Thursday, July 21, 2011

Andrew & Mario, Continued

Okay, it is later in the morning and here I am continuing where I left off.  It was very frustrating to lose writing that had already been saved.  But anyway, enough of that.  What I had been commenting on before it all disappeared was the fairly obvious fact that much of the problem in NYC concerning the lack of taxi service in the outer burroughs are the drivers' themselves, not understanding that there is an easy alternative to be locked in Manhattan traffic with few options than being patient.  Walking around Manhattan last May (2010) I was appalled at the driver's daily reality of more passengers than you can imagine while simultaneously unable to drive down the street to pick them up.  Looking at their faces, they appeared to be little more than prisoners in a very crazy asylum.  The gridlock they faced was not on any level reasonable.  The interior of the taxi is a horrible workplace to begin with.  Add all the hours and traffic and you have an intolerable situation.  That is their reality: non-stop insult and madness.  Yet at the same time, the majority being relatively new to the business and new to the country and culture, they compound their problems by staying in the middle of that congested stew.  I found it extremely difficult to watch, like a horrible television program that will not switch off.

Inexperienced taxi drivers of course aren't limited to NYC of course.  In Seattle, there are many drivers who insist on remaining confined to our very tiny downtown core, still believing what they had learned years earlier from the flickering screen.  It is amazing how stubborn many of them are.  Any suggestions concerning alternatives is considered a personal insult.  This trait is not limited to the new drivers.  Drivers who should know better don't, clinging to a particular section of Seattle like a barnacle to a stationary pier.  They are not moving.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand, whether NYC will be adding all those new quasi-taxis.  It probably is a good idea but the primary reason it might not take place has all to do about money and power.  If it was a question concerning service to the passenger, then it would go forward.  I also believe it is true that if the NYC taxi industry was at all interested in serving the entire city, they would begin an industry-wide campaign promoting that, encouraging drivers to visit Queens and Brooklyn and pick people up.  No, money and money only is their bottom-line.  Clearly that is the case. Stacy and I discussed what we would do if we were driving taxi in NYC.  We would be cruising Brooklyn Heights and other such neighborhoods.

When I was in NYC last May for the BEA Book Fair, my shuttle bus from Newark dropped me off directly in front of an medallion broker. One morning I stepped in, introducing my myself as a long-time taxi driver.  They were extremely friendly, telling me that I too could own a New York Yellow taxi for the mere price of $750,000.  But better yet, I could buy 2 and receive a substantial discount, something like $695,000 each. As I fainted to the floor I believe I said I'll take four, and do you provide gift wrapping?  In more plainer words, the taxi financial world in NYC is more than simply being beyond out-of-control, it has reached the towering heights of absurdity.  The economics don't justify it but there it is screaming at you.  And this is why Bloomberg will probably lose his quest for better taxi service.

The concern Medallion Financial and all those medallion owners have is that adding all those livery cabs will bring down the current value of the medallions.  That they should be a quarter of what they are now doesn't concern them.   Like I said, all they are interested in is money, and getting more money.  I am sure they want the value to reach one million dollars per medallion.  Imagine the interest that could be gained or the profits made by selling them.

By now some of you might be asking how did this situation, this amazing over evaluation come about, be created?   In Seattle, the situation is similar, licenses once worth $5000. are now selling for $150-200. thousand dollars.  This has happened in NYC and Seattle and elsewhere because of a simple misunderstanding of economics and the resulting supply and demand that can not be fulfilled.  This is one rare moment where the immigrant drivers and owners share some responsibility.  They have misinterpreted the taxi gold rush, believing there is more money to be made than what actually exists.  This is a commonplace event, happening in California in the 1850s and now in the greater USA during the first decades of the 21st Century.  Desperation is what has spawned this development, and what will feed it well into the century.  Folks come from the Horn of Africa and other parts of the developing world and discover that large incomes (especially from their perspective) can be made driving taxi, which is completely true.  They then tell everyone back home all about it, and now everyone who can get a visa is coming over and climbing into a cab.  Like magic, you too will be rich and happy.  And Medallion Financial and their ilk will continue to fatten their wallets, taking advantage of the situation.

This is where Andrew Cuomo and his father, Mario Cuomo, enter this story.  Andrew is the current governor and Mario of course a former governor and of course once a very powerful political broker in the Democratic party, both regionally and nationally.  I have a book written by Mario in 1995, "Reason To Believe," waxing on various national problems, saying there is cause to believe that the Republican surge of 1994 was just a bump in the progressive road, everything changing again, it all being a matter of time and common sense.  While that may be true or not, what is definately true is that the good ex-governor is now siiting on the board of directors for Medallion Finanical, recieving the trifling fee of $55,000 a year for his expert advice.  What does Mario know about taxi driving?  Beats me but I am sure he knows that Medallion Financial is a large contributor to his son's election funds. Like father, like son?

So it is an interesting situation.  The great liberal Mario sits on a board making easy money while his son decides whether the average person in the Bronx will get a cab.  I believe we all have a "reason to believe" that politics and money and power will write the ending to this story.  The passed bill is currently sitting on the govornor's desk awaiting his signature.  What will he do?  Does Andrew Cuomo have the physical strenght to pick up that pen?  I will let you know.   How much does the average pen weight?

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