Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My True and Actual Position Upon the Current Meter Rate Proposal

While doing my "turn" yesterday I encountered a long-time taxi colleague who made mention that drivers were upset with me.  This all stems from my "yes" vote for the increase during a taxi advisory commission special session.  Given both the animosity and anger associated with that action it appears that I must add even more clarification upon what appears to be a very confusing subject.  My one request relates to any lease-drivers or single owners reading this is to refer all and anyone interesting in the L&I issue and the meter increase to this particular posting and to the many others addressing this subject and topic.

To all those who don't know, the proposed meter increase is all about Labor & Industry's goal of having all lease-drivers (independent contractors) seen as what they describe as "covered workers" hence a kind of employee which means that they (you and me) should be covered and insured beneath the L&I coverage "umbrella."  Got that? This is extremely important to note, because this is the SOLE reason why a meter increase is being proposed, the increase part of a mandated imposition of L&I coverage stemming from the passage of HB 1367.  If you don't know what L&I insurance overage is please read on as I about to tell you.

As far as I know, all states within the Republics' grand total of 50 all have some version of Labor& Industry insurance providing protection for all workers or employees actively engaged at their version of a workplace. The theory is that the logger who has a limb bonk him upon the head or the hospital nurse slipping upon an urine covered floor will receive prorated wages and any and all cost that is related to the injury which could include medical and rehabilitation and other types of fees.  Before this kind of work site protection existed, an injured or killed worker received nothing whatsoever in compensation.  L&I insurance is designed to protect the worker and his/her family.  Sounds like a good program, doesn't it?

Currently in our local industry lease drivers are considered to be independent contractors responsible for all their costs in the same way any business owner would be.  This is key to note because we appear to have a problem of definition when applied to the various government entitles.  The City of Seattle requires us to have business licenses and report our wages as independent business owners.  L&I is saying that despite that, we are actually some version of employee.  The problem in part stems from the reality that nearly none of the 3000 plus lease drivers (including myself) have created their own L&I account as any wise business owner would.  As I pointed out in my Friday meeting in Olympia, not once have I been contacted by L&I to suggest setting up my own account.  Certainly no one suggested that when I obtained my first taxi for-hire license back in 1987.  In part that makes the current L&I demands so curious.  If they are so interested in us being covered, why haven't they done the obvious beginning at least 25 years ago?  They don't appear to have a legitimate response to that glaring ommission.  Instead they say it is all the associations and companies fault, which is where we are now.  Over the past few years, huge monetary assessments have been placed against taxi associations large and small.  L&I has become the classroom bully, change your policies or I will bloody your nose.  L&I has big bureaucratic fists.  They can really beat you up.

HB 1367 for better or probably worse, was an industry response to this threat.  Without consulting the lease-drivers, the state-wide industry led by Seattle & King County taxi associations wrote the bill and had it passed.  The cost was compromised to the cost per car as opposed to per individual.  The bill states that the cost will be shared between owner and driver.  This is where the meter rates and the subsequent lease rates increases come in.  Yes, if all this goes through, you the lease driver will be paying a higher daily rate.  Did you know that?  And do you want L&I insurance protection?  Starting from day one of this year 2012 you have been  covered by L&I.  Did you know that and do you want L&I protection to continue?  These are vital questions, which brings me to my own position both as a driver and taxi advisory commission member.  Just what is my position?  Here it is.

I am opposed to Washington State government imposing their will upon the workers of the local and statewide taxi industry.  If a given company or association has a traditional employer/employer relationship then by all means there should be mandatory L&I coverage.  Beyond that, no, the State of Washington should not be mandating that independent business operators have to have L&I coverage. If we are stupid and don't understand the need for this kind of protection, then it is our own fault and responsibility.  Along with that, if we all injured on the job, then we CAN NOT apply for L&I insurance that we have not signed up for.  This is key because injured drivers and the hospitals serving them have applied for L&I benefits when they were not applicable.   You can not sign up after the fact.  And I blame L&I for having paid those erroneous claims.  No one forced them to pay the claims.  L&I did it voluntarily.  How is that OUR responsibility?  I don't understand that position.

My position is simple.  HB 1367 should be repealed and dissolved. All audits should be cancelled.  In turn statewide all industry workers should be notified that it is in their best self-interest to sign up and pay for their own L&I insurance.  L&I should make it clear that they will not pay for claims for anyone not signed up with them.  Plain and simple.  End of the story.  That is what I want to see happen and urge you to support.  And now back to the meter rates.

I voted yes because it was the RESPONSIBLE position to take.  I personally do not support the meter increases and the related lease increases.  As I told the council aide yesterday, over a five-weekend month, I have to make $2000. before I make a single dime.  That is a lease of $200. per weekend plus the average cost of $200. worth of gasoline. Do the math and you find it to be 2000 dollars.  I nor you need added costs.  Nor does our customer base need the added burden but please PLACE the blame upon the proper shoulders.  Labor & Industry has pushed us to this point.  You need to tell them two things.  That you want them to stop labeling you an employee.  And that you want them to send you all the information around creating your own individual L&I account.  Do that and you will have personally assisted toward a much needed resolution.  In other words, quit shouting and pointing fingers.  Instead, take personal responsibility for your own lives and business and family.  Do that and you will have done something great.  Make yourself proud and take care of yourself.  No one else will.  You are one in charge of your life. Do it and be happy.  I will be taking my own advise.  I am with you on that point.  We drivers suffer enough as it it. Boring, isn't it?


Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Admittedly tired today, which might of had something to do with it but my appointment with a city council member's legislative assistant did not go particularly well.  Flat affect is the descriptive term. Response was difficult to come by.  Even though I have strong disagreement with the L&I folks, I can never question their conviviality. Mr. Moomeau is a master of tact and civility and Les Hargrave is the kind uncle.  Today's meeting was a version of catatonia. Clearly the industry is not a council priority.  I will say that this isn't the first time a council reception was less than welcoming.  Talking to the council members and their aides is like scaling the castle walls.  I guess I should be pleased that boiling oil was outlawed in the century just past.  A prime council member even opposed my appointment to the commission, a letter from her stating that they were going in another direction.  Looking at the current state of the commission one can not deny that. But being someone not interested in holding resentments, I still voted for her in the last election.  The good mayor instead anointed me with his official blessings.  I believe I will take up future problems with his office.  Kenny Pittman is a master of decorum. And he has a advanced sense of humor.  Highly necessary when dealing with the taxi industry. Otherwise crying is the recommended response.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Taxi Birdbrains: Sparrow and the Hawk & Chickens Coming Home to Roost

I might be or I am certainly too tired to reflect coherently upon serous issues facing the local taxi industry.  Eight Saturday airport runs and drives to Auburn and Issaquah intermingled with everything else wore me out.  My week finished with a Monday 4-5 AM hour of NE 50th & 37th NE to Madison Park and First Hill to Sea-Tac.  I immediately got first up in the West Seattle zone 262 but after sitting 20 minutes enough was enough.  But I feel driving like this keeps me connected to the heart of the business, the literal finger upon the taxi pulse. The false full moon prompted the insane to run red  lights and drive down one-ways making it a barrel of privileged monkeys.  Where are the zoo keepers when they are needed? Now back to the subject at hand: Labor & Industry and how the hell did this mess! get started?

Coming back from Olympia last Friday I noticed a small songbird agitatedly harass a very large brown hawk who continued  to complacency fly due southwest.  An analogy was formed, the little sparrow representing Yellow and the state-wide industry and the lumbering hawk L&I and state government.  Currently the hawk is winning the argument. But with enough sparrows darting in and about the raptor might have to change course.  Now I am not calling the good folks I met with rapacious.  Not at all but to say the least they have a wider wingspan.  This is a story with legs and like an emu or ostrich it is running full out across the level plain.

As more details emerge, I truly question the wisdom of some of the prime operatives. That is I why I have been inspired by our native fowl to assist in explanation. Birdbrain is an interesting word, dating from 1933, meaning a person with confused ideas.  Sounds like the taxi industry.  Synonyms are addle-headed and loon.  That crazy John Burroughs wrote about trying to shoot a curious loon.  I am familiar with that marvelous bird from my northern Alberta days. The definition I perused also added  the term misfit to the mix, meaning someone unable to adapt to their circumstances. Now that really sounds like taxi but my advise is that they better move quickly because a very tangible tsunami in rising upon the horizon. Time to move to higher ground and regroup.

And the "chickens coming home to roost" dating from Chaucer in 1390 is highly appropriate when applied to the current situation.  Might be time to twist the tongue and bone up on Old English.  "Consequences of earlier actions are making themselves felt" is exactly what is happening.  The full, earlier idiom is "curses are like chickens; they always come home to roost."  Friday afternoon made it clear that L&I is watching the industry and gave assorted  and various examples of what they feel is an industry treating independent contractors as employees.  I gave examples countering that but they are convinced otherwise.  On some level it is difficult to dispute their interpretation of a heavy-handed dispatch and callous and punitive response to driver error and poor and faulty decisions.  That is where the chickens come in.  Like the deranged cabbies flying down I-5, doesn't the industry realize that those brightly painted yellow cars make them the center of attention?  Folks are paying attention and they don't like what they see.  The L&I hawk is a pious raptor.  It feels it is only coming to our rescue, that we are truly "good eggs" and just require the proper incubation.  Just remember good old FDR and his executive order 9066. Watch out for that liberal sentiment.  It too might be sightly addled.  Everybody knows about rotten eggs and the inevitable stench.  Continuing with that thought, the crazy cabbies may not be the only ones slightly cracked.  But of course a little adhesive should do the trick, everything suddenly intact and whole.  Believe that and you might believe anything.  All I know and believe is that this is a continuing saga, with much more to be written.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sticking Together: Maturation Of An Industry

After my meeting at Labor and Industry I was in a state of shock after finding out that our future had been in part based upon a verbal commitment.   It was hard to take as I wandered back up I-5 from Tumwater ruminating upon the one hour and twenty minute  conversation. As I told someone who perhaps should have known better: we are in this together, meaning the L&I conundrum.  As the title states, I can only view this as the maturation of an industry.  There will be growing pains.  And time for me to hit the taxi hay.  I am bushed if not bushwhacked.  More upon this topic next week.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Accuracy & Reading Fiction

Unfortunately time is a factor so briefly ever so briefly I can tell you that today's Teamsters meeting was a candidate forum where a handful of drivers spoke and about 10-12 candidates and elected officials listened. I got there late due to my Vien Dong meeting which went well considering again there was not enough time.  I did meet Kathy who is the owner of 3 taxis in Lacey, Washington.  L&I has audited her for about $234,000 dollars. Seems like fantasy to me.  Her entire company averages maybe 45 fares total in a given day. 

Anyway, I arrived late and couldn't sign up to speak.  It was clear that the drivers were not up to date on the good work and results of the commission.  We will have to do a much better job of communicating. There was much pleading and requesting for assistance.  It was kind of wonderful how the panel, knowing nearly zero about the taxi industry (other than Bobby Vick, from the greater SE Indian community) took in much that was mostly inaccurate and misinformed. It was informative in that sense.  There does appear to be great enthusiasm for a union. More on that in the coming weeks.


My longing for fiction took me to Cason McCullers and her "The Ballard of The Sad Cafe" where Miss Amelia dominates a comic-book type of yarn. I am now on to Dickens' "Great Expectations" where Pip is terrorized by his sister Mrs. Gargery.  Good writing but perhaps weakened by the serialisation of his novels forcing a timetable. Good writing is damaged by timetables.  Ask the ghost of J.B. Preistley next time you have a pint in the Hubblehome tavern. If you don't find him there, just take a stroll around the churchyard.

Hobnobbing WIth State Demos & More Cabbie Book Reading

How wonderful! as it appears I just published the title before composing the actual text.  Well why not, headlines telling it all reminding me of the many folks I see bending down reading the front page of the local daily from the disadvantage of the newspaper vending machine.  I always feel like interfering and buying them a paper but perhaps all they want to know is the outline of the news.  Which of course is different from what you get by reading my blog, getting up to date info on everything Seattle and King County taxi has to offer.   How boring, how exciting and how utterly frustrating it all is!

