Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dictating The Conversation

It is clear that the Seattle City Council and Seattle's related administrators and regulators feel they have both authority and permission to shape our industry in any manner seen fit.  It is disconcerting to have people who have little understanding concerning your reality say that they know all about it while refusing to acknowledge their knowledge is purely theoretical.  Their presumptive attitude is insulting, not that they care. I call this the middle class/upper middle class disconnect, expert in everything regardless of the obvious, the product of lifelong pampering and coddling. 

Sally Clark, during her KIRO radio interview two Saturdays ago, said in response to the interviewer that she understood "she had to scrub the taxi drivers."  Really, Ms. Clark, I will be seeing you out at 74 South Hudson, soapy bucket and and brush in hand, "scrubbing down" all and everyone passing by?  Her statement says it all, the City of Seattle dictating the conversation to the local taxi industry. As I told a group of "taxi principals" yesterday afternoon, this must stop before it is too late. 

During a quick presentation I outlined

1)  What our current situation is,

2)  how we arrived here, and

3)  what our options are.

The attendees were very receptive, understanding like I do that we are under the administrative gun, and the good people at the Seattle City Council are about to pull the trigger.  I requested the meeting because, knowing everyone like I do, I wanted to remove any vestige of complacency.  We are in the fight of our taxi lives.  I told them like Paul Revere of old, I was out on my taxi horse sounding the alarm.  The British, I told them, are not just coming, they have arrived and their rifles are leveled at us waiting to fire.

While some might be optimistic, similar to the sentiments relayed in today's Seattle Times, that the arrival of a new mayor and Kahama Sawant, the self-described Socialist, is a bureaucratic game changer.  We  shall see.  I will be reaching out to them next week.  Stay tuned!  

Note 01/07/2014: Typos now corrected.  Give me sleep!

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Title Request: Hoping This Is My Last Renewal

"She-who-can't-be named" requested the title after I renewed  my taxi for-hire driving license for hopefully the last time.   Given that I will be seeing her on her birthday in just over two weeks, I want her to be pleased.  Of course what she really wants is to see me completely out of the business.  I am making every effort to make that happen.  As is totally clear to me, I am no longer amused.

And one reason for that is that King County issued a new directive concerning license renewals, stating you have to renew an entire month in advance, which explains why I drove downtown and plucked down my $150.00, cash only. Are they afraid our checks will bounce? 

 My warning letter was issued on December 24th.  Today is the 30th.  My license expires on January 31st.  Thanks for the advanced notice!   There were a lot of drivers renewing today.  I always enjoy rubbing elbows with my taxi brethren, my kind of worn-out people. 

My Kind of Wages!

This weekend was tough meaning I had to work extra hard to make my usual money.  By early this morning I was beaten down.  Sitting "One up" in Zone 180 (the Westlake) I was parked in front of the Holiday Inn on Dexter Avenue North cleaning out the cab. 

This couple walks up and asked where the La Quinta was?  Having a sour experience they leaped out of one taxi and wanted me to take them the rest of the way.  Since I was doing nothing I said I would take them the three blocks for nothing.  In seconds I had them at their motel.  Insisting on paying me they gave me thirty bucks and Happy New Year!  I liked that, averaging a cool $10.00 dollars per block, a salary I believe  would well support my desired lifestyle.  A few weeks of that and I would begin thinking I was Bill Gates though maybe not,  tipping better than he does.

Almost Bellingham!

Parked near the Seahawk Stadium nearing half-time I got belled-in to 1st South and South Railroad for a "take the drunk fan home!" Seahawk charge who I was told was going to the city of Bellingham, give or take 70 to 80 miles north of Seattle.  It was a screwed up call and I never found the person.  Instead Seahawk security gave me a couple going to Renton Highlands.  The boyfriend was drunk.  Thankfully his companion was sober, having only imbibed hot chocolate.

Nearing the I-5 & I-405 intersection I stopped and let him vomit upon the roadside.  You know, the roar of insane traffic flying by is something to be missed, reminding me of my youthful hitchhiking days.  They were my best fare of the weekend but Bellingham would have been wonderful, it being over ten years since I've gotten a ride up there.  Years ago I would have been depressed missing the fare but now I understand taxi and how there are no guarantees until you have the passenger in the cab.  As I tell anyone interested in hearing it, the only taxi guarantee is a swift kick in the butt!  And that my friends is the damn truth.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve

And I can only hope and pray to the taxi gods that this one is my last.  I know "she-who-can't-be-named" will concur.  Ten years ago I drove that particular holiday with the flu.  It almost killed me.  Nothing like taxi! 

And I think I am repeating myself!


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Once The Dust Settles, The Question Always Will Be Why Did They Think It Was Worth The Bother?

Saturday afternoon I heard the Seattle City Council President being interviewed on KIRO-FM, the monitor accusing her of stifling competition.  Yesterday in the December 23rd edition of the Seattle Times, their lead editorial "City Council Rideshare Plan Hurts Innovation" rails against any suggestion that Lyft, Sidecar and Uber-X should be subject to the same kind of regulation governing all commercial and public transportation infrastructure in the United States, be it taxi companies and airlines and trains and buses or horse-drawn carriages traipsing through NYC's Central Park.  The mere suggestion of any kind of parity ignited a firestorm of criticism.  Why would government, they shout, intervene against an economic and cultural innovation revolutionizing  transportation as we once knew it, labelling it as blasphemous bureaucratic overreach.

Beyond the blather and hyperbole the question persists just why should any Federal, state, county or municipal official accept an unlicensed and unsanctioned incursion into a regulated industry?  Radio personalities, especially one making constant reference to the "disco jacket" he was wearing, can be ignored but it is a different story when the editors of a newspaper touting its "Nine Pulitzer Prizes" embrace the uninvited illegal entry into a regulated market. 

Minus local licenses and permits the ride-share industry entered urban transportation markets across the country in cities like Seattle and Denver and San Francisco and Austin, thumbing their noses at anyone questioning their purpose and motive.  With religious-like fervour they chanted their new app-smart phone-based dispatch services were metaphysical in scope, expanding mind and spirit all the while simultaneously building community and cooperation. Turning reality upon its head, Lyft and its ilk have suddenly become the aggrieved party, thwarted in its gratuitous attempt to  free the rider-public from taxi-bondage.  If it wasn't so sad it would be humorous. 

How and why can this be true?  I suggest that everyone grab their nearest Webster's and look up the definition of "criminality" because it is clear what the ride-share industry is doing, first staking a claim then acting surprised anyone would object.  What comes to my mind are images of post-American Civil War carpetbaggers descending upon a devastated South and more modern, corporate raiders taking over an unwilling company.  What I find puzzling is why are these millionaires muscling in upon the very modest taxi industry, taxi never to be confused with multi-billion corporations unless perhaps you add up all those over-valued medallions in NYC.  Whatever the final outcome is, I will always wonder why anyone is bothering with such small economic potatoes.  It is a mystery.

Perhaps the most misleading part of the Seattle Times editorial is it missed that the City Council ride-share proposal essentially destroys the local taxi industry as we now know it, opening the market to unlimited numbers of quasi-taxis.  Missing entirely in their argument is that the current proposal allows any holder of a City of Seattle for-hire driver license to drive beyond any 16 hour per week limit. 

What the City Council is really saying is that anyone, Lyft, Sidecar, Uber-X, you, me, the "fool-on-the-hill" can contract with 100 drivers with City of Seattle for-hire licenses and operate unfettered in Seattle.  It also appears, unlike taxis, you can set up whatever rate you wish. 

