Starting tomorrow I am very likely returning to a permanent crime scene. Usually this would make me nervous or at least circumspect as SPD's bright yellow "crime scene tape" means that a serious crime involving murder or other such nefarious mayhem is under investigation. Instead of something felonious, it turns out that the cautionary tape wrapped around the northeast corner of the Seattle Mariner's SafeCo Field designating blood and gore and human sorrow is all about preventing Mariner fans from accessing taxis. One could joke and say the Mariner's performance so far this season is the only thing criminal but no, in this case the criminals are taxi drivers who insist on picking up where the customers are.
Ever since SafeCo opened, fans have congregated at the intersection of 1st Avenue South and Edgar Martinez Way waiting for taxis, the fans not understanding that this is not where the City of Seattle wants them to stand. There is a long history to this, and over the past five years it is something I have attempted to resolve with City officials. This week I attempted again but all for naught. My taxi commission contact, Kenny, provided me with two telephone numbers. No call backs but I did receive an email referring me back to the same person who has not responded to industry needs. Frustrated, I emailed Kenny last night saying this is why I am resigning from the commission. It is clear no one cares.
I suggest this weekend during the home series with the New York Yankees you come watch the SPD parking enforcement "cowboys" and "cowgirls" herd all those rascal cabbies down 1st Avenue South. Some might even find it entertaining, similar to watching those ersatz television westerns popular during the 1960s. "Move along little doggies, move along!" Wasn't it that man amongst men Clint Eastwood who was shouting "Rawhide! Rawhide!?"
Injustice? What Is Going On Here?
A May 29th article in the local "The Stranger" newspaper entitled "Unfare" and written by Cienna Madrid brought back to everyones' attention the last murder of a local Seattle & King County taxi driver. Harjit Singh was murdered last year while dropping off a friend's daughter. After some controversy it was determined that Mister Singh had been hired to provide the ride thus making his wife, Baljinder Kaur, eligible for Labor & Industry compensation. What I didn't know and what the article examines is that he was driving a WAT van taxi that he was awarded during the second round of two Seattle/KC taxi lotteries. Part of the conditions attached to this is the stipulation that the winning cabbie must drive 40 hours a week for the next five years. Since Singh was murdered the City & County revoked the taxi license for, quote, his "failure......to personally drive the vehicle 40 hours per week." This seems to be a hard judgement since Singh's inaction is not voluntary. I am sure if he hadn't been murdered he would have happily continued fulfilling his obligation. This is when the story then takes on a Kafkaesque tone, seemingly blaming Singh for his own murder which I am sure all agree is an appalling conclusion.
Madrid goes on to portray his wife as a victim because commonsense would dictate that as the direct heir she should "inherit" the taxi and the mandatory conditions attached to it. To that end the wife is currently qualifying for a (taxi) for-hire driving license and soon will be a bona fide rookie cabbie. Madrid's article, despite some errors and deficiencies, is well worth reading, pointing out there is clause allowing the City & County leeway when there are extenuating or unusual circumstances. Isn't Singh's murder enough to prompt official introspection? As long as the wife excepts the same conditions her husband agreed to it would seem to be both logical and humane allowing her to fulfill the contract. What is important to note is that after the five-year period the dual-license would be hers to either keep or sell. Currently it is worth between 200-250 thousand dollars so much is at stake.
What Madrid failed to point out is that Ms. Kaur already owns a city-only plated Farwest taxi, having inherited it from her husband. In the kind of bureaucratic wisdom puzzling known and accepted logic, the City & County permitted drivers who already owned a taxi to qualify for the lottery. Take note that the wife hasn't been driving the taxi, instead leasing it out for the approximate lease of more or less $130.00 for two separate 12 hour shifts per day. It helps to do the math, $130.00 times the usual 30 days in the common month. Even after expenses it is a decent chunk of change. In addition the wife was granted what I believe is a life-long L&I pension of $2000. dollars per month. I only mention this because the Madrid piece implied that the widow is bereft. Even after taxes she must be clearing nearly $5000. a month without lifting a taxi finger.
Madrid also has the wife driving the decommissioned taxi, using it as a symbolic focal point. The only problem with this is it seems that the actual WAT taxi Singh was driving is being stored by the police as evidence. I know this from a telephone call received this morning. I was also told something extremely interesting.
While all of the legal maneuvers continue, once the wife is duly for-hire licensed, she can buy another WAT van and the City& County will provide it with the proper plates, making her and the van road ready. She will be allowed to operate the WAT taxi until a court decision is reached.
It seems then that someone has been providing Ms. Kaur with erroneous or only partial information. I called someone who then called her attorney. I also talked to Cienna Madrid about the situation, informing her what I understood the situation to be. I really appreciate her and "The Stranger's" involvement. An active press is a vital public service, especially since the diminishing of local reporting by the larger dailies. What do they care about taxi drivers? Not much as near as I can tell.
More James & Ray
Wednesday night I wrote James Cooper and Ray Mundy an interesting email, complete with typos, comparing them to giant alien outer space cannibals and myself as some herding dog faithful to his flock. James wrote a cordial reply promising not to gobble up all of us unwary cabbies. All I can say, this is what happens when you involve yourselves with the infamous crazy world that is taxi. Welcome to the asylum!
What prompted my allusions were the repeated glowing reports from the many folks whom James and Ray were talking up. Given that many of them knew for the most part zero to nothing about taxi reality I began, despite my personal favorable appraisal, to question the good professors' motives. In Jame's reply he emphasized that it was necessary to thoroughly converse with all concerned and interested parties. While that may be true, isn't the passenger audit statistical, a real head-count of actual and potential passengers? All I can say is that the taxi dog remains a bit sceptial. As I told James and Ray my tail is still wagging, though warily.
The space cannibal stuff comes from that great Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man." If anyone remembers, those creatures were friendly, and as it turned out, too friendly for humanity's good. Expect a few more barks!
And PS: James and Ray were scheduled for next week to give the city council a preliminary reading of their audit. Without explanation it has been cancelled. As far as I know no new date has been set. I will keep everyone updated.