Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shift Change & The Seattle/King Taxi Advisory Commission: A Brief Commentary

Shift Change at Yellow Cab: A Sight to Behold

Imagine multiple pit stops at a raceway and then you will have a good idea of what occurs daily roughly between 3-4:30 PM as the day shift cabs roar in, with the awaiting array of night shifters eager to fly off and grab all that business just sitting there, ripe fruit for the taking, 3-5 PM on the weekdays usually the busiest moments of the taxi day.  Cabs line up for instant inspections, checking oil levels and are the headlights working? what about the brake lights?  It is a period of constant motion and real impatience.  "Damn! the day driver is late!  He is gonna pay!  God damn him!"  If the night driver is lucky, his taxi is in a few minutes early, and with no major problems detected, off he sails to the waiting fares or all those flags (bingos as we call them) wandering downtown anxious to get to the airport.  If unlucky, Randy or Taki will say what you don't want to be hearing, "Com' on, bring it into the garage!"  "How long will it take, Randy, I gotta go!?"  "You know I don't know!" " Com' on!, he irritatedly repeats, "Com" on!" Randy ready to kill you at that given moment, Randy a perpetual scowl.

That is the setting, 150 or more taxis crowding into the former Ryder Truck lot at nearly the same time attempting the impossible and mostly pulling it off.   Mostly civility is the prevailing temper as everyone knows losing it only translates into longer waits.  Call it the mechanics' major leverage.  Cooperate or back to the end of the line.  Quickly you learn to just shut up and make the best of it.  The taxi driver is always waiting for something: the next fare, the repaired taxi, for the cashier to open, the tow truck.  The wait never ends.  It is the driver's fate to wait.  There is no other option, marooned upon an elusive efficiency.  What changes?  Nothing changes!

Next time you are landing at Sea-Tac with the airliner making a southward approach, look to the west and you should be able to see a large Yellow dot just east of the Duwamish waterway.  And that is it, number 74 South Hudson Street, home away from home for 478 and all those other gluttons for punishment we call the typical Yellow cab, most likely a Ford Crown Victoria but that is quickly changing.  478 has just over 300,000 miles on it.  450,000 miles is not uncommon.  478 is great car but tends to drift.  You just learn your horses' peculiarities and gallop down that highway.  Each car is different.  Ask any extra-board driver.  He will tell you all about it.

The Taxi Advisory Commission:  A Great Disappointment?

It was early March of this year when the letter arrived that the mayor of Seattle had appointed me to the oft-delayed Seattle-King County Taxi Advisory Commission.  I would have yelped for joy but I was in Eastern Europe.  Finally, after various gyrations,  the first meeting was held this month.  I am no longer celebrating, and very briefly, I will tell you why.

To begin with, only two or three members made it on time, a nine o'clock start on a Tuesday morning.  Abebe, the Yellow (BYG) president was sitting there when I arrived.  A minutes later I noticed Arron Morrow was also there.  That was it for a good half an hour.  Eventually 5 additional members made their appearance, the last making it one hour and twenty minutes into the meeting.  Everyones' reasoning was traffic.  Laura Bush, Colin Powell and various others were in Seattle to tell the masses that the confidence to succeed would bring them  to glory, or something like that.  Anyway, their fans clogged the roadways, making it difficult to get around.  So the tardy commission members had a ready excuse.  I unfortunately only half believe them, knowing my fellow taxi folks two well.  2 members failed to show up altogether.  Alive or dead I don't know but I failed to see their funeral notices.

Regardless, the meeting stumbled along.  And the conclusion, well I am not sure there is an official one.  My unofficial view is that everything is all very wrong, that the commission is ill and will never go into remission.  I say this for a couple of reasons.  First, the commission was devised to have 6 taxi and 5 non-taxi members.  I know that the City of Seattle and the King County council members were attempting to be all-inclusive, giving all theoretic special interest groups an equal voice but I have come to question whether we need novices to advise the taxi industry.  Everyone, it appears, claim to know all about it, including the majority of my passengers.  My advice to them is first obtain your taxi for-hire, drive for least one year then get back to me. 

Another factor is that the councils appear to have made some interesting choices for the commission.  I will leave it at that and to your imagination.  I swear I don't have a bad attitude.  I just weight the evidence.  I can tell instantly who gets into my taxi.  I also can see who just entered the commission.  What I had hoped for were a able group of folks both experienced with the local industry along with the capacity for serious problem solving.  That does not appear to be the case and I have yet to meet the absent members.  I will keep everyone informed but I am now less than hopeful.  Despair is my state of mind and official resignation rests upon the tip of my taxi tongue.  Like I said earlier, the taxi driver is perpetually waiting, waiting for something good to happen.  What was Samuel Beckett waiting for?

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