An example of that just happened when Uber-X and Alaska Airlines teamed up this week to offer totally free rides to Sea-Tac on the 23rd and the 24th.  How can the taxi industry compete with free rides?  We can't and no small business owner can.  What may be true is that the ride-shares are the transportation equivalent to Walmart, underpricing the competition and killing the local business community.  Is this what the Seattle Times is advocating?  It appears to be whether they know it or not.

The City of Seattle Responds

Last week I got what essentially was a formalistic response from the City Attorney's Office, advising me to contact the very same parties who are not enforcing current City of Seattle laws and regulations.  I found that curious and will be sending a detailed response later this week.

More interesting was an email I received from the City of Seattle Customer Service Bureau saying they will be contacting me and actually issued me a tracking number monitoring my complaint.  I can only assume my comments have gotten someone's attention which is logical considering that the City of Seattle is potentially and theoretically liable for millions of dollars in potential damages.  Again, I will keep everyone posted concerning any new developments. 

Happy Holidays everyone!


Monday, December 16, 2013

"I Don't Want To Hear Anything More About Taxi For the Next Thirty Years!"

That quote is from "she-who-can't-be-named" who has had enough of taxi, or more precisely, my too many years involvement in this not quite sane profession.  How can I disagree with her?  I too am tired of a repetitious story chanting known themes.  Last Friday's Seattle City Council hearing echos in my mind, still disbelieving they remain unaware their newest proposal would destroy the industry locally.

At the hearing itself and in an email, I have asked the Seattle City Attorney's office to intervene.  What started over three years ago as the needless introduction of the "for-hire" licenses to our market continues in the renegade invasion known as Lyft, Uber-X and Sidecar.  We require some answers.  I will report to you as soon as I have them.

My only hope is that finally we in the taxi industry are united against a threat that can ultimately destroy the livelihoods of thousands.  The difference between us and the ride-share drivers is basic. This is our profession, not some kind of economic hobby supplementing an outside income.  I believe it all comes down to respect, or clearly the lack of it.

The Never-Ending Scenario  

Getting in the taxi he first needs me to break his 100 dollar bill so he could finish whatever transaction he was conducting.  Returning, his first request is a flat rate.  Refusing that, we continue to Burien but he will not or can not tell me precisely where we are going.  This does not stop him from every few blocks telling me to "keep going." 

After a few of these directives I tell him he has to stop while he steadfastly refuses to say where exactly we are going.  Entering the heart of Burien at South 148th and Ambuam South I ask him again again just where are we going, saying I have to know.  He had said "there were some children waiting" making it strange he didn't know where his children were. I no longer trusted that this ride was in anyway normal.

"Oh now you want directions?" he snaps.  With that response I tell him to "Just get out! and he does, understanding I've had enough, eating the $14.00 dollars on the meter.  It's good I can be intimidating, cutting short trouble. 

Just what was this fellow's agenda?   Nothing good is all I know, nothing good taking me for a ride.  As I keep telling such clowns like this guy over and over again, "I am a taxi driver, not a social worker!" but they continue to not believe me though I think this particular person began to get the correct picture.  He was afraid of me.  Good!  Again, welcome to the fun and games that is taxi.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Unlucky On The 13th: Quick Snapshot of Today's City Council Hearing

Today the Seattle City Council held yet another hearing regarding their pending  legislation regarding taxi cabs and for-hires and the transportation network companies (TNC), or which heretofore were more commonly referred to as ride-share services.  What they are proposing will effectively inundate the taxi market with as many TNC cars as any billionaire seems fit.  They are proposing that anyone can create a maximum100 car TNC company through a pilot program expiring Dec 31st, 2015.  Given there is no limitation of how many individual TNC companies that can be formed we are looking at the possibility of an unlimited number of quasi-taxis being added to the market.  Knowing how rabbits breed, we will soon be overrun.

Along with this is a list of easily met insurance and other requirements which essentially translates into the deregulation of the taxi industry.  Why would anyone want to keep operating expensive taxis when instead all you need to do is rig together a minimum of 15 cars and you are in business minus any real capital outlay? 

Amazingly their justification is the extremely flawed Cooper/Mundy demand study.  I told the council today that they needed additional evidence but I am doubtful if they are interested in understanding taxi reality as it is and not how they are imagining it.  Like mad scientists they are bent on blowing up the laboratory.

The potential consequences if this TNC proposal goes through are dire.  You have read it here first.  We in the Seattle and King County taxi industry are facing a life or death dilemma.  How we respond to this threat in the next two to three months will determine our fate for years to come.  This new TNC is nonsensical.  We are in serious trouble.

My advice is to contact everyone you can think of, the new mayor, individual city council members, the City of Seattle's Attorney's Office.  Start contacting and start complaining before it is too late.  Our window of opportunity is very small.  The time to respond is now before tomorrow disappears forever.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Option 3 Dissected

As the regulatory option discussion concerning "Option 3" nears a conclusion I think it time I discuss the potential ramifications minus allegory or rhetoric.  While others, including friends move toward discussion and compromise I remain appalled at what I see as the potential dismantling of an industry, something that is clearly unwarranted.  Having stated earlier that the situation we are facing is wholly artificial, our own  "Gulf of Tolkin" incident, I am alarmed at what I view as the hypnotized masses walking forward toward an contrived oblivion.

 I will be discussing the "how and why" of  "Option 3", its history and why it can only be viewed as unacceptable.  Hopefully everyone will see my conclusions as non-biased, based solely upon factual analysis.  Again, as said in earlier comments, I am not placing the blame upon fellow victims like the "for-hire" and "limousine" industries.  Though while not supportive of their continued operations, I feel a settlement, especially concerning the "for-hires" is essential.  The blame for what everyone is dealing with lies solely with local regulators and administrators.  But first more history concerning all this should be helpful.  This juncture is not accidental, the combination of mistakes and miscalculations made over a series of many years.


"Option 3" is a misinterpretation of history, taking all of the negative facets of taxi and turning them on its head.  In other words, "Option 3" is history turned upside down, serving only as reconcilable solution if you believe a convex image is not distorted but real and actual.  When blame is your operative view, then of course the taxi industry is criminally dysfunctional, justifying all punitive responses.  Understand that at least in Seattle all the decisions affecting the industry the past 40 years have been made by people who have never driven a taxi.  What we see today are the missteps of the past masquerading as verifiable reality.  Call it a distortion.  Call it false assertion.

If you really want to know what will happen if "Option 3" becomes reality I suggest reading, which can be found on-line, a 1983 article written about the City of Seattle's 1979 deregulation of the local taxi industry, "Seattle Taxis, Deregulation Hits a Pothole," by Richard Zerbe.  You should also check out Goldy's April 11, 2013 Stranger column about failed taxi deregulation where he quotes from a 2001 report originating from Craig Leisy's Consumer Affairs office , explaining why deregulation was/is a bad idea.  The study also states the dire impacts of deregulation.

One important point to consider is that the 1979 deregulation only affected taxis.  The outcome was so disastrous that the industry was re-regulated a short five years later.  What is so scary about "Option 3" is that it expands the market by allowing 200 "for-hire vehicles" to convert to "taxi licenses" and allows unlimited numbers---thousands?---of ride-share vehicles to operate legally in Seattle. "Option 3" also adds fifty additional taxis to the mix.  By reading Zerbe's well-researched piece and the City of Seattle's own report one might conclude that 'Option 3" is not an option at all unless your goal is to destroy the local industry.  As I keep saying, our local market demand will never sustain that level of intrusion.

As is often said, history is an able teacher, and failing to heed history's lessons can be both foolish and dangerous.  History in this case tells us a broad deregulation is not the answer.  The answer, I will be presenting, lies elsewhere.