Yesterday afternoon I get a call informing that I needed to zoom down to Seattle and hobnob with the good elected officials that will be now repealing HB 1367, the L&I authorizing legislation and troublesome document that has caused so much anxiety for the industry.  By the way, the term hobnob or hobnobbing originally meant "to drink together" and first usage dates from 1763.  Yes I did have a couple of glasses of red wine and the cheeses were just terrific, reminding of the 1984 "cheese restaurant" meal I had in Paris 1984.  Talk about rich and creamy!  But beyond the finger food I met a few state senators and such.  My greatest impression was that I did not look like anyone else there.  Perhaps as I get more involved in all this political business I will have to trim my locks a trifle but shaving me from head to toe would not mask my true identity. And what could that be?  I'll let you guess!

Another development is that I have a meeting scheduled with the Labor & Industry folks for tomorrow afternoon.  The major impetus for this is that L&I have decided to go forward with previously threatened audits requesting more or less a half million from Seattle Yellow and nearly a quarter of a million from the small WAT or wheelchair taxis which had won the most recent RFP from the city/county, I believe a total of 15 taxis.   As I told a driver yesterday, government bureaucracy is like the mythological Hydra with nine heads each speaking for itself. I must proceed with caution because the last thing I want to appear is presumptuous.  I also need to avoid any hydra-like appearances because it is for the taxi body politic I speak and on some level represent.  My personal opinion is of little consequence.

And I just got a telephone call for a 3:30 PM meeting at the local Tacoma Vietnamese restaurant Vien Dong, which I highly recommend.  It is on the corner of South 38th & Yakima.  All this means is that I  have to stop and continue after the Teamsters gala.  I promise you a full reporting plus all the wonderful books I am reading and that you too should  have your nose stuck in!


Monday, May 21, 2012

Always Blame The Customer & Union Rumblings Update

I just reviewed my union/alliance rough draft and was at least impressed with the coherency if not total content.  In the short time taken, because four total hours is nothing when applied to writing, I believe I got the essential points across.  Individual empowerment and the stopping of wrongs of all types coming from a wide variety sources would be, should be, and is the purpose of all labor and human organization.  Why did people like Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Castro fail?  One, because they embraced violence and two, somehow got the erroneous idea that they were more important than the revolutionary concepts they promoted and espoused.  Always the group is of greater importance than the individual.  It is silly for the compass to take credit for magnetic poles.  More than laughable, it is plainly dumb.  Mao's contribution in his old age was the spreading of syphilis to unsuspecting young women.  So much for political evolutionary ideals.  Always too easy to fail but extremely difficult to succeed.  A year to build the house but only an hour to burn it down to its foundation.  Such is the truth of earthy endeavor, and confusion.

And quickly, on my conversation at Guru Motors, it was oft repeated the positive virtues of labor organization and the Teamsters new efforts toward the industry.  I kept saying that organization was fine but why was it necessary to bring in strangers.  Why kiss the blind date?  I don't understand it when there are alternatives.  I guess that is why I am batting my eyes.  How much more encouragement do you need?

One Passenger, Two Hotels

Getting a time call at the University Inn I instead discovered the guy was waiting at the University Travel Lodge, only about a mile and a half distant.  Mentioning it to a taxi buddy at the lot today he suggested that the passenger got it wrong.  Of course all our customers are __________but this gentleman was clearly coherent and fully understood which hotel he was staying at.  What I have found in this industry is that everyone is blaming everyone else.  Why not?  It's traditional!

The Teamsters Are Coming (and remember, draft horses are our friends!)

I had a longish conversation on the telephone with Leonard Smith, major honcho at Teamsters Union 117.  He is completely convinced of the veracity of his mission.  I will be attending the big organizing meeting in Tukwila on May 24th.  In case you care, I will take geraniums upon my grave.  My fondness dates from 1960 and Fallbrook, California.  The scent has stayed with me.

I was amazed to be told that there are 3 full-time union organizers working on the taxi effort.  Took my breath away.  I am still processing it all.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Taxi Union/Alliance Proposal: Protection, Intervention & Advocacy

Again always again I am up against the clock.  My taxi weekend is quickly approaching and wanted to hit the hay by 8:00.  Now I have pushed that back to 9:00 PM with doubts I will be able to do that.  Regardless I will get this done.  What you will be reading is the complete union/alliance outline I finished this morning and sent out to various taxi folks.  In a moment I will tell you what prompted this flurry of activity.  I do consider all that is occurring to be very important otherwise I would be devoting my hours to something slightly more pleasant like reading all those books I have stacked beside the bed.

Wednesday afternoon I went down to the Sea-Tac Yellow taxi airport feeder lot to visit my old taxi colleague Gurminder K. Together we led the fight against  Ron Sims and King County a few years back and have remained in contact. I had gotten word that he and others airport drivers had contacted the Teamsters and I wanted to know more about it.  I have found this extremely curious because the Teamster union was our enemy 4 years ago as they were in cahoots with Ron Sims and his "Green Cab" shenanigans.  How in the world did they suddenly become our ally?  I both had some questions and wanted to voice my opinion.

The long and short of it twice Gurminder got good trips, the last to Tacoma, and then as taxis will do, the car's water pump went out.  Was it all a Teamster plot?  Anyway, come Monday I will tell you about my conversation with him and other drivers I found at Guru Auto Repair. Boy! I initially  got a very stern reception.  Lucky for me I had my body armor on!

Before I present the outline, I want to address something she-who-will-not-be-named said about it, saying I didn't present enough reasons for a union/alliance to exist.  As I say in the draft, this is all preliminary and certainly open to additions and subtractions but regardless of that I will swiftly go over purposes.

Protection against association mismanagement and governmental bureaucratic overreach, including local police authorities. This of course is a traditional union function, to protect membership and ensure due process.

Intervening when necessary which could mean something as simply supplying legal representation for a member to heading down to the state capital and lobbying for our interests.  In other words, righting wrongs which most taxi drivers and owners would find very helpful.

