It is becoming harder to come back, to immerse myself in a task less guaranteed than ever before, and that is definitely what taxi driving in Seattle has become, an hourly crap shoot mystifying and confounding the expectant taxi mind. Taxi is unpleasant even when the going is easy, the money ripe fruit upon the passenger tree but upon adding unbridled competition and a sometimes barely functional computer dispatch system, you have prime ingredients for a never ending frustration and sorrow.
Thankfully I was, and remained in a good mood throughout the weekend, better able to take the punches and insults and prolonged uncertainty. An angry and depressed cabbie is a defeated cabbie. Sustained resiliency is the key to sanity when working beneath the top light. Without it, you are, at least I am, instantaneously nuts, and the crazier I become the worse the situation is, suddenly my taxi a spinning vortex, with everything out of control, cows and mail boxes and double lattes colliding in my very personal tornado. How can you make money like this? The answer is simple. You don't.
New App Marketer
This month PSD/BYG hired a marketing specialist, Bob Cassirelli, to broadcast to the taxi public the expediency and efficiency of Yellow's new dispatching app. Lost in all of the current shouting is that this app was the primary motivation for changing from the old to the new. While it is completely understandable why folks are screaming to have the old DDS system reinstalled, it is also clear that the app must be given the opportunity to succeed. If it works properly, potentially, and I repeat, potentially, all the turmoil these past six weeks will have been a bad dream. Of course, the taxi jury remains out. Over the next few weeks the verdict will be obvious. Patience, as I have said before, is required. And yes, patience fails when the bills come due. I understand that.
Taxi Meeting This Past Saturday At Teamsters 117
Last Saturday at 3:00 PM owners and lease-drivers met with a union representative to discuss how to get Yellow back on the old DDS (or a newer DDS version) computer dispatch system. The biggest complaint was the doing away of the queueing system that has been operational at taxi companies across the country the past 100 years or so. The new system that Puget Sound Dispatch (Yellow Cab) is now using operates upon a "positional" basis, meaning that theoretically the closest cab get the fare. The problem drivers and owners have with it is a perceived lack of fairness because it seems you could be sitting somewhere patiently waiting for a fare, say an hour or more, and still not get the first available call, because, seconds before, a newly arrived taxi is three blocks closer, and they, not you are dispatched to the address. And because business is down due to customer dissatisfaction, there have been less available fares. As I have said, sitting for hours doing nothing drives out you totally out-of-your-mind. The anxiety is killing!
One obvious question that could be asked is why were the PSD/BYG owners and lease-drivers , meaning Yellow's customers, not asked whether they wanted or accepted this kind of major change in dispatching philosophy? One continual confusion is not understanding who is Yellow's customer. Still to this moment it appears that PSD/BYG thinks the taxi riders are their customers when in fact it is the owners and drivers who are their actual and real customers. PSD/BYG is a leasing service. The riders in the cab are the customers of the owners and lease-drivers. Until that obvious business fundamental is recognized, conflicts between associations and operators will continue unabated. Accepting the operational reality will go a long way toward eliminating any and all future argument.
Six Hours in the Cab and Not One Fare
At about 8:30 Saturday morning I came across an almost 17 year taxi veteran sitting on the Deca Hotel stand. It was his first day back after a long hiatus of attending college and working elsewhere, Saturday is now intended to be his one and only taxi day. Driving a airport taxi provides him with a huge advantage but there he was, in the cab since 1:45 AM and yet to have a fare. And this is someone who knows the business. Unfortunately he was mystified by the new system, and making it worse, the old MDT in the taxi wasn't operational. I gave him some quick tips but essentially I told him he needed to head to Sea-Tac and get in line. A few minutes later he pulled off the stand. Good choice!
"Good To Go" Not So Good
I was presented with a bill at Yellow for $33.60 for failing to pay the 520 Bridge tolls but the problem is, once I went down to the State of Washington "Good To Go" pass office, they told me that my pass was operational and my account was active and the tolls had been deducted. I am still unraveling this saga but, as any cabbie will tell you, the troubles never end. You do everything correctly and you are still bitten in the ass. To call it frustrating is a gross understatement.