For-Hire Vehicles: Why They Are Not  The Answer To Seattle's Taxi Market

Approximately three years ago a decision was made to put in place a "de facto" deregulation of the taxi industry minus any consultation with extant taxi associations or current industry leaders.  After refusing to consider releasing additional taxi licenses, the City of Seattle's Office of Consumer Affairs encouraged the release and purchase of nearly two hundred "for-hire" vehicle licenses.  King County in turn opened the "for-hire" spigot, allowing for what I understand to be an unlimited number of county-based "for-hire" licenses to be created.  The unfortunate consequences were many.

City of Seattle licensed "for-hire" vehicles come with a limited operational mandate,
forbidding them to cruise for passengers within Seattle's city limits, thus removing any direct "street" competition with regulated taxi cabs.   City of Seattle based "for-hire" drivers can only legally receive passengers through dispatched calls.

Knowing this, the Office of Consumer Affairs decision to release the "for-hire" licenses was curious and dumbfounding, because they were released without legally requiring affiliation with an association or having a proven dispatch system.  What the City of Seattle did then was encourage the creation of TWO HUNDRED separate businesses with no ability to legally operate.  Why the City of Seattle did this is yet to be answered.  So far no one has accepted responsibility for this bone-headed move. 

Unfortunately two hundred new business owners found themselves instantly burdened with operating costs similar to taxis but having no ability to pay those expenditures.  The City of Seattle neither conducted any cost analysis or business planning prior to releasing these licenses to the public. Nor did they offer any guidance or assistance to the naive people who purchased them.  In short the City of Seattle failed its own governmental mandate to protect and serve its citizens.  The results of this failure has been catastrophic, impacting both the new business owners and the taxi industry.

The "for-hire" owners had to make a choice.  Given that it takes years to develop a successful business model, they either had to give up their licenses or go to where the money is, meaning taking the risk of picking up passengers illegally upon the streets of Seattle. 

Fast forward to now, and minus any real enforcement, the "for-hire" vehicles are now an established but completely illegal fixture.  All requests made to the City of Seattle to suspend licenses have been completely ignored, making the City of Seattle in some form accomplices to the documented theft over the past three years. 

As far as I know nothing like this has ever occurred before in the history of  Seattle, open criminal activity allowed to continue 24 hours a day year after year unabated and without the intervention of regulators or administrators or the police. If the equivalent armed robberies or rapes or muggings or setting up of unlicensed restaurants occurred, the ensuing public uproar would be thunderous.  People would be fired and resignations demanded.  Investigations would be conducted and perhaps officials would be indicted.

 But of course nothing like that has occurred in relation to this situation.  Incredibly, as part of the solution offered by "Option 3" these very same thieves are to be allowed to become fully licensed taxis.  If I didn't now the facts I would find all of this fictional but it isn't.  This is operational reality.

No, "for-hire" vehicles are not, and never have been the answer to what might be perceived as a transportation infrastructure problem, meaning the sometimes lack of taxis at particular hours.  The simple solution has always been to dual-plate or regionally-plate all the current taxis save the fifty King County-only licenses issued to Green Cab.  Given that they have never operated under the original issued-mandate, their licenses must be rescinded.

Similarly the "for-hire" licenses should be eliminated, allowing for some damages awarded to the owners.  Two key points here.  For the most part, the for-hire industry has never totally operated under their known operational mandate.  And everyone should remember that no one forced anyone to buy the "for-hire" licenses.  Anyone buying them clearly knew that, as the rules stated, they were prohibited from picking up "flags" in the City of Seattle.  Despite their protestations, they have no case. 

Everything they have done, from buying the licenses to operating illegally within the legal boundaries of Seattle, has been voluntary.  If anyone from the City of Seattle told them directly, or implied that one day their licenses would one day convert to standard taxi licenses, we need to see the written proof.

Ride share Vehicles: Why They Must Be Eliminated

Everyone should remember why transportation services like taxis, buses, trains, ships and airplanes and jets are regulated.  It is all about public safety.  Read your daily newspaper and you will regularly find articles about ferry boats sinking in the Philippines or buses driving off cliffs in Peru and Ecuador, often with great loss of human life.  I have been on those buses in South America and I can personally attest to the danger.  What is happening is that the regulators in those countries are not paying heed to public safety.  In the USA we know better or least we should. That is why these new ride share smart-phone based apps are a non-starter.  Just because there is a new technology doesn't mean you alter the entire regulatory and business history of an industry.  It doesn't make sense. 

Imagine that someone decided to dispatch private airplanes to customers utilizing a similar kind of app used by Lyft or Sidecar.  Why many might think it was a terrific idea you can be assured that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) would immediately step in and block the potentially dangerous practice.  But when the City of Seattle and King County were presented with new app-based car services, what did they do? Nothing, they have done nothing at all to protect the public from illegally operated transportation services.

One of the reasons given is that some segment of the local population likes them.  Using that justification, perhaps the City of Seattle and King County should allow unfettered use of heroin and cocaine and child pornography because a sizable percentage favors that.  One of the primary purposes of governmental authority is to provide guidance.  Even with the overwhelming support of marijuana legalization, only recently have two states voted to legalize small amounts for personal consummation. Federally you can still be thrown in prison for a very long time.  Government then uses it authority to protect both the public and regulated industries.  Oddly City and County government has openly decided not to follow their own laws and rules and regulations regarding the upstart ride-share industry.  The question is why.

"Option 3" opens up the Seattle market to unlimited numbers of ride-share vehicles.  If the owner of Amazon, a known billionaire and a backer of the ride-share industry, wants to put on one thousand new ride-share cars he will be able to do it under "Option Three."  Scary, and there will be no effective regulatory authority to stop him.   "Option 3" holds the potential then to effectively kill the local taxi industry as we know it.   This makes no sense whatsoever.

Where is the Demand?

Ever since the release of the Cooper/Mundy demand study, the City Council has kept up a steady drumbeat for the need of more vehicles to service this new and ever expending consumer base.  As I have repeatedly pointed out, one of the studies major flaw is that it never once considered or mentioned the essential disappearance of what once was a taxi mainstay, package deliveries.  This past weekend I had one solitary package when ten years ago I might have had 20 or more on a given day.  What Cooper/Mundy failed to do was the math, subtracting the business lost from the perceived increase, which it seems to me keeps us at about 1990 demand levels.  Now business could increase but most of that will be seen only for a few months of the year or during certain times of a given day.

It is a deadly game opening the market to unlimited competition because many will simply have to give up and do something else.  At this point I don't even support "Option 3s" idea of licensing 50 new taxis.  I am unconvinced they are currently needed.  As I said, dual-plating all the existing cabs other than Green Cab will fill in the current gap in the market, that is if that gap really exists.  One study proves little.  More collaborative evidence is required.


"Option 3" not only ignores reality it creates one that doesn't currently exist.  There is no need for new quasi-taxis to be added to an already depressed business environment. The town-cars, which I haven't mentioned, must be brought in under some strict regulatory authority.  The "for-hire" cars, if they are allowed to exist, must operate under their original mandate. 

And enforcement must begin immediately against the illegally operating for-hires, town cars , and ride-share services.  The City of Seattle has the authority to stop all illegal activities.  It is time it begins following its own laws and halt the predatory practices currently impacting the Seattle and King County taxi associations and their owners and lease-drivers.  It is time for fairness to be applied to an important and vital industry.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One Example Will Suffice

I will forever find it irritating that those who are making decisions for our local taxi industry have no clue concerning our pervasive reality.  Insult to injury is that they do not consider it necessary to know while expecting us to both respect and follow their instructions.  Amazing, isn't it?  

It is clear it comes down to one dimension only and beyond any doubt local administrators and regulators have little to no respect for us.  They will deny that but the proof rests in their actions.  Unless they are stopped, they will be decapitating our industry locally, leaving it to us to mop up our own blood and bury the dead.  Anyone close to this story knows this is true.