And providing advocacy for a much maligned and misunderstood industry and profession.  We need to dispel the myths and misconceptions associated with taxi driving.

These three categories alone would keep any new taxi organization extremely busy.  That is why I say any union/alliance would be a 24/7 operation.  It can be no other way.  Now for the draft.

                                              Taxi Union/Alliance Outline/Draft

Please note, this is meant to be a preliminary outline/rough draft for a proposed Seattle/KC taxi union/taxi alliance owner & lease driver representative organization.  Prior to any legal certification and licensing, much open discussion must ensue forming and structuring any final and agreed upon document. Any potential union/alliance will and must represent fully without bias all of the 3000 plus drivers and owners currently recognized to be part of the functioning taxi industry in Seattle & King County. Any future union/alliance will be a completely transparent organization, with all and any operational officers and representatives subject to he rank and file membership and subject to all rules and regulations regarding censure and termination that might be determined in any future permanent organizing document. Equally, rank and file will be subject to same requirement outlined in same future document.  A working philosophy will recognize the value of all, one person one vote despite status or tenure.  Attitudes of class superiority and caste will not be allowed. Age, race & gender and other such discriminatory distinctions or biases will not be allowed.  The union/alliance goal will always be complete equality and impartiality, everyone brothers and sisters holding equal standing beneath the top-light.  

How this will occur is an organization answerable to itself; one welcoming internal and external scrutiny.  I envision an organization designed to respond to every potential problem, from the smallest traffic infraction to sweeping legislative reform.  An organization that will work with association management not as a rival but as a cooperative partner honestly seeking just and fair solutions to whatever problem or issue presented.  The intention is to be responsive, to quickly work toward resolution overcoming any inhibiting obstacles. All this will be achieved by having a connected and engaged rank and file.  Without an involved and active membership nothing can be achieved. The reward will be a new efficiency and perhaps mutual financial profitability as one assists the other toward cooperative enterprise benefiting all.

Suggested Structure

A titular governing officer, with renewable one year annual terms, based upon a thorough rank and file review.

An eight member governing board, all with renewable one-year terms. Each board member would be assigned specific duties and responsibilities, for instance driver complaints.

Minimum qualifications would be holding a current taxi for-hire license and still actively driving. Yes even the president would be required to drive the occasional shift, the philosophy, removing all pretense of class superiority, again, everyone equal beneath the top-light.

All major decisions and votes will be referred to the rank and file for approval or rejection after first being debated and voted upon by the governing board.  Rank and file may refer any and all ideas and proposals to the governing board for consideration.  All requests must and will receive a posted and formal reply.

Per last paragraph, all lines of communication: email, telephone, mail, and personal one-on-one contact will be available to rank and file 24/7.  Just like the taxi industry, the union/alliance will be operational 7 days a week.  Lawyer representation will be available immediately.  No longer will the driver stand alone.  That message in itself should eliminate much of the mischief generated by local government and law enforcement. Liaison and ties to local press and media will further strengthen industry image and position.

Rank and file meetings will be held monthly.  Monthly reports will be sent by email in additional to any and all hourly or daily notifications.  Annual reports will be sent by both email and regular mail.

Dues & Fees

Dues will be decided by the membership per rank and file discussion and debate.  Since the membership will be the ones paying for the union/alliance, they will make the decisions concerning funding.  Where in the past, everyone has been told what will happen and the associated costs, the union/alliance will instead put decision making into the hands of those most directly affected.  This teaches that responsibility accompanies one person,one vote.  One major goal will be to eliminate complacency and disaffection, possibly the worst afflictions facing the industry.  Individual involvement will be the key component to any and all success and progress.  All this will lead to personal empowerment eliminating justification and excuse and all other  psychogocial ruses designed to confuse and depress and disenfranchise individual volition.  The union/alliance will be a celebration and embracing of the individual, the driver no longer a faceless number beneath the top-light.

Any and all bylaws are to be determined though they should all contain the same standard of complete transparency and accountability.  This union/alliance must bear the recognition that each individual member is the core foundation of the organization.  One building block upon the other stretching up and down: a building, a house, a dwelling. If necessary, responsibility will be taught and always encouraged.  Again, the union/alliance constitution and governing rules and bylaws will be framed by individual justice and personal rights and freedoms. Any union/alliance can not just be a replacement for past inefficiency and injustice.  Instead it has to be a new direction, a new and positive approach eliminating any and all prejudice and operational negativity.  Idealism must be the shining sun, individual accountability the grounding foundation and principal.  Together we shall succeed.  Divided we will fail.  An d failure will never be our goal.


As in any theoretical venture, theory must become fact.  That thought is inescapable. The reason we are at this juncture is because the industry has never worked nor functioned as a collective unit. A union/alliance can do that but it will take much work and determination.  Putting our living and our lives in the hands of strangers is insensible to me. I actually find it incomprehensible that anyone could think, given industry history with non-industry folk, that industry rookies are our salvation. What a naive approach. It is time to recognize that there is a steep learning curve concerning taxi driving.  It can not be learned in one or two years.  As I look around the local industry I see a core of outstanding and extremely capable individuals who contain the ability to keep the vessel taxi on course.  Let us utilize our homegrown talent.  And yes let us take charge of our own destinies.  We can and will manage our industry, removing the feeling and the sometimes actual reality that someone else is dictating our future for us.

Again, shall we finally become truly united without the past division and bickering?  I lay out the challenge to say let the good and hard work begin. Yes let us organize but let us also be sensible.  We must do it correctly and lay down the proper foundation.  Only then shall we reach the goals of industry autonomy that everyone claims to want and achieve.  It can be done.   The question is, shall we do it?

Okay, that's it.  A bit didactic perhaps but that is intentional. All errors  missed will be repaired on Monday. Good night!



