Two taxi meetings in two days plus a third that thankfully didn't require my attendance. Both the meeting with Jesse Gilliam, legislative assistant for Seattle City Council member Sally Clark, the current Council President; and the regularly scheduled Seattle & King County Taxi Advisory Commission meeting went well as important issues were both discussed and reviewed. I am happy to report that the commission is beginning to respond and shine professionally. Nothing could be better for the taxi industry than a functional and constructive commission.
Beginning with Mister Gilliam, together we reviewed the situation concerning that most red-hot of taxi issues, the "for-hire" industry and their unauthorized "off-of-the-streets" pick-ups within Seattle city limits. Jesse is a good listener and agreed that options must be reviewed including bringing all of us, meaning primary taxi and for-hire figures together for a meeting with Sally Clark. He confirmed, which I already knew to be true, that the much bandied about "demand study" auditing Seattle passenger demand has yet to begin, with no firm starting date mentioned. The reason why this is so important is because City officials keep saying that this study is key to understanding the "for-hire" conundrum. The "Catch-22" (sorry Joseph Heller) in all of this is that the study might take a year to conduct. In the meanwhile the illegal pick-ups off the city streets continue. And what about all those new enforcement officers that the City wanted (and will ask the taxi industry in the future to pay for?) Already one has quit to take another job. What kind of commitment was that? Recent data says that there were about 54 citations issued to "for-hire" operators in the combined period of November & December 2012. As I told Jesse, that adds up to about the number of pick-ups upon a given Saturday evening hour and I am probably grossly underestimating the total fares stolen. After the commission meeting a fellow industry colleague and I had a quick and friendly confab with a "for-hire" lobbyist. Really a great guy. He even bought me a bagel. Anyway he stated the example that since most of his clients are making a good living picking-up off of the streets it proves that there is indeed a service need both justifying their existence and current practice. I suppose you can interpret it that way. Or you could oppositely say that they are proficient thieves and that the enforcement is essentially nonexistent. I bet you can guess the view I endorse. Though he said he would certainly agree to meet with Sally Clark, he related that his clients are far more interested in meeting with folks from the various local taxi associations. Hopefully both will occur.
Two guests, one official, the other not made the commission meeting interesting. Chris, the individual responsible for writing the Labor & Industry legislation resulting in the current coverage gave the commission a quick yet thorough history lesson, some of which was new to me. The impetus for the L&I push which has brought us to where we currently are, was the shooting in 2005 of a Tacoma Yellow taxi driver in the once notorious Hilltop neighborhood. Unfortunately his injuries resulted in hospital bills of over $450,000 dollars and in being permanently disabled, the driver tragically remaining a quadriplegic . This situation compelled L&I into action and thus all the industry audits, etcetera. Overall it was a good presentation.
The unexpected speaker was Tim Csontos from something called "Taxi Magic" who told us of this new smart phone app that allows a customer to summon a taxi without talking to a formal dispatch. I suggest you do what I did and google taximagic.com and see what you come up with. Tim by the way is Vice-President for Business Development. At this point I am reserving judgment but "Taxi Magic" also is offering what they call "Sedan Magic" which brings you a town-car. Sounds much like the new "Uber" service. I caution everyone to remain wary of anyone bearing gifts. The motive here is clearly profit and probably little else other than unwarranted intrusion into our business. I will be asking Tim for further details.
And lastly, my rather innocent description of Saturday morning's snafu resulted in a strong response from at least one individual, that being the head of dispatch. For over the past two months a group of drivers have been meeting with him in an attempt to address our service concerns. My narration and commentary was found offensive which I regret but I did predict some denial was heading our way. What can't be denied is that it appears to have been a very avoidable mess causing anguish and confusion for four hours. One of the major points the drivers have been repeating is, simply put, we are suffering and could you please help us. I doubt if any of the drivers wish to repeat the living nightmare that we endured. The pressure upon me personally was enormous. Losing four hours put me far behind my usual quota. Thankfully extremely hard work and some luck salvaged the weekend. On Friday I had put my mortgage payment in the mail anticipating that I would make something close to my weekend usual. The situation Saturday morning gave me a fright because none of us knew when dispatch would be back up and working. It was not a pleasant experience. All any of us are asking for is for the system to work and function in the way it was designed. I don't, and I must repeat, I don't understand how that cannot be our expectation. If not, then what should we be expecting? I will leave it at that.