While the City of Seattle contemplates our destruction, our story, our reality continues.  Sometimes one example says it all, clearly illustrating what all of us endure.  A conversation overheard late Thanksgiving paints the too typical taxi picture, saying it might not be wise subjecting the innocent to this kind of garbage. 

Purposely picking my taxi up late Thanksgiving evening, thus allowing an early 4 AM start in the north end, I accept a South Park fare I saw sitting far too long in Zone 505.  Going to a house shrouded in deep fog on the 800 block of South Sullivan Street I pick up a gay couple, two guys going home to Capital Hill from a Thanksgiving feast.  Unfortunately they had much to comment upon, and unless I tell them to shut up, I was going to hear it regardless of choice. 

Professional discretion aside, there are very few instances where the driver can tell the passengers to end a particular conversation.  Certainly profanity and any threatening talk allows for intervention.  Beyond that, you just have to bear with it, no matter how obnoxious your passengers are.  In this instance, one of the two gentlemen was beyond the pale. He was simply a fool, dinner wine loosening his wagging tongue. God help the cabbie!

It was this "dinner guest that" and "those lesbians were so ugly" and she said she "hadn't taken a bath in three years!"  On and on for the more or less eight miles to Denny and Melrose.  Everyone at the party, over 20 guests, were targeted for their venom, no one escaping their scurrilous scrutiny, the couple commenting upon haircuts and mental stability and fashion decisions. The idiot was also a backseat driver, not respecting  me or anyone else.

Finally pulling up to their apartment building Mr Gossip makes one last comment, saying those lesbians were so ________ but at least (meaning me) you are "easy to look at."  Wonderful!  Every part of him speaks, including his penis.  Why do I have to hear his penis talking, his distorted brain being quite bad enough for one Holiday evening.

Welcome to taxi my friends.  It is a fun world where you learn everything you never wanted to know concerning demented humanity.  And of course all those City Of Seattle folks know all about this.  Ask them and they will tell you, reassuring you to the bloody end!


Monday, December 2, 2013

O My God! I'm Married To The Cab!

While too many are clambering to get into a taxi or quasi-version the reality is that driving a cab is brutal especially when you starting stringing together a few days in a row, ensuring that all you are doing is sleeping and eating, living and breathing taxi.  Today marks my fourth day in a row, when just in over two hours I will again be beneath the top-light working the Monday night Seahawk game.  Pity the poor guys and gals who do this day in and day out, not just in Seattle but everywhere around the taxi world.  Upon dropping me off at the airport, my last Mexico City cabbie made a sign-of-the-cross with my tip in hand.  That gesture says it all.  Taxi is not heaven on earth but instead usually an urban manifested hell!  Always again, welcome to taxi as I know and hate it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Our World Is Forever Altered----Maybe!

Today, though no longer a member I attended a Special Meeting called by the Seattle-King County Taxi Commission occasioned by the attendance of Seattle City Council President Sally Clark.  The object of the meeting was to review and discuss the now infamous (at least from my perspective) Option 3 which the council is considering as a response to the Mundy/Cooper demand study and the ongoing controversy concerning alternate taxi-like services.  Ultimately the commission will be sending an advisory recommendation to the Seattle City Council.  Unfortunately only four of the sitting commission members showed up, failing to field a legal quorum.  Six members were absent along with the seventh position, my former seat, remaining unfilled.  One would think, given the urgency and importance of all this, that the full commission would have been present.  The four commissioners who did attend, Abebe, Manjit, Rafi and Joseph did an excellent job.  Speaking as the former chair, I was proud of them.  The commission, or least part of it, is maturing and taking form.  It was great to see.

Sally Clark gave a ten minute presentation, with an additional twenty minutes reserved for questions from the panel.  It was a different Sally Clark, commenting that the demand study wasn't perfect, presenting it more as a guiding document than a completely definitive statement.  Even saying that she appeared to agree with Mundy/Cooper that demand is up, at least for certain kinds of non-taxi transportation services, inferring that also translated into a more overall demand for taxi-like services.

When asked if the city council held the legal authority to include ride-share services in what was termed a taxi and for-hire and limousine (town car) study, Sally responded by saying she categorized ride-shares and for-hire vehicles as one and the same, thus providing necessary regulatory authority.  In what appeared to be a possible contradiction, Sally said toward the end of her appearance that she viewed ride-shares as "private car" services.  Given that for-hire cars are regulated by both the City of Seattle and King County and hold a requirement that the drivers hold a "For-Hire" license just like cab drivers, it seems that "private car" is the more correct definition. 

The next taxi city council hearing is scheduled for Friday December 13th.  What is telling is Sally said not to expect any final decisions until sometime in January or February or even March 2014.  This might mean there will be plenty of time for negotiation.

The most important moment of the meeting occurred when the current Chair Manjit asked Sally what she knew about an incriminating email emanating from somewhere in the Seattle City Council chambers requesting that Seattle's enforcement arm, the Office of Consumer Affairs, defer from going legally after the ride-share services.  Sally was shocked at the suggestion, saying no one would ever make that kind of request.  All I can say is that after the meeting was over I saw evidence appearing to corroborate that charge.  If it does turn out to be true, then, as the title implies, our taxi world is forever altered, backing up my contention that the City of Seattle has failed to protect us from predatory practices.  Stay tuned is what I advise.  The narrative it appears is about to become very interesting.

Editorial Note:  Given my too usual post-taxi haze, two errors were missed but are now corrected.  I do my best to overcome taxi fatigue but at times it comes out the victor.  Have I ever implied that taxi driving is in any manner healthy?  Believe me it isn't.  It is a physical and mental grind.  And as I am about three weeks shy of my 60th birthday it is not getting any easier.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Where Is The Demand While Sitting On My Hands With Nothing To Do?

Paramount perhaps beyond all other considerations concerning the addition of new taxi licenses and potential accommodation toward the for-hire vehicle and ride-share industries is the crucial question of passenger demand. As Seattle's population grows there is a perception that more people are taking taxis.  Ray Mundy and James Cooper in their demand study implied that is true.  But beyond limited peak periods during Friday and Saturday nights and football game days, is there a sustained increase and demand for taxis and related services? 

Your answer might be similar to mine if like me you had been driving a Seattle cab these past few weekends.  You would know that despite your best efforts you couldn't find a passenger.  That at times desperation filled your mind, wondering just when if ever again would you find a paying customer?

I have a personal reputation of always finding the taxi fish.  If I am having difficulty finding business then it probably means there isn't any, at least not the kind of demand warranting the dramatic increase of taxi and quasi-taxi services currently under consideration.  Flooding the market with transportation companies doesn't mean magically there will be a corresponding increase in the customer-base.  I would celebrate if that was true, wishing there were more than enough customers for everyone.  Evidence unfortunately appears to say otherwise. 

Caution then is the byword.  Swinging the regulatory doors wide open is probably suicidal.  Nothing good is gained if everyone is fated to earning $50.00 a day.  Currently the taxi industry remains viable.  Decisions made during the next two or three coming months must be well thought out and comprehensive, based upon reality not emotion.   To do otherwise would be both unwise and criminal.  I request that we proceed forward slowly.  Not only must we seek the right answer, all conclusions must be correct.  Families and individual futures are reliant upon this.  Shall we never forget that for all concerned!

First Fare of the Weekend

One always hopes that a great first fare is a harbinger of great things to come.  This Saturday I had the unlikely destination of Everett from a South Park Mexican restaurant at 3:45 AM in the morning.  It was like being back in Puebla because she only spoke Spanish.  If only each fare was a $90.00 fare.  I could get used to that, lighting imaginary cigars with real twenty dollar bills!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Regulatory Protection? Regulatory Failure!

