Recently a San Francisco cabby emailed me asking how George Anderson's dispatch system was faring here in Seattle, his inquiry prompted by positive remarks originating from George. Mister Anderson evidently reported that all of us at Seattle Yellow were shouting praises to the sky, thanking local celestial forces for sending us our Bay-area based savior. Well, all I can say is, not quite, or more succinctly and to the point, we are just plainly relieved it isn't screwing up ninety percent of the time like it did during it's first three or four months of confounding operation. That it only messes up to a much smaller degree is no cause for celebration. No one has nor will they compensate everyone for money and customers permanently lost. Clearly the fiasco we faced was not entirely of George's making but his contribution was major, clearly not understanding the industry he was entering. Instead of putting all of the blame upon his slender shoulders, Yellow (BYG/PSD) holds at least fifty percent of the responsibility for allowing incompetency to make multi-million dollar commitments.
Two weeks ago someone in dispatch told me they had overheard George Anderson sweet talking Jim O'Malley, then head of dispatch, pitching Jim a many-splendored story, saying how he would build the perfect credit/debit card processing system. That Jim had over served his usefulness was apparent to everyone other than those paying his salary, resulting in what we got, including Jim being shown the taxi door. All of this, including ongoing errors persistently plaguing the system, might have all been avoided and made unnecessary if "sage" taxi eyes had instead examined Anderson's handiwork down at Yellow San Francisco. Candor might have prevailed minus wishful fairy tales whispered to the half awake.
Regardless, issues persist both here and San Francisco. I am sure things have or will get better for them but the question also remains just how long before another major problem occurs, wasting everyone's time and money. What perhaps undoubtedly can be said is that the American taxi industry is in a great and unavoidable transition. What we will end up looking like in 2-3 years I cannot say but applying commonsense and wisdom to our situation will greatly assist in ensuring that ultimately, we will come out stronger and more united. Reach for the obtainable, not for the proverbial taxi pie-in-the-sky and we will survive. Believe in yourselves, understanding that we must rely on those who know our industry, meaning you and me and all our colleagues. The time for collaborating with taxi industry neophytes is long over. All you need to do is look at the sad results and your malfunctioning tablet to understand. The answer is clear, even if your computer screen isn't.
What a Lawsuit Against the Flat-rate For-hire Industry & the TNC/Ride-share (Uber,Lyft, Sidecar) Industry & the City of Seattle and King County Might Look Like
Accountability, or the lack of accountability, is the prime impetus fueling any law suit or suits against any and all potential litigants. We cabbys in Seattle and King County know what it means to be abandoned by an unfaithful regulatory spouse. That we were shafted, betrayed is beyond argument. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, statistically last year we lost nearly one-third of our total gross income from the previous year. Not only is this unacceptable, it is painful to both mind and wallet. Drivers are becoming angry, not only at the City but their fellow drivers, conflicts arising amidst the tension of no business and the same, old never-ending expenses.
Yes, losing your mind is one response but may I suggest, not the proper one. Your fellow driver is not your enemy nor the cause of your pain. Though I have included our friends in the flat-rate for-hire industry in my potential list, they are only an symptom of a much larger problem that can be sourced to those fine people running the City of Seattle and King County. We are living their poor choices and decisions. Uber too is solely their responsibility. Like the Parisian and French governments who told Uber to go to hell, Seattle and KC could, and should have done the same. That they didn't is why I am suggesting that the time is ripe to respond legally. What do we have to lose if we don't? Even more of our overall gross earnings this next fiscal year?
I am not just speaking theoretically. I too remain out here earning my bread & butter driving a taxi. Business-wise this is the worst summer I have experienced in more or less 20 years, having to work harder to make my usual earnings. At age 61 my poor body is telling me this isn't any fun. No, I am not having any fun. And who can I thank for my new aches and pains? Why of course the City of Seattle and King County, those understanding and caring government entities.
Please note, that while I am attempting to be both comprehensive and conclusive, this outline should only be read as what it is, a preliminary exploration of what legally we might want and need, and in reality, actually achieve and do. I am requesting that you make your own assessments of the situation. As much as possible, if we as an industry decide to go forward with legal action, this should be an egalitarian effort.
Over the past eight years of successful and failed taxi organizing efforts, I have learned much from what works and what doesn't succeed. It is then only with confidence do I present this outline. I believe, if deciding to go ahead, we will win. And why do I think so, you immediately ask? Because we are the wronged party on all counts. We have played by the rules and regulations provided us. Others, including many individuals in Seattle and King County government, appear to have done otherwise. It is past time I believe to bring the truth forward into the shining light of judicial prudence. When evidence is brought forward, we will win. Again, I am convinced, which I why I am ready to make the great effort and personal sacrifice to finally return the local taxi industry back to an even playing field.
