Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Analysis: Outline Of A Taxi Crisis & More Stories

Collectively our local taxi industry is awaiting the pending Seattle City Council  decision which is slated to be announced sometime near or after the November 5th election.  Concerning ride-share services, for-hire cars, limo (town car) regulation, and potential taxi-license release, important decisions affecting taxi industry viability for years to come will be placed upon our plate whether edible or not.  Some of the suggested recipes, option 3 for instance, from our point of view, may be indigestible.  Given that, I will attempt to demystify and codify the issues, and continuing the dietary analogies, cut them into bite-size pieces.  I can't emphasize more everyones' personal responsibility in knowing the issues facing us and advocating for our future.  If you find any of what I've written helpful, please incorporate as you will, telling everyone in our local city government from the mayor to Sally Clark your views.  This battle, if you wish to term it that, is shared by all of us.  If we are to win, we will win united, together.  If there was ever a time to set aside personal conflicts, it is now.

Professionalism

The primary reason our industry has been attacked both locally and nationally is simple.  Unlike other professions, doctor, lawyer, airline pilot, we are neither recognized nor treated like members of a professional class.  Our job has been classified as menial, something that can be done by anyone.  The ride-share services celebrate that attitude, put a pink-mustache on your car and away you go, nothing else required.  Anyone who has driven taxi knows this is erroneous.  Even with nearly 26 years beneath the top-light weekly I am challenged.  Instead of now going into the reasons why, let it suffice that this misinterpretation of what we are and the skills required are fueling the threat we are facing.  Not answering these threats are potentially fatal.  No one else but ourselves will determine our future

A Non-Participatory Industry

We have been our own worst enemy, which has led to misconceptions of who we are.  Having observed the taxi industry for over a quarter of a century, I say without hesitation that a kind of operational narcissism has been its worse feature, a myopic view that profit is front and center to everything else, above customer service including safety.  This has led directly to the negativity I mentioned, and to the disparagement of an industry.  By being focused upon its own navel, the world is passing it by.

The result of this selfish, insular approach has been an overreach by the regulatory authorities who appear not to trust the industry to govern itself, having little confidence that the taxi industry will operate in the public interest.  Having tried deregulation in the mid-1970s, and watching the local industry implode in a frenzy of self-interest the City of Seattle and King County developed a distorted view of our capacity to be and remain responsible.

Though clearly the local associations, especially Yellow, Orange and Farwest have displayed a renewed maturity and willingness to address industry shortcomings, for many in the City and County offices this new initiative is too little and too late to alleviate their concerns.  For them our image is permanently sullied.  Despite that we must move forward, demonstrating our new resolve to participate fully as an important part of the overall Seattle and King County business community.  We cannot let past history dictate our future.  We are a new generation of owners and drivers embracing innovation and technology.  By recognizing past failures our future achievements will only be that much greater.

Regulatory Authority

Our relationship with local government couldn't be much worse as they decide how to respond to the new ride-share companies and the other rival transportation services, the onus, the responsibility for some of our service deficits thrust solely on our laps.  While understanding their sentiment, it is important for them to understand their own part in bringing the industry to where it is today.  Whatever service deficiencies we now experience, especially the quality of the new taxi driver trainee, much of the responsibility lies with the local regulators who, while pointing out problems simultaneously create them.  Regulators must hold a comprehensive view of our industry.  Without that they only add to the public burden, making decisions that, instead of clarifying and building local transportation infrastructure, distort the issues, making it more difficult to permanently mend what is only partially broken. This is when clear and strong communication is essential, leading to coherency rather than what I see as the current muddle and misunderstanding.

An example of regulatory confusion was the encouragement and release of the 200 plus City of Seattle for-hire vehicle and the unlimited King County for-hire vehicle licenses flooding the city with more ersatz taxis than anyone wants to think about.  While attempting to address demand for taxi licenses it instead created a massive headache for all concerned, no amounts of aspirin countering the ever present discomfort.

Another example is the excitement elicited by the new smart phone app-generated ride-share services. Somehow thinking they signify a new and growing demand for taxi-like services, the regulators appear on the verge of flooding our local market with an unlimited number of essentially unregulated, non-professional drivers who will have free rein to do whatever they want.  Again, I see this as a vast overreaction to a problem that only in part exists.  While we want to think that the regulators are well-meaning, the damage emanating from an unfettered opening of our market, from our point of view, will be breath-taking. That is why we in the local taxi industry must be assured that the local regulatory authorities will do nothing that permanently harms our core business foundation.  As far as I understand it, we have not received anything close to that type of assurance.

Conclusion

Some recommendations:

1) We increase our direct communication to all of the involved regulators, including all nine Seattle City Council members and both mayoral candidates.

2) Before any decisions are made, a new demand study, separate from the Mundy/Cooper report be conducted and paid for by the local taxi industry itself.  You might have noticed that while we are left to whatever reaction their study generates, Mundy and Cooper are nowhere to be seen, the obvious negative of employing "hired guns."  Once the shooting is over and the bodies are buried, they themselves have no lasting accountability.  We require a study conducted by those who know our local taxi and transportation landscape and who can be held accountable for any erroneous or misleading statistics.

3) Like BYG/PSD is currently doing, all the associations must accelerate their modernization of dispatch services and embrace all new app-based technologies ASAP. This will cancel out any so-called competitive advantage the ride-share services might claim.  We must reassert our professional model, because no one does taxi better than real and actual taxis.  By permanently becoming and staying a cohesive and responsible industry, we remove all justifications for expanding non-professional and non-regulated taxi-like services.

4) Local regulators must acknowledge their own culpability in the decline of taxi services.  By upgrading training and limiting the number of newly licensed drivers they will assist the industry and the public by guaranteeing that only individuals who 1) have an intimate knowledge of the Seattle and King County streets and addressing systems and 2) have a demonstrated ability to drive a car and 3) have an English fluency requirement far beyond what is needed today, be licensed.  Once these requirements are met, then and only then should anyone be allowed to ply the taxi streets.  By taking these simple measures seriously, service will improve immensely.

5) Enforcement policies be reviewed and enhanced.  Current enforcement levels are unacceptable.

6) Thorough review of need for expanded release of taxi cab licenses.  Licenses should only be released to locally experienced drivers who do not currently own a taxi.

7) Make all Seattle and King County taxi cab licenses "real" property, similar to the "medallion" system in NYC.

8) Have the State of Washington begin real regulation of limos and town cars.

Please view this analysis and outline only as a starting point, little else.  Your input and opinion is necessary and invaluable.  Contact your local regulators ASAP.

More Taxi Stories

-----He jumped in my cab at N. 125 and Aurora N. because he had to be on Capital Hill ASAP.  He was from Cuba and 20 years ago clung to a raft for 5 1/2 days to reach Florida and freedom.

-----Two years ago she had heart surgery.  Awakening from the operation she found she was blind, her eyesight damaged by the anesthetic.  She remains angry.

-----He had just lost $500.00 at the casino.  He said you never go to the casino expecting to win.

-----While up in Alaska working on a fish processor, his house in Yakima caught on fire.  He had just dropped off the car he sold to a friend.  I need the money.  My wife is waiting to pay our bills.  I took him to the airport.

-----She and her friend flagged me in the Queen Anne and I took them to Ray's Boathouse in Ballard.  When eighteen she used to to be a "go go" dancer on Ballard Avenue and lived in what she called a "whore" house. She was now 70 and reminiscing. Those were the days!













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