As is often said, distance creates clarity and my nearly twelve days in Mexico City and Puebla assisted new perspectives upon a known subject.  It is not an exaggeration to state that the next two to three months will potentially imprint the local Seattle and King County taxi industry for years if not decades to come. Any and all incorrect addressing of our current and present issues will be disastrous. Our course then must be correctly tacked or suddenly we will find ourselves wrecked and floundering upon a reef of our own creation, permanently stranded and forever at the mercy of oncoming tides.  We do not want this to happen.

Paramount above everything else is understanding how we got here.  Nothing here is accidental, instead the momentum of years bringing us to where we are.  Briefly then I will outline a regulatory history dysfunctional and contradictory.  The regulators and administrators assigned and elected to protect us have simply failed.  Worse they have at times operated completely contrary to our best interests, making misinformed decisions weakening and compromising our ability to grow and prosper.  They are about to do this again.  It would be foolhardy to allow them to think that what they have done and plan on doing is in anyway acceptable. 

Beware of  hidden agendas disguised as constructive dialogue and cooperation.  I remind everyone about the Munich Agreement of 1938 when Great Britain, France and Italy agreed to Germany's annexation of Western Czechoslovakia, all in an effort to avoid war.  Remember how that worked out?  It was a complete miscalculation by Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier.  We in the taxi industry cannot be similarly naive.

History shows us that Seattle and King County first creates a problem, then perpetuates the problem, and finally, in a blaze of bureaucratic glory, assigns the blame to the victimized parties themselves.  We cannot let this kind of history to repeat itself, drinking poison offered as healing balm. That my friends is suicidal. 

I want to remind everyone of a basic psychological premise.  Foolishness, instead of being a lack of fundamental wisdom as usually portrayed, is in reality a series of active choices.  You are deciding to be foolish when the option not to be can be easily taken.  You don't have to be dumb.  Instead you are deciding to be.   I unfortunately see the perilous direction the discussion is taking.  I suggest we do otherwise.

As stated in my last posting, the situation concerning the for-hire vehicles and the lack of regulatory response toward the ride-share services is solely self-created by Seattle and King County itself.  The City did not HAVE TO RELEASE the for-hire licenses.  The City did not HAVE TO ALLOW unregulated services like Lyft, Sidecar and Uber-X to operate.  All of this has been completely voluntary, City regulators and administrators making INTENTIONAL choices contrary to our best interests.

I want everyone to understand a very basic premise.  Since the taxi industry is a regulated industry which is required to pay fees and obtain licenses, we are both under the scrutiny and the protection of City and County agencies.  It is clear that we are NOT being PROTECTED by the very agencies created to manage and oversee our interests.  Too often instead they have acted in direct opposition to our needs and wants.  This should not and can not continue.

Take the training of new drivers.  They make the new drivers pay fees and take a required training course.  And what do the new drivers receive for their time and money?   A badly structured program leaving them ill-prepared for what they are being licensed to do.  Making it worse is that they then blame the new drivers and the overall taxi industry for the City & County's own sanctioned incompetence.  An example from Saturday night spells out the prevailing reality.

A couple from Alaska complained to me that during their three previous taxi rides earlier that evening, that

1) the driver was not familiar with their destination and how to get there, and

2) that THEY themselves had to research the destination address, and

3) then and only then did the driver insert the destination address into his GPS device and take them to where they needed to go.

In short, all three drivers were clueless, left totally unprepared BY THE CITY & COUNTY TRAINING.  This clearly is just one example of the kind of regulatory failure perpetuated by the City & County.  And who gets the blame?  Why of course the victimized drivers and the industry in general.  The passengers from Alaska even wondered if I knew where the Alexis Hotel is.  Somewhere on planet Mars I think, just a few blocks west from our City Hall, where space aliens makes decisions for us unsuspecting humans.

In summation, the correct party must be held responsible for the mess we are facing.  All fingers point to the City of Seattle and King County.  What we in the industry can not do is in anyway cooperate in what is a bureaucratic charade.  We can not allow them to hold us responsible for problems created solely by them.  The Seattle City Council will do this if we allow them to.  We must communicate that we will not be holding hands and walking down their prescribed path.  Their path leads only to a precipitous cliff and we will fall to our deaths.  It is beyond time to say No, we will not be agreeing to anything but the elimination of the for-hire and ride-share services.  We will also require that we are compensated for our losses. 

And the reason why?  Because the City & County regulators failed to protect the taxi industry.  And while criticizing and punishing us, they have failed to acknowledge their own culpability.  This is not acceptable.  And my question to everyone is, how can it be?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Einsteinium: Synthetic Reality

Buenos dias from Mexico City, my last full day in Mexico.  Tomorrow I fly first to Houston then on to Seattle.  My bus ride from Puelba to Mexico City actually offered refreshments similar to an airline.  Entering the bus the passengers had an array of snacks and beverages to chose from.  Amazing.  My Puebla taxi ride to the bus station was great.  By that point I knew parts of the city and correct routes and he went essentially the way I would have taken.  The driver, an older gentleman of one year total experience, became excited when I identified myself as "taxi driver USA Seattle, State of Washington."  He even got more excited when I gave him two American dollars as his tip, translating to 26 pesos. Money of course is what makes those taxi wheels spin.

 I will miss Puebla.  If you get down that way check out the Bibioteca Palafoxiana and its 50,000 rare books.  You will also want to see the Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Guzman and its side chapel, the Capilla del Rosario.  I have been to many Roman Catholic countries and visited many churches and cathedrals but if you need to see only one, come down to Puebla and stare up at the amazing ceilings.

Einsteinium, named after Albert Einstein, is a synthetic radioactive element, symbol Es and listed 99 on the Periodic Table of the Elements.  It only occurs after a thermonuclear explosion, which makes it synthetic not primary.  Other than possibly the kind of explosions occurring upon the face of our friendly star, the sun, you do not want nuclear explosions.  They are deadly, and hence creating a synthetic and unnatural reality.

 I am using the einsteinium analogy to express a potent point.  All that has been occurring the past four years concerning the Seattle & King County taxi industry is artificial and synthetic, a manifestation, a reality created solely by decisions that should NEVER have been made but moreover, can NEVER be made if your goal is the overall health and vitality of an industry.

When, primarily on Mr. Leisy's initiative, the City of Seattle encouraged the purchase of that synthetic taxi, the for-hire vehicle, it became an unnecessary element of the industry, something that should not exist, at least in Seattle. In NYC's outer boroughs like Queens they might be necessary but not here.  And something to remember, Seattle is a city of 600,000 thousand, not ten million.

Instead of answering the call for more legitimate taxi licenses to be released, they created an alternate and dysfunctional reality victimizing both the taxi industry and the desperate individuals who became for-hire owners.  We all now know the story of how the for-hire owners and drivers are operating illegally in the city.  It is a mess and situation that can not be tolerated.  The new Murray administration must act quickly to put this damaging genie back into its bottle.

The so-called ride-share services are another example of synthetic reality.  Using and utilizing new technology is one thing but allowing an entire new range of unregulated synthetic taxi services to operate under the guise of new technology makes little sense.  Perhaps requiring that the taxi industry embrace new technologies similar to what is happening in NYC does make sense, making the service more passenger and customer friendly.  But saying that new technology justifies the entry of Lyft, Uber-X etc makes no sense.  It is an incorrect response to our transportation model.

Albert Einstein, a very smart man, later voiced regret for having helped create the age of atom bombs.  It is time for the local Seattle and King County administrators and regulators to admit their fatal errors and retract their very bad decisions.  It is past the time they begin acknowledging their mistakes and start repairing the damage, that THEY THEMSELVES created.  NO ONE else is responsible.  Any other course must be seen as what it is, a declaration of war upon the taxi industry.  That is not, and will never be, acceptable.  We in the industry require a responsive regulatory environment.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ola From Puebla, Mexico: The Bells Are Ringing!

