Saturday night I talked with an old taxi colleague about his Uber experiences. Having left Yellow out of disgust after struggling to make a living, he is now driving under both Uber's and Lyft's transportation banners. A faithful reader of this blog, he called me because he thought he could be helpful with both demystifying and penetrating Uber's official opaque persona as only an insider could. While it would be a journalistic stretch to say he presented unlocked secrets from Uber's hidden vaults, what he told me was clarifying, confirming much of what I suspected.
When preparing (in my mind) to write this particular entry, I thought it would have been fun to have a sensational headline or heading, something akin to perhaps modern newspaper's most famous front page headline dating from April 15th, 1983, the New York Post's "Headless Body In Topless Bar," something that made copy editor Vincent Mussetto a celebrity, and worthy of of a New York Times obituary. Mussetto died this past June 2015. One heading I thought appropriate was "Naked Uber Operators Drive Uncovered," which, while somewhat accurate, is still misleading. The National Enquirer I am not. While there could be, or are nude TNC drivers, I have yet to personally see one, and if I did, I would quickly avert my eyes, having seen enough of life already, I don't want to see any more than I have to.
But yes, what I was told is truly both revelatory and alarming, especially when it seems that the City Of Seattle and King County are allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to pilot their vehicles minus for-hire licenses and inspected cars. I say this because my colleague said his for-hire driving license had been expired for a month prior to signing up for Uber, and even now, months later, he has yet to receive either his new for-hire license or his vehicle certification. While this appears to be due to a Seattle/KC processing backlog, it seems that Uber and Lyft are letting their "independent business operators" to drive before they are officially vetted and processed. I believe this explains the various media reports as to why some current TNC drivers have later been found to have a criminal history that went unnoticed. Part of Seattle/King County's for-hire licensing process is a FBI background/personal history check. If you are forcing thousands of new TNC drivers into an already burdened system, you are going to have what is happening to my acquaintance, months' long delay confirming all personal details. Can you imagine what will happen if any of these new TNC drivers have a serious accident before it is officially known they can legally operate? At this point this can only seen as a mutual failure, a failed collaboration between private sector and local government. It is impossible that Seattle/KC licensing doesn't know this is occurring. They are the ones advancing the applications and paperwork forward, so if they don't know, then the question is, why not? As usual, there appears to be a double-standard, one for taxis and one for everyone else.
When I took over YC 478, I had to confirm my transference of ownership, insurance, etc before I could legally operate, placing it on the road under my possession. In other words, common-sense safeguards were in place protecting the passenger public. That this kind of public guarantee is even temporarily short- circuiting on Uber/Lyft's behalf, is scary. Again, why do I have to certify everything is legal and proper before moving an inch down the roadway while TNC operators appear to be able to drive untold thousands of miles without official and known sanction? If this is true, it is both dangerous and crazy.
As known previously, Uber does provide a million dollars in insurance coverage. Both my colleague and a local insurance broker confirmed this, saying that the coverage kicks in only after accepting an app-generated (dispatched) call. In between, your car is only covered by your private carrier, which forbids commercial activity. Any operation by TNC drivers minus app-dispatched calls is strictly taboo, it just can't be done. But clearly many TNC drivers have taken advantage of their new familiarity, with many potential customers completely unaware of the risk involved. If Uber and Lyft haven't already instituted a policy instantly de-authorizing anyone operating independently of the app, it should be done immediately. It also brings into question just what kind independent monitoring Uber and Lyft are doing. Are they operating their multi-billion dollar operations solely on trust? Difficult to believe that can be true
Interestingly, my colleague feels that Uber/Lyft are less moral than the taxi industry, which says much about a degeneration of trust between company and operator. He said that they are definitely the "Evil Empire." His comment backs up what another taxi buddy told me recently after I surprisingly found him back in an Orange Cab, this after seeing him six months ago driving his own Uber car. When asking why he switched back to taxi, he said, "Uber are cheaters!" As we were side by side at a traffic signal, our conversation was interrupted by the light changing, preventing any further elaboration. I'll just take his word for it. Just as my conversation Saturday night confirms, there is something "rotten in TNC Denmark." I do wonder if the Port of Seattle commissioners fully understand this when considering all of Sea-Tac transportation options. I certainly hope so, is all I can say.
I end by sharing a poem by the British writer Robert Graves (1895-1985), which all writers, especially this one, me, can identify with. And you might be interested in knowing that next week's entry will originate from San Miguel del Allende, Mexico. Since I have been back, I have driving extra shifts, covering at times for Tom and Raymond when they call off 478. It has been rough upon my 62 year old body. I am more than ready to soak in San Miguel's local thermal mineral springs. My poor back! Adios until next week.
The Reader Over My Shoulder
You, reading over my shoulder, peering beneath
My writing arm---I suddenly feel your breath
Hot on my hand or my nape,
So interrupt my theme, scratching these few
Words on the margin for you, namely you,
Too-human shape fixed in that shape:---
All the saying of things against myself
And for myself I have well done myself.
What now, old enemy, shall you do
But quote and underline, thrusting yourself
Against me, as ambassador of myself,
In damned confusion of myself and you?
For you in strutting, you in sycophancy,
Having played too long this other self of me,
Doubling the part of judge and patron,
With that of creaking grind-stone to my wit.
Know me, have done: I am a proud spirit
And you for ever clay. Have done.