Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A General Message

In the taxi new computer generated world, a general message is something that comes across my MDT (taxi computer screen) a few times daily, reminding that the roads are wet and other sometimes less vital information. Consider this then one of those general messages whose mission is to inform and remind.  Coming from me of course it will be slightly more detailed or, depending on your perspective, long-winded.  This message is about the dispatching experience from the driver's perspective.  A policy review meeting is scheduled on somewhat appropriately Pearl Harbor Day.  But instead of bombs away I am hoping for friendly and insightful discussion concerning daily taxi operations.  The overall goal is efficiency on all levels.  If there ever was a symbiotic endeavor it is taxi, especially when it involves over 550 taxis and nearly 1500 drivers. It is essential then that we are all  on the same, as much as conceivably possible, taxi page that is both legible and coherent. It might be fun to think about a chaotic and crazy taxi world but it is far less entertaining when bedlam is your working environment. One problem is that everyone has become inured to the madness, accepting dysfunction as normal and some might say necessary.  But clearly there must be alternatives to inefficiency.  The term deficit implies that there is a void waiting to be correctly filled.  It is then all about measurements, not all that different from following a recipe.  A pinch of this and a dash of that is sometimes all it takes to create a successful dish. Taxi ultimately is an easily put together recipe, requiring few ingredients beyond common sense and a very light touch. What follows can be taken as guidelines to a rational cuisine.  Everyone knows the discomfit indigestion gives.  Taxi dining should be pleasant minus of course the glass of vintage wine.  There will always be time later for the relaxing coffee and dessert, and if so inclined, the hand-rolled Dominican cigar.

The following is a quick inventory of fares that I have had over a seven day period beginning Monday November 19th and ending Sunday November 25th.  What you find here are a handful of representative examples backing my contention that an examination of the kind scheduled for December is both necessary and helpful toward reaching a comprehensive overall efficiency. Remedy, my friends, is what is required here, not rancor or acrimony or denial.

 At one in the morning I get a bell, a time call in zone 165 (top of Queen Anne Hill) due at 1:15 AM.  I am literally at the address in two minutes.  I end up waiting the full time or even sightly past when a young woman requests to go down the hill to 1st West & W. Mercer which is roughly a $6.00 fare.  When I asked her why did she make her fare a time call she responded, "What is a time-call?"  What happened is simple. When she called dispatch she said she needed the car in 30 minutes. You should understand that she, along with 95 percent of our customer base understand next to nothing about taxi in general and Yellow Cab in particular.  An experienced customer would have understood that one, Yellow is the largest taxi company in the region, and two, at one o'clock Monday morning your taxi would arrive instantaneously because the fleet would just be sitting around doing nothing, just like I was, bored, bored, bored. What an experienced call-taker would have done (especially during the voice-generated era) was say "call back when you are ready.  We have a hundred cars at the moment doing nothing whatsoever."  Instead the inexperienced call-taker made the INDEPENDENT decision to make it into a time-call, that is, minus a direct request from the passenger. A better approach in these circumstances is to tell the person to call back when they are ready.  The young woman, embarrassed, apologized for holding me up "for fourteen minutes" and gave me a good tip.  After that I gassed up 478 and was done for the weekend, always pleased to end my taxi day!

The next three examples occurred Thanksgiving Day, three honorary turkeys reserved for that special day.  All three originated in zone 152, which is a sub-zone presenting that very busy University Hospital & Medical Center.  They all held in common lead times of fifteen minutes which is about the time it takes to make it to Sea-Tac if you hustle. My average arrival time was two minutes.

The first bloated bird was a time-call originating from one of the wards.  They have this trick of calling in advance for patients while they are in the process of being discharged and collecting their final prescriptions. Anyone with a quarter if not half a brain knows that those combined tasks often hold lengthy delays.  And sure enough fifteen minutes evaporated and still no sign of my passenger.  Twenty minutes elapsed before there they were apologizing because of some pharmaceutical snafu.  "What time-call? " they said.  "We didn't know it was a time-call?"  The mother and daughter combo went to 12th NE & NE 43rd for five dollars, giving me ten for my troubles as the "Orange driver in the morning nearly killed us!"  and I was "so nice!"   I told them that he was angry, that's all, expecting something a bit longer at five in the morning.

2:30 PM rolled around and I was getting hungry, prepared to join my taxi comrades at our annually sponsored Pilgrim feast.  I get a HopeLink time call worth over $30.00 going to West Seattle and near the restaurant. O My Lucky Day! but not quite as the passenger never showed up even though I had him paged.  Another twenty-five minutes down the taxi drain.  These kind of incidents are similar to the numerous trees falling hourly in your local forest, there being no witnesses to these lonely deaths.  As I always say, welcome to taxi!

After my most amazing meal I am again in the University District (zone 150) and get yet another HopeLink time-call at the hospital.  Another 30 dollar plus fare but again I never find the customer, a repetition of the earlier call.  Shall we do the math?  20 plus 25 plus 25 minutes adds up to 70 minutes divided by an actual gross of ten dollars. I did end up making some money that day but I certainly would have liked that extra 65 or so dollars in my pocket.  I did everything by the book, just the way it is demanded currently by dispatch and what happened?  We know what happened.

Fast forward to Saturday morning and the dispatcher is pleading for a taxi account customer (probably HopeLink) in zone 470 which is the City of Auburn located about 25 miles southeast of Seattle.  Desperate, the dispatcher was promising that whoever picked up the fare could have first-up anywhere they wanted in greater Yellow Taxi-land.  I kept wondering where she got the permission to begin giving illicit gifts?  Perhaps she got the holidays confused and though it was Christmas.

Finally, finally I got a time-call to the airport (eighteen minute lead time, I arrived in six) in zone 500 (greater White Center & Arbor Heights), with the passengers coming out 2 minutes past the appointment giving me twenty minutes of wait time.  Coming back from that trip I got yet another airport time-call, this time in zone 452 (greater Skyway).  The address was located off of S. Norfork & MLK Jr South at the 9800 thousand block of 40th South.  The location was an industrial belt I was unfamiliar with, which is saying a lot.  Though enjoying the unusual locale I disliked the no-show. No one answered the telephone and it just appeared to be a badly botched call.  The dispatcher commented that the earlier shift doesn't know how to take time-calls.  That appears to be true.

Later that day I got a call in zone 150 sending me to 808 NE 53rd Street.  Wrong as I called the passenger and instead it was 808 NE 63rd and a "Zip-Car" parking space.

And lastly for your pleasure it is now 11 something Sunday night and I notice two fares sitting in zone 265 (deep West Seattle) and no-takers.  I head that way and, lo and behold, my favorite kind of unexpected fare, a late night bell to the airport.  It was a time-call for 11:30 and I wasn't close.  Still I arrived only 6 minutes late proving the point that a time-call guarantees you nothing whatsoever.  So much for the wisdom of time-calls, just another version of taxi potluck. The passenger, a gentleman named Peter, was both smart and gracious.  Having once worked for a courier company, he knew all about dispatching.  He made two telling comments.  One that he had difficult hearing the call-taker and two, he could hear someone guiding the young lady through the process of taking the call.  When a cab didn't arrive precisely at the appointed time he became alarmed that something had gone wrong.  I did get him to Sea-Tac in plenty of time so in this case, as is often said, no real harm, no foul except maybe one that gobbles occasionally.

And there you have it, hopefully speaking (or gobbling) for itself.  There is a reason this is called real Seattle taxi.  It is the true taxi experience in all of its tainted glory. Hopefully we will be able to come up with some effective and lasting solutions.


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