Monday, May 20, 2013

Parsing The City Council President's Words

If you missed it, you might want to check out KOMO Television's investigative report concerning all those illegal pick-ups off the streets of Seattle.  Reporter Jeff Burnside went "undercover" while flagging for-hire cars cruising the downtown streets.  To no one's surprise every available for-hire driver stopped for him.  It was only when he revealed who he was did their tune quickly change.  For most viewers this shocking exposure was probably what caught their attention.  Since weekly I have a taxi birds-eye view instead I found Sally Clark's comments the most interesting.  KOMO only featured her and Burnside twice but what she didn't say in that broad sense said everything about the issue. 

As I have said, I like her and recognize that she is attempting to be inclusive.  One could call her the city council's "secretary of weights and measures" as she balances a particular situation, examining it from all sides.  The only problem being is that it is not always possible to please everyone, and as in this case, one side is completely in the right and the other in the wrong.  Impossible then to balance the lopsided. Burnside's report clearly illustrates that. My advise to Sally is that she stop giving interviews because as this case nears litigation, as the shouting intensifies, the kind of responses I heard only weakens the City's legal position.  Again, that the release of the for-hire licenses was done minus foresight is glaringly obvious.  Acting like this crisis is normal, or that it isn't even a crisis, is I feel a huge mistake. 

In snapshot one, Sally Clark tells Burnside that "if you ask the for-hire drivers, they are not being allowed to serve market demand."  If Sally wasn't so genuine I would call that completely disingenuous. This is why.  She knows that nothing is preventing them from serving the rider public in the manner intended, that is by prearranged trips.  The intent was never to allow them to act as taxi cabs within the boundaries of Seattle.  She knows that but her response clearly sidesteps the obvious.  She knows that the for-hires know they are operating illegally.  She knows they purchased the licenses fully understanding and agreeing to the inherent limitations.  Her response then to Burnside is nothing but evasive.   Market demand has nothing to do with it because the spontaneous customer found on the street waving at a taxi has nothing whatsoever to do with the for-hire market.  All involved know this.  It is not a secret.

Perhaps more egregious is snapshot two, where it appears she is saying that since the for-hires see people flagging on the streets, they are responding to "market demand", somehow implying that the demand isn't being met by the taxi industry solely by the example that the for-hire driver is seeing someone waiting on the street and is not in a taxi.  Huh? is my response.  Wait a few seconds and a taxi will be there. Just because someone is flagging a cab means that there is an unmet demand?  That is nonsensical. 

Now that these two quotes are on film, permanently archived, the City Council position, however confusing and conflated, is now on record.  It appears there might be an unwitting complicity between the City and the for-hire industry.  Is this why Jeff Burnside was able to find unlimited examples of drivers breaking the law?  Is it because the City has issued a whispered tacit permission to them saying go ahead, we will not arrest you?  If none of this is true then what is going on?  Doesn't the City have the power to both suspend and recall the licenses?  Surely improper operation is grounds for such actions.  What should be alarming to the citizens of Seattle, those folks who by their property taxes are paying the City's bills, is that their representatives appear to be perpetuating a completely indefensible legal position, and ultimately it will be the taxpayers forking over the millions of dollars in any class-action lawsuit.

The problem and issue is well documented, including the City sitting on its hands.  My advise to the City is to quickly institute real enforcement, begin suspending violators and instantly the City will have credibility.  Currently as I see it they are standing on a foundation of sand.  What do you get when large volumes of water is added to porous sand?  Why quicksand of course swallowing everything up.  I can see all of us waving "bye-bye" to all those good city council members and city officials as their heads disappear beneath the surface.  All so unnecessary, don't you think? 

And if you think this is a fairytale, it is, like one of the features from the animated "Rocky and Bullwinkle" show, a "fractured" fairytale.  Also remember the story of that big egg sitting on a wall, and all "of the king's soldiers and all of the king's men" could not glue that egg back together again.  The yolk is spreading across the street, making for a sticky mess.  Watch your step!

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