Today we are at a huge disadvantage. I think we can "turn-the-tables" in a matter of months. What I will be seeking, more than drawn-out trials, is negotiated settlements which will include monetary damages. Again, we have been wronged through no fault of our own. We are innocent. Others clearly are not.
This is not in any particular order. I envision at least three separate suits and perhaps more. As I said in the beginning, we will need to hold everyone who is legally accountable fully responsible for the reprehensible situation we now find ourselves. I believe many of the involved have ever thought for one moment that they would be brought to the dock answering for their misdeeds. It has been very culturally fashionable recently to speak of forgiveness. To hell with that! Justice and justice only is what is required. How do you forgive when over 20 million dollars are pick-pocketed, taken directly from our wallets? No my friends, not forgiveness. Revenge! Or maybe after the monetary awards, we can all share a cup of coffee and discuss about what happened but not before. Our dire circumstances must change. Now!
Lawsuit Against the City of Seattle & King County:
The basis & grounds:
1) For over a three-year period, Seattle & KC failed to enforce rules governing the flat-rate for-hire industry, the town-car (limo) industry, and the TNC/Ride-share industry which includes Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.
2) For the continued and current failure to enforce new regulations pertaining to the flat-rate, town-car and TNC industries. Flat-rate for-hires continue to sit on taxi stands and allegedly quote inflated rates to customers minus City & County intervention. Town-cars continue to illegally solicit and pick-up and over-charge passengers minus City & County intervention. TNC cars continue to act "like taxis," picking up passengers minus City & County intervention.
3) That the City & County opened and created flat-rate for-hire licenses instead of expanding taxi licenses to the 1000 cap. An examination of how this process proceeded is required.
4) How the City & County released 200-plus flat-rate for-hire licenses minus any operational business model.
5) How the Mayor's office intervened in the City Council "Uber" bill limiting the number of TNC cars and forced uncapped entry.
6) How the Seattle City Council threw out their own "Uber" bill after 1 1/2 years of hearings and meetings, resulting in a much ballyhooed compromise law.
7) How the City of Seattle uncapped the TNC industry, allowing unlimited entry while capping taxi licenses.
8) How King County have disregarded the rules and regulations governing the creation of 50 "green cab" licenses, allowing the licensees to operate illegally minus County intervention.
One glance at this list reveals many unanswered questions. We would be seeking monetary damages and policy changes and possibly the elimination of the flat-rate for-hire industry, whose owners receiving "just" compensation in the form of money or taxi licenses or both. That we as an industry have stood still while all this has taken place says nothing good, and that folks, is a great understatement. One aspect many of you many not be aware of is that there is a paper trail originating from the City of Seattle telling its designated regulatory enforcement office "not to enforce!" Wouldn't you just love to witness the cross-examination?
Lawsuit Against the TNC/Ride-share Industry---Uber, Lyft & Sidecar:
The basis & grounds:
1) That Uber, Lyft and Sidecar entered a regulated market, ignoring all rules, laws and insurance, permits and licensing requirements, operating minus any legal sanction for over a three-year period.
2) That Uber, Lyft and Sidecar disrupted a regulated market, causing great monetary damage to said market.
3) That the TNC industry continue to flout laws, encouraging and promoting illegal airport (Sea-Tac) pick-ups.
4) That the TNC industry does nothing to stop illegal pick-ups minus app contact, thus endangering the passenger public.
There are probably other issues that an attorney could come up with, but with certainty we would ask for all the TNC profits that Uber, Lyft and Sidecar earned during that three year-plus period. From my point of view, that money was stolen from the taxi industry, meaning the money belongs to us, not them.
In this lawsuit, we would also examine the relationship and contacts, if any, that Mayor Ed Murray and his aides has, or had, with Uber and the other TNC companies. Repeatedly I have requested local media to investigate this potential relationship. All I have received is silence. You might remember, that in a taxi industry sponsored debate, McGinn vs Murray, Murray came out in favor of our local industry. Given that, Murray's quick turnabout remains a mystery. Why did he change his mind?
Another important point to remember is that, once Murray pressured the city council members to refute and kill their own bill, Murray instituted a series of negotiations that became the Murray-version of the Uber bill, allowing unfettered access to our legitimate market. During those series of meetings, not once was the voice of an elected or appointed lease-driver representative heard, the reason basic and simple, there wasn't one. Instead, the City of Seattle, to my understanding, violated our civil rights by negotiating with individuals who were not, and are not our legal representatives.
