Thursday, December 27, 2012

Too Many Moving Parts: Taxi & Time Management

I have concluded the obvious, that taxi as I know it remains chaotic and anarchic because too much is occurring at any one given moment hence the notion there are too many independent moving parts to keep everything in unison, taxi a disparate symphony minus conductor.  Yes as a musical composition taxi is both discordant and dissonant, sour half-notes the donkey's irritating bray.  At least with voice-generated dispatch the dispatcher acts as concert master eliminating much of the cacophony generated by amateurish players.  When you add taxi illiteracy to the mix, meaning individuals who have never driven a cab, having never put in the practice time you have the situation I will be presently illustrating.  Situations and events and mistakes are occurring that are never seen but for the momentary aggravation they cause, accelerating past the minute and hour never to be noted again.  What I am doing today is freezing a situation from last Sunday afternoon, a specimen  prepared for examination.  I want all the taxi scientists in the audience to place it beneath your microscope, searching for the unintended viruses that I know infect and cripple the industry.  Taxi is ill.  It has a contagious and persistent cough.  The remedy appears to be reason and logic and commonsense, ingredients somehow absence  from the usual taxi pharmacy and medicine cabinet.  It is time to refill the prescription.  It is time for mother's chicken soup.

Sunday afternoon the entire city was building momentum toward the 5:20 PM Seattle Seahawks versus San Francisco 49ers NFL football game.  The "Seahawk rush" was on as tens of thousands of fans converged either to the stadium or to their favorite alcoholic watering-hole to cheer on their gridiron warriors.  It is organized madness as all of the taxi companies are overwhelmed with calls and the local police gallantly attempt to direct streams of pedestrians and cars to their various seats and parking places, something that will be repeated this upcoming Sunday, the last regular season home game of the year. It was in this mix that I found myself at about 3:25 in the afternoon having just dropped off a fare south of the stadium.  Fares were waiting everywhere.  I had some choices to make and the one I made was wrong due to the  poor decision-making of others. Time to bring out the kerchief and wipe away your tears (almost a Bob Dylan quote).

Part of the key elements contained in this saga are both zone location and the time of day relating to both the game and the 4:00 shift change.  An experienced taxi mind would have understood what I will be relating.  Unfortunately the clueless are making decisions for the many thus screwing up the works.  If taxi is a machine it is time for an oil change.

As I said, I am now just south of the Seahawk stadium faced with various options.  I could jump on Highway 99 north-bound and work all the points north.  Or, as a good time manager, stay near to where I was and grab a fare nearby.  I saw that I could be first-up in Zone 270 (south of downtown, or as it is called by Farwest Taxi, the "Short Owl") so I took it.  Driving south down First Avenue South I noticed five fares waiting in the West Seattle zone 262 (the Alaska Junction).  Now that the ramp to the West Seattle freeway is back in place I headed in that direction calculating I could be at up there in about 2 minutes.  Just before I made the ramp I got a call in the 270. This is when all my trouble began.

There it was a time call for 3:45 PM meaning I had about 17 minutes to get to a bell located on the 4200 hundred block of 6th Avenue South, meaning I was  less than a mile and 3 minutes away from an empty parking lot.  I knew exactly what it meant, that someone was parking then continuing on to the game, which became true, me being the taxi psychic I am.  As I and everyone else have been telling dispatch, the time-calls recently are poorly formulated, making little sense, in this case fating me to a 5-6 dollar fare and the squandering of over a quarter of an hour.  But that was only part of the consequences, impacting far more than one innocent driver.  The two guys finally arrived, getting ten bucks for my efforts but in reality the time-call in this case was both unnecessary and wasteful, actually hurting efficiency and customer service, not enhancing it.  The repeated justification is that the time-call somehow improves customer service. We who  actually toil beneath the top-light know the truth, tiring of fairy tales.  Or perhaps taxi really is the creation of some new Hans Christian Anderson, the beckoning time-call a modern poisoned apple.  Watch out for that first bite!

Given the shift change, many drivers "book-in" into the 270, our address 74 South Hudson nearly the very center and heart of the zone. Categorizing this short-distance fare as a "call when you are ready"  trip as opposed to a time-call would not have had any negative effect upon the passengers I picked up.  I told them that.  They  would have immediately gotten their taxi..  It also stopped me from picking up one of the 262 fares which I would have served quickly.  The knowledgeable  taxi veteran would  not have scheduled a  time-up so close to the hour and lot, knowing it made little sense.  Decisions good and bad have rippling affects, especially when you are serving hundreds of customers during a crucial  time period. Commonsense and logic need to be in play, not ill-conceived routine and guesswork.

After dropping the pair off I saw that fares were still waiting in the 262.  Hitting the Atlantic Street ramp I was off and flying to West Seattle to a bell I recognized as a regular rider going to work.  Unfortunately it was a no-show as clearly she got tired of waiting, finding another way of getting there.  A lull in West Seattle prompted me to leave and take a fare in the 230.  Do the time computations and almost an hour later I had a mere $17.00 to show for all  my fussing around. And all of it unnecessary.  I can guarantee you that the person who made this time-call knows nothing of the considerations I have listed, and worst, never will.  This unknown individual will remain taxi illiterate while making important decisions impacting many, replicating their error hour after hour.  As I tell my passengers you are just lucky to have a taxi pulling up to your door, and even luckier that it is me, taxi service in Seattle akin to the lottery.  You never know what will happen but perhaps I do, heartbreak the most common cardiovascular taxi aliment.

Another Death in the Taxi Family

On Sunday we lost a long time driver to suicide, Daniel Abebe shooting himself.  That's all I know other than I remember him as a gentleman.  There is a box in the cashier window requesting donations.  Please give what you can.  Daniel, rest in peace.

Worst Kind of Christmas Nostalgia

On Christmas I had the (not very) bright idea to drive upon a holiday, last year's success a fond memory. Instead the morning was the slowest in a decade of taxi days, with the car I was driving reminding of the bad, old days when extra board cars were rolling death-traps. Soft brakes, a worn out computer finger pad and a recalcitrant trunk latch spoke of drivers not taking taxi maintenance seriously.  I muddled through and wrote the cab up, leaving it to Taki & company to provide resuscitation. The cab had a mere 173,000 miles on it.  The current 478 has over 240,000 miles and remains in great shape, roaring down the byway.  Including my 25 years, the three drivers sharing the car have a combined 65 plus years of experience.  We make sure that 478 is maintained.  I appreciate sharing the road with veterans who have their priorities straight, knowing a safe cab guarantees a safe ride.  That is all that we want plus of course a ride to Vancouver, BC Canada.  That would be nice! 


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