Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Great Unraveling---An Examination Of Current Industry Health

Introductory Note:

Since my recent experience of almost being Seattle Yellow Fleet's (Yellow's cab side) operational manager, and hence, receiving a birds-eye of their operations, I felt it time to explain, from my many years of experience, just how Yellow and the other Seattle taxi associations arrived at where they currently find themselves.  To say it is a complete mystery, or solely Uber's fault, would be incorrect, given there is a traceable history taking us from when the local taxi industry was relatively health and thriving, to where we find ourselves today---commercially wounded and bleeding money.

And I also want to dispel any misunderstanding to why I backed down from a position that potentially would have affected positive change at Yellow.  The answer is simple, because I realized it would have been impossible to both manage Yellow Fleet and drive enough hours to support myself.  A much larger salary would have changed the equation, allowing me to fully concentrate on the job at hand. While fully sympathetic to Yellow's current financial woes, sometimes expenditures are necessary to rectify current issues. In this situation, it appears Yellow Fleet's very survival could be at stake.  Hopefully the training program I plan to have up and running by the end of April will bring in enough new drivers to stem any pending closure.

Another important point pertaining to the views expressed in the following essay, is, that unlike many of my colleagues, when I am in a taxi I am a true-blue cabbie, and not just someone driving some version of "service-transportation" vehicle.  Believe me, there is huge different between those of us who want to be there and those who don't.  In short, I am a cab driver, which, despite all dispersions to the contrary, is a noble calling, providing essential services to all and everyone. My response to all those who fail to understand this, is to say "screw you!" having tired of dumbbell rhetoric and nonsensical opinion. Who needs it?  Well, we as an collective industry certainly don't, and I am sick of being wrongfully maligned.

While certainly holding criticisms of Seattle's various taxi associations and some individuals involved, I ultimately respect what we are collectively attempting to do: transporting all of humanity from point A to B in an increasingly congested workplace environment.  The following analysis then is meant not as unbridled criticism but more, I want it to be seen as an attempt to focus everyone involved in a joint effort to resolve obvious issues languishing in front of our noses.

While at times I certainly have displayed  irritation and frustration, ultimately my affection for all involved remains unlimited, caring as I do for all those toiling beneath the top-light, recognizing that we are all in this together, various parts equaling one united effort. As has been said countless times over the modern centuries, divided we fall, united we win.

And that is my ultimate desire, a taxi industry beneficial for everyone concerned, rising from the dust and ruin to new unencumbered roads.  Again, all I ask, is for everyone to join me in this effort, and make some money in the process which of course must be our individual goal.

The Great Unraveling

From a historical perspective, my story might begin from very origins of early 20th Century motorized taxi services, when motorized cars replaced replaced horse-drawn hackney carriages and hansom cabs.  Many large companies, including the Checker Car Corporation located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in an era where private car ownership was exceedingly rare, began running large fleets of taxicabs in America's larger cities like New York and Chicago, providing a kind of speedy and personal transportation never before seen.

If there was a problem associated with this arrangement, and there was, it was that the companies wanted to make money, money being their foremost prime objective, the transporting of people being secondary. And taking us up to now, that primacy, the making of money over any and all other considerations, is where we remain.

Recognizing that, in 1975 the City of Seattle and King County decided that the best way to balance out the situation was to deregulate the taxi industry locally, hoping beyond hope that right-minded individuals would lead taxi to equable compromise. What happened instead was complete anarchy, which is why I begin my story from that period, when Seattle's great taxi experiment blew up in its face, setting the tone of what we are today---a cannibalistic industry consuming itself.  If Seattle's cab industry wasn't in an unraveled state before deregulation, it certainly was thereafter, with all  of us grasping for threads.  As the present situation shows, it is not the most effective way to operate.

What deregulation exposed, beyond any doubt, is that the tradition established earlier in the century remained intact, embraced by newer generations of cabbies---greed, or the making of money past all other priorities---having become the industry's calling card. And it certainly wasn't a phenomenon isolated to Seattle, New York City's egregious medallion system inflating their taxi license plates to over one million dollars each, an incredible sum for the privilege of operating a cab in NYC.  What this showed was an overarching philosophy, saying that commonsense be damned, money, the grabbing of as much  money as you can, is always justified regardless of consequences, everything else secondary---customer service, safety, anything other than making money the very bottom of the taxi totem pole.

Beginning my entry in the business back in the fall of 1987, I soon saw what I have just expressed to be completely true, having cut my finger on the exposed steel belting of my cab's left front tire telling me everything I needed to know about the efficacy of typical taxi operations.  Later, when driving for Farwest Taxi, this same notion was further verified when, upon returning a cab back to the lot due to safety issues, a mere hour later I saw that very same cab back out on the street once again, Farwest shouting out that it didn't care one iota about its passenger's well-being, money, the making of money its sole priority.

Further industry unraveling has been the clear withdrawal of support from municipal, county and state regulators.  What so many cabbies in Seattle and NYC and everywhere in the USA failed to understand is that their shenanigans were in full view of shocked industry regulators and administrators, the taxi industry as a whole operating as if they held some unwritten permission to do whatever they wanted, never fearing overt consequences.

That they were wrong  in this unfounded belief is displayed locally with decisions to 1, force all single owners to join or form an association; 2, create the flat-rate for-hire industry; 3, overturn the Seattle City Council's law to cap Uber and lyft; and finally, 4, lose the Sea-Tac contract to Eastside Flat-rate For-Hire.  The Port of Seattle was furious that they potentially lost up to five million dollars due to alleged Yellow Cab improprieties. Again, didn't those operating PSD at that time realize that what they were doing was in plain view, open to examination and criticism?  Evidently not can be the only answer.

I could list more specifics but I don't want to malign many whom I consider friends and fellow colleagues. If Yellow and other associations cannot be called criminal, they certainly can be called both self-serving and sloppy, operating as if their eyes are closed.  During the past year, Yellow Fleet and Puget Sound Dispatch have been downsizing essential personnel, making it even more difficult to both serve our customers and address daily issues that are a constant at the taxi door.  And when problems are pointed out, denial and obfuscation is the usual response, our unraveled industry a mess of uncoiled twine upon the taxi floor.

And when will all the loose ends be tied back together in some kind of cohesive ball?   Only when priorities are changed, understanding that investment must be put back into the business, both monetarily and personnel-wise, rebuilding what is broken down.  For too many years, associations have used the taxi industry as their personal ATMs, funding their lifestyles upon both the sweat and blood of ordinary cabbies and the good faith of our customers.  With the transfer of both drivers and customers to Uber, new approaches must be taken.  What was done in the past has failed.  There can be no argument.  Our industry is grasping for breath. Who will provide the needed oxygen?  Just who will do what is necessary is the great question facing us.  What about you?  Do you have any answers?

Why Is Gasoline Costing More?

Locally gasoline prices are now on the rise.  Why is the question, when per barrel costs yesterday 03/16/2017 were listed as $47.72, down a full $6.00 from a week ago.  The issue is the old one, an oversupply upon the world oil market.  In other words, worldwide we are experiencing an oil glut, with too many producers and not enough customers.  Then why are we currently paying more than necessary?  Greed?  Stupidity?  Asshole-ism?













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