A little bit later, now driving down Broadway East on Capitol Hill, two very conservatively dressed black business women jumped into my cab, having just been accidentally gassed by the SPD.  Turning west onto East Mercer, then north upon Harvard East I stopped at the corner of East Roy and Harvard East only to come across a platoon of fully-outfitted Seattle police officers marching east up Roy in complete drill-like unison, precisely lifting their clubs in machine-like orderly fashion.  The Sargent in front, noticing my presence at the stop sign, lifted up and pointed his shotgun directly at my wind shield.  I was astonished!

Yes this is all true, thanks to Schell's disjointed response I might have received a face full of shotgun pellets.  My passengers, by the way, were horrified.  Once the cops passed by, we got the hell out of there.  The gas victims kept asking how did this all happen?  Why, didn't they know, courtesy of Seattle's voters, who else?  How else did this fiasco occur?









Monday, July 28, 2014

Giving It A Rest & Comments Upon A Late Mayor

Not that I expected it but I haven't heard anything new today about reviving a challenge to the Mayor's bill.  Being the ever optimist I hoped that some new resistance might spring up but alas, no, all that remains is composing a taxi obituary.  But given the level of business this weekend you would never know the patient is terminal.  It was amazingly busy and profitable, even for a summer Seafair/Torchlight parade and Capitol Hill Block Party weekend.  At one point I had three Sea-Tac airport fares in a row, giving me five total for yesterday. 

Saturday morning got off with a real bang, my third fare taking me to that beautiful little town nestled in the near Cascades, North Bend.  Dropping off my passengers near looming Mount Si, the early morning was truly breathtaking, a pervasive misty, low hanging ground fog providing further enchantment to an idyllic dawn.  I didn't want to leave, further reminding I have had enough of taxi, quite ready to to be in the middle of nowhere and staying there for months at a time. 

But ultimately, Bless you, taxi, I will always wish you the best the world has to offer.  I just wish you wouldn't ignore the obvious but I know that's asking more than you can do.  I give up!

Comment Upon A Former Mayor

Today's Seattle Times announced the passing of former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell who had led Seattle from 1998 to 2002.  He died from complications relating to heart bypass surgery.  I note his passing due to a statement he made during his administration, Schell advising Seattle's citizenry to utilize taxis as their second car.  This sounds good unless you experienced the local terror campaign perpetuated upon the taxi driver community by Seattle's police, this started under another good liberal, Norm Rice.  I am not exaggerating when I say SPD would stop the local cabbies for the most minor of offences, like picking up and dropping off customers. Perhaps ineffectual Schell was completely unaware of SPD's tactics, which wouldn't be surprising, the good mayor forever dreaming of leafy Provence. 

During his initial winning campaign for mayoral office, it came out that the ex-Port of Seattle commissioner was travelling quite often to Europe on official business only to somehow end up visiting his quaint cottage located in southern France.  How did this guy ever get elected?  RIP! Mister Schell, you make the current mayor look good.  Weather you love or hate Murray, you can't say he isn't effective.  He is mover, getting things done minus popular opinion.  Weather this translates into a second term, or like Schell, only sticking around for four years, remains to be seen.  What is my opinion?  Guess!?