A Surprising E-Mail from the SPD
While soaking in wonderful Aguascalienties, I received an email from a Sergeant O'Neill who is in charge of the Traffic Division for the Seattle Police Department. In his very thoughtful letter, sent in response to my letter addressed to Police Chief O'Toole, Sergeant O'Neill confirmed that SPD knows that Yellow is contracted to pick up at the Amtrak (King Street) station and that the stopping officer should not have ticketed me. Further, O'Neill suggested I make a copy of the letter and present it at my legal proceeding, which I will do. I later talked to him once I arrived back from Mexico. He is a very reasonable individual.
One outcome it seems is that, at least at Seahawk half-time this Sunday (the Seahawks defeating the Arizona Cardinals 19 to 3), there was no police presence at all. What happened at the game's closure I can't tell you, my first fare, about 6 blocks away from the madness, taking me off to Mercer Island. What is clear is that SPD responded in a positive manner to my letter, clarifying policy and enforcement. At least at SPD there appears to be a new and more responsive operational attitude. I can only hope that the Mayor's office and the City Council take notes. Responsible resolution will be, and always has been, the best course. Thank you, Sergeant O'Neill.
Incentive for Good Behavior
One of the messages coming over the dispatch tablet this weekend was the announcement of dispatch fee reductions for the best monthly performing taxi drivers. There will be first, second and third place prizes. What criteria this will be based upon I have no idea. I could be cynical but that wouldn't be fair. Maybe it will improve overall performance, wonders never ceasing to amaze!
New TAG (Taxi Advisory Group) Meeting Now Scheduled for Dec 10th
Craig Leisy's TAG meeting, originally scheduled for November, has been rescheduled for Wednesday, December 10th, 2014, running from 12:30 to 2:00 PM. The location is the Seattle Municipal Tower, Room 4080. Please note the room change. The agenda that day is the "Implementation of Major Provisions in Ordinance 124524 during 2014-2015." In an email response to my email sent today, Craig said undercover teams were operating post-Seahawk game. It was incredible to see how blatant the town-car drivers were, lining up near the stadium clearly minus any fear they would be ticketed. All I can say is "Bust "em, Dano!"
Early Sunday morning I was belled into the new Greyhound Station now located at 5th Avenue South & South Royal Brougham Way. There I found a very agitated Gavin who had to get to Tacoma. Loading all his stuff, including a table, off we went. Later he told me about how he, "a 230 pound, 6" 2"" black man" has trouble getting cabs, complimenting me for "not batting an eye" and approaching him with respect. I told him it comes with 26 years on the taxi road. The positive for me, in addition to ending the night with a good fare, was being able to sleep in my own bed, providing my neighbors their first look at a parked Seattle Yellow taxi. Gavin was great!
And Finally, A "Bad" Cab Driver
Coming back from Mexico, I intentionally scheduled a long layover in Los Angeles, California. Arriving at 9:00 AM, my return flight to Seattle was scheduled for 5:00 PM, providing me a window of opportunity to visit the LA County Museum of Art and take in the traveling exhibit, "Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings, 1913-1915." Taking the bus, I knew I had to rush despite having about 4-5 hours to do the round-trip. The show was great, Hartley a long time favorite.
Waiting for a return bus, I decided to take a cab to the corner of Hollywood and Argyle where, at 2:15 PM, an express bus would fly me to the airport. The only problem was that this particular cabbie had never learned the "taxi imperative" that sometimes you have to move quickly to get your passenger to where he/she is going. It didn't help that he asked me if he had to turn right onto Fairfax. Though once married to a woman from LA, that was a long time ago and to expect me to know the streets was insane.
With the driver seemingly in a trance, I demanded he let me out. Unfortunately the fool intentionally locked me in, which of course was a huge mistake. "Let me out of this cab!" I demanded, and tossing him a five, I luckily saw my bus, #370 rolling up, and zooming across a busy street, I jumped in and made it to my bus and then the airport. What the idiot taxi driver didn't know was that I had planned to take him all the way to LAX if I had missed my connection.
And this after all my great taxi rides in Aguascalientes and Mexico City. Twice in Mexico City I got the same woman cabbie taking me both times to the airport. And what is so amazing about that is she is the first woman I've ever personally seen piloting a Mexico City taxi. I over paid her each time, just happy to be to my flights on time. There is good coffee at the Mexico City airport. Try it sometime!