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Voices From The Backseat

Conversations have always been the heart and core of taxi driving. By far the vast majority expect and indeed enjoy the driver's perspective on his/her job and very other subject beneath the top light and taxi sun.  As for me, it truly depends on my mood how talkative I am or not.  I also must admit it can additionally depend on whether I like the passenger.  Now being a truly democratic person I at least initially attempt to like the person or persons residing in the back seat.  Dogs I have no problem and most other creatures.  I once even had a package of living medicinal maggots who were the most well-behaved passengers.  People unfortunately have opinions that are just annoying.  It could be said that if I were I dog I would be more tolerant especially if the passengers had a nice hom bow to treat me with.  I do attempt to be the best-of-breeds but sometimes a snarl escapes now and again.  Even the best of pooches must howl.  What else can a good taxi canine do?

Sunday the guy just had to tell me about the simultaneous orgasms he and the woman he had met at the bar experienced.  I suppose he felt it was important that I know.

Later on the same Sunday a perfectly nice individual said that he had just gotten a divorce. What he meant was that he just had the initial conversation with his wife.  He was in a kind of pleasant delusion and also mildly drunk. I told him that I would not wish that upon anyone and that it was just the beginning.  He didn't appear to understand.  Unfortunately he is going to soon know all about it.

Now much later into the taxi Sunday evening and with little occurring I park at the corner of Broadway East and Denny, closing my eyes.  Nearly asleep I hear voices questioning whether I am awake and indeed I pop up ready to go.  It is three "VERY" young gay men who proceed to banter about nipping off "peters" and other such nonsense which compels me to swiftly get these folks to Fourth & Virgina because I don't want to hear, I can not bear it and please, thank you into that good night!

Monday, May 14, 2012

350 Acres And A Passenger Named Jack

In greater Taxi-land one always wonders if something, anything will get someones' attention.  Could sending a taxi driver to the second largest park (1.4 kilometers) in Seattle with no information other than his name is Jack do it?  Certainly you could blame the individual call taker but as I said last week the problem appears to be systemic and pointing fingers just isn't helpful.  Though it is kind of impossible to find someone under such circumstances I did, given that the Jack in question was walking toward the main entrance and I have nearly 25 years of experience in locating customers. 

When Jack called, he did mention that he was at the dog-park, perhaps the largest in the city.  All the information I had was that Jack was somewhere in Magnuson Park.  That was it.  No telephone number or more specific details concerning his location.  How did the call taker imagine a driver would find Jack?  That is the question that needs to be answered.  And why and how can this kind of dispatching continue?  It is neither effective nor efficient.  If this was a comedy routine I could see it as we could all die laughing.  But we are in a business to provide rides to those who need them.  That is why we need solutions, not dysfunctional repetition.  That at least is simple, isn't it?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Repairs to a Fatigued Mind

I am writing this at nearly 12:30 PM early afternoon on May 11, 2012.  I am being this specific because I believe I have finally corrected all the errors in my previous posting of yesterday.  There was a time when I could or would write error free, similar to my literary mentor JB Priestley who daily wrote for ten uninterrupted hours minus any changes required.  Anyway those days for me are long past and feel quite doubtful if they can be revived.  Is a part of me dead or just dormant?  Or has taxi permanently injured me beyond any sufficient repair?  Maybe I too will just continue to limp along, singing a sad tune and forgetting lost youth.  Oh how poetic taxi isn't!

Perhaps more importantly will the taxi I love and hate take heed and consider my words carefully. All evidence says otherwise but one must attempt and I did, ever so briefly yet in some length describe sore and festering issues. I do understand taxi which is both blessing and a curse, dualities that never meet though dwelling in the same house, same heart and similar brain.  May commonsense prevail and insipience end. There is little more to say but I am sure I will sooner than I wish or desire or want.  Insipience by the way means lack of wisdom.  May we please have some applied to all things taxi.  Call that both a prayer and a request, and ending with a rhyme, hoping for the best.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

TAG Report & A Question of Intent: Potential Dispatch & Driver Training Solutions

Speaking of time, who has any to spare.  Hey Buddy, can you spare me an extra ten minutes?   With my pockets turned inside out, I could certainly use a few extra minutes and hours and days. Yesterday I did make it to the Taxi Advisory Group (TAG) meeting with about one minute to spare.  The usual group was there to hear Craig Leisy explain once again the pending meter increases prompted by the Labor & Industry decision to nominate all of the state's independent taxi driver contractors as "covered workers."  My instincts keep telling me that ultimately all of this will be plopped back upon L&I's governmental lap. I also find it slightly amusing that it seems I am the only one out of thousands to believe that.  Once the City of Seattle & King County councils hear about the definition issue and how it threatens their revenue streams I predict a prompt and swift reaction.  I can tell that currently none of the combined council members understand or fully comprehend the situation and issues at hand.  Soon they will and that is when potentially all hell will be breaking loose as the State of Washington has already collected its first quarterly payments from the taxi industry statewide. If the councils say no and shove it, why the State of Washington could begin suing Seattle & KC, with both entities counter-suing.  And why, why are we potentially arriving at this sluggish junction?  Simply because L&I addressed the incorrect parties or industry participants.  By auditing the associations and companies they bypassed the most important group concerning this entire issue, the independent driver contractors.  I remain puzzled by this.  Compounding their error was the industry's response, taking L&I's initiative seriously.  True it is that L&I was intimidating, threatening million dollar liens.  The state-wide taxi industry failed to realize that it was all comedic, falling for what might be termed a grand governmental prank. L&I baited the hook and the taxi trout bit and swam with it.  No one bothered to notice all the taxi minnows swimming about but since it is those very minnows funding the entire industry it was a gigantic strategic error not to talk to all those little fish.  Collectively they are composed into one very BIG FISH which could very well swamp and sink the bureaucratic boat.  In the unfortunate meanwhile companies and associations are being forced to pay big bucks into what could be little more than an imaginary fund, something Lewis Carroll's Alice could only wonder at.  Did anyone check out those mushrooms in the pasta sauce?  Better send them to the State lab for analysis.

Questions of Intent

I am hesitant in beginning this because, can you believe it! the sun is shining and I want to take a long walk through the center of Point Defiance Park, this park the primary reason I bought where I did.  Tuesday an otter was eating its fishy dinner on the Puget shoreline.  Far more interesting than the usual taxi passenger.  I also don't want to go on and on upon an exasperating subject.  I will try to keep it short but I am entirely doubtful if I can.  Oh how I can obsess!