The one very clanging plus one gets from visiting an overtly Roman Catholic country are the cacophony of church bells.  Two lines from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells":

                                  Bells, bells, bells----
                                  To the rhyming and chiming of the bells!

Reminds me when I was in Barcelona, Spain in 1991 and my hotel was directly adjacent  to a church.  All those glorious bells!

Yes sitting in my Puebla hotel room I have the bells pleasantly intruding upon my work space.  Outside the sun is bright and warm.

My taxi ride in from the bus station was efficient, my driver once working in a Chicago restaurant kitchen, and now back in Puebla, taking me directly to my hotel.  You should have seen the long curving line of  waiting cabs.  I would for one not be so cheerful.  My tip matched 75 percent of the fare.  Taxi, especially the waiting, can be grueling. And that is what I want to briefly touch upon, on just hard in reality taxi can be and is. As I have said, the money can be and is good but the cost in sweat and blood and tears can be high.

An early Sunday morning incident nearly meant I would now be sitting in Harborview if not a morgue awaiting burial instead of my rustic hotel room.  Having picked up in Chinatown I was crossing 6th and Cherry east-bound when a driver in a Toyota ran the light south-bound on 6th while coming off the freeway at 40-50 miles per hour, aiming directly for my door.  Depending, he might have killed me but as I have been driving a car since I was twelve, I instantly hit the brake and dodged the lethal Toyota, saving me and my four passengers from much misery.  The Toyota did stop about 30 feet past the light but what was there to say?   He made a serious error and I was able to repair it.  I just kept going to my destination, glad we were all safe, including the fool in the Toyota.

This is the reality I face and the reality the two Mexican cabbies I have rode with face daily.   It is a rewarding but dangerous profession.  Would you snobs out there like my two drivers better because they were both wearing ties?  I am sick of the current diminishing and insulting of a great and courageous group of professionals.  It is time to hug not mug your favorite cabbie!  Taxi is a bull fight and the cabbie the brave matador.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Option Three: Mere Folly?

Greetings from Mexico City.  After finishing the draft of my new book, "To Age 13" in just over nine months I have rewarded myself with a more or less "working" vacation, tomorrow heading to Puebla, Mexico's fourth largest city to concentrate on the edit for seven solid days, along with some breaks to see the city.

My taxi ride in from the Mexico City airport was great, like myself, a twenty-five year veteran of the taxi roads taking me directly to my somewhat obscure Hotel Panorama.  That earned him a $5.00 tip, making it 65 Mexican pesos.  As I keep saying, regardless of the city or country, a professional cabbie makes the difference between a good or bad ride.  You do not want amateurs plying Mexico City's crazy streets!  Not a good idea.

The more I observe what is happening on Seattle's streets the more I understand just how absurd and untenable the situation has become, post-game Seahawk games having more limos and for-hire vehicles out there working than taxis.  That is why I think the following quote taken from the novel "On the Edge of Reason" by the Croatian writer Miroslav Krleza (1893-1981) makes complete sense:

"Folly wears a top hat on its highly learned head, and this top-hatted folly is a form I have studied fairly closely."

What Krleza is reacting to and describing is post-Habsburg Empire Yugoslavia,  Habsburg Hungary being where three of my grandparents fled from.  Now of course we are in 21st Century Seattle but funny how new "royalists" keep appearing, making everything the same as if a hundred years passing has changed nothing whatsoever.   That the City Council thinks that their "Option Three" is based on some kind of tangible reality is the type of "top-hatted folly" Krleza is writing about.

By allowing the limos and for-hire cars to steal our fares without thinking there will be a strong response is complete folly by everyone elected and assigned and appointed to protect us.  And to continue to allow these same bad actors to steal from local citizens is again total folly.  Yes, they are stealing from the passengers themselves because of this basic point.  Because all of the transactions are unauthorized and illegal it means that no payment can be requested.  I see this folly potentially leading to two class-action suits.

One is obvious, with the City paying the cabbies millions in lost revenue.  The other class-action suit will be on behalf of all of those Seattle and King County residents plus all those unsuspecting out-of-town visitors who were robbed by the limo and for-hire drivers.  And for the moment I will only mention in passing the folly of allowing unregulated ride-share drivers to pick up local residents in un-inspected cars, perhaps grounds for a third class-action suit. 

Adding to the folly is that we in the local taxi industry have been telling all of the Seattle regulators for over three years that none of this is acceptable.  And what has been their response?  "Top-hatted," upper-middle class folly.  What a world!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Taxi Blueprint

The taxi industry problems and issues both locally and nationally are completely resolvable.  One important point should be clear.  We cannot wait for the local regulators to come up with our solutions.  Working in partnership yes but as we have found out in Seattle, depending on local officials is like Samuel Beckett's play, "Waiting for Godot."  Good luck.  Beware of people who are paid to care.  Once the 5:00 PM whistle blows they are gone, along with any thought of you. No one but ourselves will take care of us.  To believe otherwise is sheer foolishness.

The following are some suggestions that, if taken seriously, will begin to lead us out of our current wilderness.

Demand Professionalism

As an industry total, we can no longer accept potential drivers who are NOT PREPARED to be taxi drivers.  We can no longer be an "industry on training wheels." We must recognize that we are a profession and emulate what they do in London.  My definition of a profession is any position where you can make $100,000 or more working full time.  In Western Europe and Great Britain and the major US taxi cities like Chicago, San Francisco, NYC and yes, Seattle, the professional driver is pulling in that kind of money.  There is a reason why the potential cabbie in London spends years memorizing all those streets.  It is about the big money to be made and nothing else.  One simple act will alter the equation.

For instance, if in Seattle when that newly Seattle/KC driver comes knocking on Yellow's door, they are given a simple twenty verbal and written question pre-test before they are allowed to drive at your association.  If they don't get 100 percent of the answers, tell them to come back in a year and they can try again.  Notify Seattle/KC that they sent out yet another ill-prepared candidate.  If Orange, Farwest, Northend and STITA followed suit, we would be well on our way to solving the professionalism issue.

Demand Improved City & County Training

Both locally and nationally demand that regulators strengthen new driver criteria along with rewriting and toughening tests and questions.  Expand training to a minimum of two weeks.  Put all potential cabbies through "driving simulation" tests.  Do not license anyone who has not held a state-issued driver license for at least five connective years.  Do not allow any map use during testing.  All routing questions should be oral.

Revamp Association Training

All associations should also take a new attitude concerning their own training.  Not only should associations offer new driver training but remedial continuing education should be offered quarterly.  Strict testing will remove poor and inept drivers from association eligibly lists.

Adopt New Technology ASAP

As Yellow as shown the past couple of weeks, app-based dispatching works now that it is using I-Phone and Android based apps.  This is only the beginning for Yellow and all the associations nationally should forge ahead and answer the challenge.  As I have said, taxi companies have been operating for over eighty years in the USA.  No one knows how to transport people better than us.  It is time to end any and all sloppiness.  No one can compete with us when we are operating effectively.  If we take a common-sense step by step path to resolving our problems, we will do fine.  Complacency though will prove fatal.


Simple is as simple does.  If  the taxi companies and the regulators begin making these easy changes, I can see nationally that all of our issues will be completely behind us in one-two years.  I personally remain committed locally to improving our industry.  Join me, will you?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why All Complaints................Are Not Necessarily What They Seem

Greeting from Cle Elum, Washington.  I am on my way to a quick camping/hiking trip in  eastern Washington and Pioneer Coffee is a usual first stop.  Staying off coffee for a few weeks I am sipping hot chocolate. My brief commentary this week pertains to the notion that taxi service in Seattle and area is fatally flawed.  My suggestion is caution before leaping to conclusions when reading about how awful everything is.  Two examples of two flawed observations.