While yes, many of us lease cars and dispatch services from the various associations, not once did we appoint any of them as our legal agents. In other words, near as I can tell, that means any agreements made between the City of Seattle and those sitting in at the negotiations are null and void. One important potential aspect of any legal action is that we might be able to make the City of Seattle start completely over with its TNC, Flat-rate and Taxi industry overhaul. Wouldn't that be fun?
Lawsuit Against the Flat-rate Industry
I will begin with a basic statement of how I really feel toward my many colleagues and friends and acquaintances currently involved with the day to day operations of those odd quasi-taxis known as flat-rate for-hire cars. In NYC they are called, at least their own endemic version, livery cabs. Even Cooper and Mundy, the two professors who conducted that once celebrated City Council "demand study," openly wondered what those strange taxi-like creatures were, given they had never seen their ilk before. Well, whatever these vehicles are or not, the folks driving them are mostly former taxi drivers or people who would prefer to be driving a taxi. Of course then I do not hold any animosity toward them or anyone else who embraces taxi driving as a livelihood.
Where my argument and disagreement begins is that they accepted the City of Seattle's offer of these distorted licences even though it was evident and clear that they also came without any viable or operational business model. I personally was told by one City of Seattle official to "buy them." Examining what they were, I concluded there was no way to make a living operating a flat-rate car. The City of Seattle also knew this, and perhaps the City also knew what would happen with the new licensees. Now in procession of cars and insurance rates averaging at least $5000. per year, the drivers did what they knew how to do, that is pick up "flags" off the Seattle streets even though they knew full well they were breaking the law.
So in a taxi nutshell, that is how I feel about the flat-rate folks, that they, in their desperation to have a taxi license, took Seattle's table scraps, and then, feeling they had no other true option, broke the law for over three years. This is indisputable. The evidence and acknowledgement is everywhere, located in TV footage, newspapers articles, in the City of Seattle's own records and reports.
Yes, I like everyone but at the same time I feel they escaped any and all accountability minus even a slap upon the wrist. While viewing them as having been victimized by the City of Seattle, it doesn't excuse them from stealing from their cabby friends. As I said in the very beginning, all this begins and ends with Seattle and King County's lack of accountability toward the overall taxi business community and all those associated with it.
The basis and grounds:
1) That the Seattle Flat-rate industry knowingly operated illegally within the Seattle city limits for a three year-plus period, disrupting and harming the regulated and compliant taxi industry.
2) That the Seattle Flat-rate licensees knowingly purchased licenses minus any operational business model.
What we would be asking for is an examination of all gross income minus any officially dispatched calls. As in the TNC situation, any and all profits gained in that period were at the expense and loss of the taxi industry. That the City of Seattle, one, issued these licenses in the first place, and then, two, did little to nothing to stop illegal flat-hire for-hire business practices, is this story. The lawsuit would seek monetary damages.
Again, above all, I hold most sympathy with the flat-rate industry. As noted previously, a most favorable outcome would be the replacement (in whatever negotiated number) of flat-rate licenses with taxi medallions, with the flat-rate industry awarded damages from the City of Seattle.
For any of this to become reality, a great deal of time and organization and cooperation and money will be required. I suggest that sometime during this summer, all the initially interested lease-drivers and single owners get together and have a big discussion. I would create the format. I do suggest sometime in August because on September 7th, I am leaving for a 6 week long trip to Europe. Unfortunately, the issues I have listed here will still be here when I get back. Until we meet, I encourage everyone to share what I have written here and discuss whether we truly have the commitment to finally face our entrenched opposition and seek a final and just resolution. Again, united we stand, divided we fall. It is that simple.
I end with a poem by the American writer William Stafford:
Some of the cars are yellow, that go
by. Those you look at, so glimmering
when light glances at their passing. Think
of that hope: "Someone will
like me, maybe." The tan ones
don't care, the blue have made
a mistake, the white haven't tried.
But the yellow---you turn your head:
hope lasts a long time if you're happy.
Taken from "The Way It Is" New & Selected Poems of William Stafford,
The new Olympia bill ending mandatory L&I coverage becomes effective law July 23rd, 2015. All of you State of Washington drivers will be receiving a letter of explanation from L&I in the coming weeks. I will have more coverage later.
Note:re-edited 5:35 PM 07/16/2015