I have more than once talked to various Yellow folks about dispatch, driver training and conduct and the various rules and regulations that are tossed about.  Another "bar break" incident tells me that something MUST change.  As any psychiatrist or therapist will tell you, change is not easy but first you need to recognize that a severe problem exists and in conjunction with that acknowledgement is the willingness for change.  Can Yellow and the other associations change and alter their operating philosophies both here and in the United States as a whole?  Given their history I would not hold my breath concerning any swift prognosis.  A passenger I gave a ride to from one of my misaddressed bells told me that when he lived in San Francisco's Outer Sunset (a neighborhood near the ocean)  he could never get a dispatched taxi to pick him up. I mention this only to stress that problems are shared industry-wide and not just confined to Seattle.  Back in 1970 my own father regaled me with tales of Denver, Colorado taxi madness as he plied the mean streets of East Denver. In the following paragraphs I will be outlining both problems and solutions.  I swear upon a stack of Thomas Guides that the following is true.  All I am asking for is efficiency for both call takers and drivers and passengers. Efficiency is possible and I believe I have some helpful suggestions and remedies.  I know we can do it.  It is all a matter and question of volition.  Does anybody want to change?  I will keep you updated.

Saturday was really getting to me.  How many erroneous and misaddressed calls can one driver take?  I left a message saying it just wasn't one individual.  The problem at dispatch is systemic, it is an institutional failure to take the measures necessary to ensure that mistakes are kept to a bare minimum.  Usually it is said that money is the problem, that a given association doesn't have the financial means to address the issues.  I see it far differently.  From the very beginning of my so-called taxi driving career, from Classic Cab forward indifference and apathy have been the prevailing attitude and theme. Bald tires?  Who cares?  Expired license tabs? Oh really, how could that happen?  That hundreds of people never receive their taxi requested upon busy holiday and Friday and Saturday nights?  And again who cares because no one does anything to change the situation, and early Sunday morning I was punished for inserting myself into the maelstrom.  I do know better but I tire of the repeated pattern of countless people waiting and unless I and a few intrepid others intervene there they will sit for a taxi eternity.  It is a somewhat suicidal gesture but one that is utterly necessary.  Back to Saturday. 

As I said, I was getting a series of misaddressed bells.  Certainly they happen occasionally but when they occur consecutively you know there is a real problem.  Working the West Seattle I got an imaginary address on the 8400 hundred block of a given street when it was actually the 8800 hundred block.  I only found this out by first calling the driver superintendent to get the telephone number.  Yellow has a current rule about not listing most telephone numbers in the bell information so when problems occur you have to call and request it. That is if someone answers either at dispatch or in the superintendent's office.  Your only other recourse is to call the actual public dispatch number, 206-622-6500 and if you get through, having to first listen to the screaming as "you are not supposed to call!"  Funny, isn't it, Ha! Ha! Ha!  You can also send a message over the computer but usually it is "good luck" with that as your SOS is rarely answered.   It is akin to shouting up to the sky hoping for some mysterious God to answer.  Again, good luck with that.  And I only found out the actual address because the waiting passenger called me back after initially ignoring my call. By then it was too late as I on my way to another destination, this too also misaddressed.

Arriving at Fauntleroy Hall I found it to be closed.  No weddings that particular day.  Again calling to get the number for the passenger in question, the former San Francisco resident previously mentioned, I found that he was actually waiting at the West Seattle ferry terminal, somewhat puzzled at the whereabouts of his taxi. He was on his way Pier 69 and the Victoria Clipper for his very first visit to Victoria, British Columbia.  He wore a top hat and loved cloudy weather but still that was no reason to keep him waiting.

Fast forward to early Sunday morning.  I had already rescued two bells.  Responding to a plea in the medical I picked up a DSHS/Hopelink fare at Harborview Hospital, a Uzbek (from Uzbekistan) father and his crippled daughter heading back home to Kirkland.  On the way back I noticed bells stacking up in the 205 (greater Montlake).  The problem with stale calls is that quite often the passengers have given up and you never find them.  Accepting that kind of bell can be instant heartbreak and much wasted time which is why drivers avoid those stacked cluster of calls in a given area.  It is foolish to even attempt to book into these messes but I continually do because all of those bells represent someone who requested a taxi for the simple reason that they needed a ride.  I attempt to be accommodating even when it is less than wise to do so.  Having their out of state telephone number allowed me to find three foreign young women trying to walk who knows where having despaired of ever getting a taxi.  They had been waiting for over an hour.  They were dressed for the dance floor, not the early morning chill. They went to Belltown.

They were again calling for taxis in the medical, saying account fares were waiting so I again headed in that direction though I had no true reason to do so other than trying to serve the customers.  Flags were everywhere but I accepted a fare that said someone was waiting at Virgina Mason ER but I didn't see anything stating that it was an account fare. Now it wouldn't be the first time I misread a bell though I swear I looked at it twice. I found that odd and drove to the new ER turnaround but didn't see anyone.  Normally I thoroughly check out all of my calls, sometimes wasting precious minutes but this time, being tired and feeling temperamental, I said the hell with it.  There is this amazing expectation that the driver should accept dispatch's mistakes and be done with it.  Talk to the dispatch supervisor and you are told nothing can or will be done to improve the situation.  You are literally given no option but to accept the unacceptable.  Sometimes it gets to me.  I sacrifice myself and all I get is another no-show.  After a while it affects the mind and attitude. And if you fail to pick up the fare, you are the one completely responsible.  As I have said more than once, I want to pick up every call I am dispatched to.  The Kirkland fare was almost $45.00.  I have had account fares of over $500.  Why in the world would I avoid picking up an account?  No reason whatsoever.