Nearing noon on Sunday two young women from NYC flag my cab down and head off to the airport.  They complained how horrible Yellow dispatch was, saying when someone answered the telephone, the voice on the other end, instead of identifying thenselves as Yellow Cab, just said hello, then abruptly and rudely hung up.  They found this impolite, not what a cab company should do. This is why they were walking down Pike Street searching for a taxi, disgusted and mad as hell.  I responded that was very strange.  Finally after quizzing them I found the answer.  They used the wrong area code, dialing 425 instead of 206, clearly reaching a private home instead of dispatch.  Taking their complaint at face value you would have blamed dispatch but the truth was far different. 

They did ask a good question.  Why is the number on the side of the taxis incomplete, not displaying the area code?  It is something I have been telling the City of Seattle and King County for years.  Now everyone knows why.  Every telephone number is this United States requires a area code, that is ten not just seven numbers.  Since many people are out-of-town tourist calling, many will not know the area code.  Nothing like missing the obvious.  And there they were, the young women pointing an erroneous finger at Yellow.  Not very nice!

Saturday morning the passenger originating from the Grand Hyatt told me about her odd experience coming in from Sea-Tac.  She was here for a optometry convention and was now returning home to Florida after three days in Seattle.  She said that the taxi driver from the airport did not know the way to either downtown or her hotel.  It was a bad experience.  After asking her a number of questions I discovered the answer.  Instead of a Yellow taxi she had stepped into a town car instead.  The clue was when she said the car was "black on the outside."  This woman was perfectly nice but I think she probably needs a "new set of glasses."

My suggestion is obvious.  Instead of "blowing up" the taxi industry, can we all take a deep breath and assess whether problems stated are really based in reality?  We need the entire story, not inferior articles written by the uninformed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why The Professional Taxi Driver Is Important And Necessary Plus A Few November Endorsements

In today's (Monday October 21st, 2013) Seattle Times editorial page, there is, surprise of surprises, a balanced and fair editorial concerning the local taxi industry, entitled "Level Playing Field For Taxis, Ride-Sharing.  Despite the title, it is clearly on the side of taxis which I find very rare, confirming the editorial board is paying attention.  Hallelujah! is all I can say given my too many years of reading and hearing erroneous opinion. 

Their editorial fits in well with what I was planning on writing today because the majority know little about taxi realities and that needs to change pronto, as quickly as possible.  If any of the current City of Seattle decision makers, be they city council members or the mayor or my various friends and acquaintances at Finance and Licensing, were they today plying the taxi streets I guarantee they would not for a moment think it reasonable flooding the city with non-professional drivers.  They would know, like I do, one basic and simple fact: driving taxi requires great knowledge and skills ranging from knowing the local roads to being an instant psychologist.

 During recent City Council hearings the testimony of local Lyft drivers shared one, overwhelming quality: naivete. Maybe when their crotch is grabbed, something I have experienced more than once, they will appreciate the wild world they've entered.  I can only hope their victimization will be minor.  Every time I drive by an intersection where the body of a cabbie was found, say South 55th Street & Bangor Avenue South for instance, I recite a silent prayer.  From my experience, it is the rookies who are attacked, the criminals entering my taxi instead behaving themselves and paying the full fare, recognizing it would be a grave and potentially fatal error to do otherwise.  As I keep repeating, taxi is not for the faint hearted.  Professionals are required and no one else.

Early Saturday morning in the south end of greater Seattle, ground fog hugged the roadway, at times limiting visibility to ten to twenty feet.  It was in this "pea soup" I had a 4:15 AM Sea-Tac time call at SW 115th Street and 30th Place SW.  A difficult locale to find in sunny weather, try the early morning conditions greeting me that morning.  Pleased I was only five minutes late to their house, I got the Disneyland-bound family to the airport in plenty of time despite roadways and freeway signs immersed and shrouded in impenetrable misty gloom, conditions hazardous beyond the usual Seattle experience.  As I was thinking then, this is when the driving professional is required.  Does the City and County really want ersatz taxi neophytes driving under these circumstances?  I truly doubt it. 

Same general neighborhood but fast forward to late Sunday night transporting two drunk Hispanic men from a Whitecenter address to Boulevard Park and then on to Renton.  One, the routing was necessarily serpentine, twisting through Whitecenter and Top Hat  and Boulevard Park and South Park and Skyway to an address near the Renton airport, and two, making it more interesting, my passengers barely spoke English.  And topping it off, three, the gentleman paying starting making noises he didn't have the full fare.  This is when I had to momentarily get a little verbally rough.  It all worked out in the end though, with the jovial drunk tipping me two dollars.  Again, you want a professional driving these besotted souls home.  Nothing about this ride was easy.  Even hardened veterans would be challenged.  What would have happened to a rookie?  Eaten alive and spit out, bones and all.  It is unfair to subject the unsuspecting to such an environment.  The only reason I survive is I am indigestible, all leather and gristle.


Since my concerns are primarily taxi, I am only concerned about two races, and besides, the mayoral and City Council Position #2 being the only truly contested positions, and with Murray, according to some polls up on McGinn by 20 percentage points, Conlin versus Sawant might be the only major mystery.

McGinn versus Murray

Ed Murray is an unknown other than saying he would "call a moratorium" upon the ride-share services.  Whether he actually would I don't know but at least he pandered, reached out to our industry which is more than I can say regarding anyone else.  Murray then might be our only hope for possible inroads at City Hall.  It is only a guess.

I like Mike McGinn.  Some have said I even played basketball with the future "his honor" at the DT YMCA.  I do appreciate that  he appointed me to the taxi commission.  I know he had the city install perfectly useless "limited-hours" taxi stands but still I remain doubtful.  While traffic volume has increased by at least twenty percent he has transformed many four lane roads down to two lanes, slowing down traffic and creating unnecessary jams. He is also responsible, along with the King County folks of making lanes "bus only" while simultaneously downgrading and eliminating bus service.  All of this of course is a "pain-in-the-butt" to the harassed, hard working, fast moving cabbie.  McGinn is full of dreamy theories that are somewhat nightmarish.
My tepid choice.  Murray.

Conlin versus Sawant

Over the years I have had some pleasant email exchanges with Richard Conlin.  Nice guy.  I heard Kshama Sawant speak when she was running against State Senator Frank Chopp who definitely is not nice.  My opinion about Sawant is that she is the theoretical candidate, thinking "she is one of the people" while clearly upper-middle class.  In fact she thinks many things while in reality has done very little living, at least of the kind of living that bloodies the nose and dirties the hands.  The problem with this kind of politician is, if elected, and upon coming down to earth from her cloud-bound heaven, like our friend Obama, we end up with the conventional, the usual, not the expected radical who would "one day change the world!"  It is awful, that after their youthful idealism has faded, most become a slightly altered version of their parents, be that good or bad.

With Sawant and others like her I keep thinking about Orwell's Animal Farm and that final card game.  Yikes!  Flipping a coin between " I am a Progressive!"  and the self-described "Socialist Economist" I have come up with theory standing on its head. I will be voting for Sawant. If nothing else she will cause trouble for a few sessions before morphing before our eyes into another kind of political creature.  If she wins maybe they will build a stall for her, complete with wall to wall hay bales. And supplying her with organic oaken wooden buckets filled with filtered spring water.  I wish I had more than one vote!