About 20 minutes later suddenly my computer terminal had been deauthorized, that is, disconnected from the satellite stream.  It can mean many things, simple malfunction to to someone pressing some buttons.  The protocol is that if a given driver is going to be punished for some perceived infraction first a conversation ensues either over the telephone or in person.  It can also mean that you are now considered in some kind of emergency, which means the entire taxi fleet and the police are searching for you.  Given that, I attempted to voice up and got nothing.  I called dispatch and was hurriedly told I had gotten the wrong passenger at Virgina Mason and I was now off the computer for two hours. End of  story!  Given that I believe this was  only the third time in nearly 25 years that I have experienced this I was both confused and insulted.  A few minutes later I talked to her again and had a far more pleasant conversation.  She said that she had told the hospital that I was an "awesome" taxi driver and couldn't understand why I had not picked up the passenger.  Given that she knew me, it would have been reasonable to talk to me first. Well I didn't know the passenger was there, plain and simple, with recent and past experience telling me that it was true though it is also extremely true that I was past disgust. I made a very common and  fatal mistake.  I allowed someone else, in this case dispatch, to drive me crazy.  I attempt to have the patience of a taxi saint.  Sometimes I lose my metaphysical will.  It is as plain and  simple and as complicated as that.

Now that was the preamble.  I have been writing for over three hours and I want out of my office but I must keep going.  On top of that Leisy of Consumer Affairs called and said there was a King News reporter who wanted inside information on the Teamster union rumblings emanating from the Yellow airport crowd.  She will be calling me back anytime now.  As she-who-cannot-be-named has commented many times, I should be getting paid.  Hey, I'll take the job if offered along with the promise that they might consider listening to me. You never know.

Now for the analysis if you hadn't already drifted off to sleep.  My small part of the story happened because there is an undeclared war ongoing between the dispatch and the drivers. Dispatch considers the majority of the drivers (including single-owners) to be reckless (and feckless) fools.  In turn the drivers view dispatch and its policies as punitive, incompetent, uncaring and dictatorial.  My personal view is that dispatch is at times less than efficient and overtly over protective and over reactive.  As I said yesterday, taxi is a tired industry and prone to losing both its cool and perspective.  When one builds a fortress, it can be difficult to see above the walls.  That is clearly happening here.  Mistakes are being made on both sides.  It is time to examine the issues sensibly instead of instantly executing nice drivers.  Shouting, as any taxi driver will tell you, is easy.  Finding true resolution is considerably harder.

Let us examine what happened to me, and consider how it could have been done differently.  First, dispatch said the person had been waiting three hours.  How did that happen?  In the olden days of voice dispatch, they would had announced repeatedly that there were account fares waiting at the various hospitals and sought volunteers to pick them up.  Sometimes the dispatcher would say, "Hey! 92! Would you please pick up the trip at Virgina Mason." and if I was close I would respond, "Sure, I'll be there in 2 minutes."  Later the dispatcher might pick me up with an airport run since I had done him a favor.  Even now I sometimes get requests to call dispatch or simply receive a plea over the MDT to pick up a package or a long-waiting DSHS fare.  And if I am close, that is what I do.  What occurred to me Sunday morning is kind of unprecedented. And part of my discussion is whether it is even legal.  Nothing I know about law gives anyone the authority to be instant judge, jury and executioner. I have in the past asked about this interesting policy but as of yet I have seen no legal documentation authorizing something that appears to happen daily.  Of course dispatch is just trying to retain control of what they view as a motley crew.  I have always appreciated that but what makes our country great is a system of checks and balances.  Punishing people without a formal hearing can not be considered reasonable.  It should not happen.  To further display the absurdity of all this, recently a local soldier has been accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians.  In all the news reports it is spoken of the alleged crimes but in the taxi world it is instant lynching.  Wonderful!

Getting back to my incident, somehow dispatch should have been aware that the Virginia Mason passenger had been sitting for 3 hours.  Dispatch should have made a specific request for someone to pick up the passenger though remember, as I have already noted, the non-account customer is routinely left to fade away.  I am sure that the general passenger would be less than pleased to know that they are a lower priority, that if they fail to get a taxi no one cares.  And how to take care of an over-burdened dispatch system?  The simple answer is money properly applied and very specifically applied reorganization.

The associations should give give their dispatching new priority.  Increased wages would change the caliber of the person applying.  Requiring that everyone had previous taxi driving experience would help ensure that they understood both driver and passenger perspective. And have extra staff on hand during a holiday or weekend evening to both monitor and "refresh" the calls.  It would be a simple matter to tell each caller to call back in a half hour if they were still waiting, providing them with a special number that would reach the monitoring dispatcher.  By doing this, the drivers would be reassured that they were answering "fresh" calls and that the passenger is waiting and ready to go.  By eliminating the doubt, drivers would be far more prone to answer the bells at  a busy moment. Otherwise this unfortunate repetition will continue indefinitely.  What kind of incentive will the average taxi driver have to enter that thicket of whithering fares?  Very little is the obvious answer.

As for the drivers, the byword is training, training, and more training, the kind of very specific training and instruction that will make them prepared for the insanity that is taxi.  It hasn't happened as of yet but it needs to.  If they were more professional to begin with much of what has dispatch "tearing out their hair" would at least be modified if not totally eliminated.  Like I said, the problems are systemic reaching across the industry both here in Seattle and NYC and San Francisco and I am sure everywhere else.  The professional driver is an endangered species. A couple of weekends ago I noticed a driver failing to assist a blind customer into his taxi.  Later that same driver slid on the slippery University Bridge, crashing into a barrier.  He as cited for driving too fast for conditions and was later fired. Was he prepared to be a professional taxi driver?  Clearly not despite all the new but completely inadequate training.  There must be a recognition from both sides of the taxi equation that it is a new taxi day and as the sun shines so too must we reflect a new outlook and attitude.  It is essential that this occurs!

And now nearly two hours later the sun remains.  More later if required.



Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Problem of No Time: The Taxi Driver's Daily Dilemma

What I really want to write about today is a subject taking more time than I can give it at this present moment as I have to go to yet another taxi-related meeting which means getting dressed and doing the 30 mile drive from Tacoma to Seattle. That topic, driver versus dispatch must await til later tonight but I will briefly comment upon having too little time, something the average cabbie knows everything about.  Many drivers work a 12 hour shift 7 days a week. Since the majority have families you can begin to see the difficult math.  12 hours for the shift plus 1 hour total commute time to and from the lot plus a minimum of 7 hours sleep adds up to 18 leaving merely 6 hours for eating, talking to the wife, playing with the children, going to the bank, to the post office translating to no time whatsoever. What a life it isn't which explains why every so often drivers take off 1-3 months and go back home forgetting everything about taxi.  Even after my usual five days off I feel the dread of returning to a world I have no interest in entering.  As I tell folks, taxi is a perpetually fatigued industry.  Everyone is tired and requires more sleep which perhaps explains everything which somehow it does. Now I too must fly off with too little time and an incomplete mind!  But of course of course I am doing fine!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ranting Versus Real Solution

She who refuses to be named commented upon what she called my rants.  I told her that they were purposeful but she wasn't having any of that.  I was wondering if anyone would notice.  I must admit that I am still simmering though I have been dousing the flames with maturity and commonsense.  It is said that it can take weeks after a forest fire to dampen and completely suppress the underlying burning.  Am I human or a blackened tree?  Regardless I have concluded that resolution is the only way forward though I have yet to discover if anyone agrees with me.  Unfortunately it just takes a few poorly dispatched calls to fan the embers.  As I asked Fred, the Sunday Day dispatch supervisor, how can the Starbucks at 6501 California SW become instead a bell described as the Hunan Express at 6400 California SW when even that was an error as it really was a business called The Dog Wash filled with dirty dogs?  And given the current rule not allowing telephone numbers to be included in the fare information, the driver, not the mention the waiting passenger is set up for some real trouble and confusion.  Just saying it is nuts isn't enough.  We need to find solution as I have been saying, that is if anyone is truly interested in solving the various issues plaguing the industry.  And yes, I did find the woman waitng patiently at the coffee shop.  As she was going to 26th South & South Lane I was able to describe to her the differences in the various close-by neighborhoods.  She was calling her address the Central District but it is nearer to Mount Baker or Leshi or some might even consider it the near beginnings of shallow Rainier but not really, just the whispering of Italian ghosts!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cabbie Reading Corner, Early May 2012 Version

I am pleased to report that I actually finished that first volume of John Burroughs which I had started how long ago I don't quite remember.  I have much to comment upon his writing and style and content but that will have to wait as I have just begun the second of the four that I hope to finish before the current century has expired. That would be volume VI, "Fresh Fields" which appears to be all about England late nineteen century.  That book makes one of three that I am actively reading, all non-fiction which make me slightly unhappy.  I am truly ready for some good fiction.  The Pulitzer Prize Committee and I appear to have a similar opinion regarding new and current fiction.Thinking of selecting some Dickens and enjoy myself.  Though I consider him a major influence I have read a grand total of four which tells me I better make my choice soon and get started.  While still in California I started something by the excellent writer Andrew Levy, "A Brain Wider Than The Sky: A Migraine Diary."  The subject is as titled. Published by Simon & Schuster in 2009.  Good, well researched memoir.  Later I will also comment upon his style and content.  Some aspects about it bear mentioning.

The last book of note is a horrible story of overreaching corporate influence and power, "Private Empire: ExxonMobile and American Power," by Steve Coll and published this year by Penguin. I discovered the book from a Terry Gross Fresh Air interview that was aired yesterday, Wednesday May 2nd, 2012.  There is also an excellent review at Time.Com. As time and space permits I will comment upon all that I have been reading and  recently read.  Perhaps the only enduring legacy my father left worth preserving was that of reading.  From that came the importance of writing, reading and writing siblings from that great parent, literacy.  Many thanks Child Craft!  A huge thank you, Bishop Piche Library!  And a more recent nod to Saint Deiniol's, and Gladstone's 20,000 musty volumes!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More Ephemera

Before I continue upon last night's theme I should report upon today's month of May 2012 version of the Seattle/King County Taxi Advisory Commission, which for the second month in a row failed to field a quorum, meaning we had four physical bodies plus Arron connected via the telephone.  Part of the problem is that we have three vacant positions though the true vacancy is the partial commitment to a serious cause.  Lukewarm doesn't cut the taxi cloth.  Yes we talked but nothing could be made official though Craig Leisy of the City of Seattle Consumer Affairs reported that his office is getting serious where concerned with the "for-hire" industry.  It looks like that they will be striped of their pastel colors and other such taxi monikers, the chameleon suddenly an ordinary lizard or perhaps a commonplace salamander similar to the ones we saw at Henry Coe State Park after a brisk rain.  They all might become a very bland vanilla, not a particularly alluring color scheme. What is also true is that they have nearly disappeared from the weekend streets since the City of Seattle upped the enforcement ante.

My first fare upon a post-sunrise Sunday morning was from an Aurora Avenue north-end motel, a lovely combination of pimp & doper & drug dealer & hooker X two affair all wrapped up in a $7.00 dollar fare.  I know that is hard to do but minor miracles do occur when fueled and accelerated by madness.  First this slightly lopsided woman steps to the cab telling me "he is coming" and giving me the sensational news that this would be my best fare of the day. She wasn't quite correct in her assessment. The gentleman in question arrives and she leaves.  We then head a few feet north to the Krispy Creme and "why aren't you there?!" and similar growling. "Take me to the Rodeway!" which I do and two denizens of the night approach the taxi, "Ms Deranged Beanpole" saying she wants to talk to my passenger but doesn't as he takes a call and walks up the stairs to his room.  Beanpole and companion stride south in search of something. I hope they didn't find it.

My last fare Saturday bar-break is a young female couple going to the further reaches of the Sammanish plateau.  What is most notable is that after penetrating deeper and deeper into upper-middle class high mountain suburbia is that I found my way back to I-90 with only a minimum of wrong turns.  Heading back to Seattle a Yellow taxi minus one rear tail light flew by me going 80 mph.  Boring and boring and now time for snoring, as I am too tired for further roaring.  Or something like that, an infantile mind a sure sign of dubious design. And writing!

PS   And how could I forget the couple heading back to the W Hotel from Ballard and it was "kiss kiss, smack smack" and other mild intimacies in the backseat when upon exiting she says she likes my beard.  How did she find the time and space and interest?  No additional comment upon this commentary.