Editorial note:

My editor from afar, "she-who-can't-be-named" spotted a number of errors which are now corrected.  What you are seeing is the "taxi aftermath" and my attempt to do finished work when I am half-dead.  I completed this posting last night at 10:20 PM. then with packing up and quickly going to the co-op I didn't leave Seattle until past 11:00 PM, finally arriving back in Tacoma a bit after midnight.  In December I will be 60.  My body collectively, my knees and ankles and afflicted brain all tell me I am no longer 20 but I keep wanting to be.  All I request is patience and usually in a day or two I am caught up with everything, including my Monday night errors. Sleep helps and I will get more tonight.  November 4th I leave for Mexico and much needed rest.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Analysis: Outline Of A Taxi Crisis & More Stories

Collectively our local taxi industry is awaiting the pending Seattle City Council  decision which is slated to be announced sometime near or after the November 5th election.  Concerning ride-share services, for-hire cars, limo (town car) regulation, and potential taxi-license release, important decisions affecting taxi industry viability for years to come will be placed upon our plate whether edible or not.  Some of the suggested recipes, option 3 for instance, from our point of view, may be indigestible.  Given that, I will attempt to demystify and codify the issues, and continuing the dietary analogies, cut them into bite-size pieces.  I can't emphasize more everyones' personal responsibility in knowing the issues facing us and advocating for our future.  If you find any of what I've written helpful, please incorporate as you will, telling everyone in our local city government from the mayor to Sally Clark your views.  This battle, if you wish to term it that, is shared by all of us.  If we are to win, we will win united, together.  If there was ever a time to set aside personal conflicts, it is now.


The primary reason our industry has been attacked both locally and nationally is simple.  Unlike other professions, doctor, lawyer, airline pilot, we are neither recognized nor treated like members of a professional class.  Our job has been classified as menial, something that can be done by anyone.  The ride-share services celebrate that attitude, put a pink-mustache on your car and away you go, nothing else required.  Anyone who has driven taxi knows this is erroneous.  Even with nearly 26 years beneath the top-light weekly I am challenged.  Instead of now going into the reasons why, let it suffice that this misinterpretation of what we are and the skills required are fueling the threat we are facing.  Not answering these threats are potentially fatal.  No one else but ourselves will determine our future

A Non-Participatory Industry

We have been our own worst enemy, which has led to misconceptions of who we are.  Having observed the taxi industry for over a quarter of a century, I say without hesitation that a kind of operational narcissism has been its worse feature, a myopic view that profit is front and center to everything else, above customer service including safety.  This has led directly to the negativity I mentioned, and to the disparagement of an industry.  By being focused upon its own navel, the world is passing it by.

The result of this selfish, insular approach has been an overreach by the regulatory authorities who appear not to trust the industry to govern itself, having little confidence that the taxi industry will operate in the public interest.  Having tried deregulation in the mid-1970s, and watching the local industry implode in a frenzy of self-interest the City of Seattle and King County developed a distorted view of our capacity to be and remain responsible.

Though clearly the local associations, especially Yellow, Orange and Farwest have displayed a renewed maturity and willingness to address industry shortcomings, for many in the City and County offices this new initiative is too little and too late to alleviate their concerns.  For them our image is permanently sullied.  Despite that we must move forward, demonstrating our new resolve to participate fully as an important part of the overall Seattle and King County business community.  We cannot let past history dictate our future.  We are a new generation of owners and drivers embracing innovation and technology.  By recognizing past failures our future achievements will only be that much greater.

Regulatory Authority

Our relationship with local government couldn't be much worse as they decide how to respond to the new ride-share companies and the other rival transportation services, the onus, the responsibility for some of our service deficits thrust solely on our laps.  While understanding their sentiment, it is important for them to understand their own part in bringing the industry to where it is today.  Whatever service deficiencies we now experience, especially the quality of the new taxi driver trainee, much of the responsibility lies with the local regulators who, while pointing out problems simultaneously create them.  Regulators must hold a comprehensive view of our industry.  Without that they only add to the public burden, making decisions that, instead of clarifying and building local transportation infrastructure, distort the issues, making it more difficult to permanently mend what is only partially broken. This is when clear and strong communication is essential, leading to coherency rather than what I see as the current muddle and misunderstanding.

An example of regulatory confusion was the encouragement and release of the 200 plus City of Seattle for-hire vehicle and the unlimited King County for-hire vehicle licenses flooding the city with more ersatz taxis than anyone wants to think about.  While attempting to address demand for taxi licenses it instead created a massive headache for all concerned, no amounts of aspirin countering the ever present discomfort.

Another example is the excitement elicited by the new smart phone app-generated ride-share services. Somehow thinking they signify a new and growing demand for taxi-like services, the regulators appear on the verge of flooding our local market with an unlimited number of essentially unregulated, non-professional drivers who will have free rein to do whatever they want.  Again, I see this as a vast overreaction to a problem that only in part exists.  While we want to think that the regulators are well-meaning, the damage emanating from an unfettered opening of our market, from our point of view, will be breath-taking. That is why we in the local taxi industry must be assured that the local regulatory authorities will do nothing that permanently harms our core business foundation.  As far as I understand it, we have not received anything close to that type of assurance.


Some recommendations:

1) We increase our direct communication to all of the involved regulators, including all nine Seattle City Council members and both mayoral candidates.

2) Before any decisions are made, a new demand study, separate from the Mundy/Cooper report be conducted and paid for by the local taxi industry itself.  You might have noticed that while we are left to whatever reaction their study generates, Mundy and Cooper are nowhere to be seen, the obvious negative of employing "hired guns."  Once the shooting is over and the bodies are buried, they themselves have no lasting accountability.  We require a study conducted by those who know our local taxi and transportation landscape and who can be held accountable for any erroneous or misleading statistics.

3) Like BYG/PSD is currently doing, all the associations must accelerate their modernization of dispatch services and embrace all new app-based technologies ASAP. This will cancel out any so-called competitive advantage the ride-share services might claim.  We must reassert our professional model, because no one does taxi better than real and actual taxis.  By permanently becoming and staying a cohesive and responsible industry, we remove all justifications for expanding non-professional and non-regulated taxi-like services.

4) Local regulators must acknowledge their own culpability in the decline of taxi services.  By upgrading training and limiting the number of newly licensed drivers they will assist the industry and the public by guaranteeing that only individuals who 1) have an intimate knowledge of the Seattle and King County streets and addressing systems and 2) have a demonstrated ability to drive a car and 3) have an English fluency requirement far beyond what is needed today, be licensed.  Once these requirements are met, then and only then should anyone be allowed to ply the taxi streets.  By taking these simple measures seriously, service will improve immensely.

5) Enforcement policies be reviewed and enhanced.  Current enforcement levels are unacceptable.

6) Thorough review of need for expanded release of taxi cab licenses.  Licenses should only be released to locally experienced drivers who do not currently own a taxi.

7) Make all Seattle and King County taxi cab licenses "real" property, similar to the "medallion" system in NYC.

8) Have the State of Washington begin real regulation of limos and town cars.

Please view this analysis and outline only as a starting point, little else.  Your input and opinion is necessary and invaluable.  Contact your local regulators ASAP.

More Taxi Stories

-----He jumped in my cab at N. 125 and Aurora N. because he had to be on Capital Hill ASAP.  He was from Cuba and 20 years ago clung to a raft for 5 1/2 days to reach Florida and freedom.

-----Two years ago she had heart surgery.  Awakening from the operation she found she was blind, her eyesight damaged by the anesthetic.  She remains angry.

-----He had just lost $500.00 at the casino.  He said you never go to the casino expecting to win.

-----While up in Alaska working on a fish processor, his house in Yakima caught on fire.  He had just dropped off the car he sold to a friend.  I need the money.  My wife is waiting to pay our bills.  I took him to the airport.

-----She and her friend flagged me in the Queen Anne and I took them to Ray's Boathouse in Ballard.  When eighteen she used to to be a "go go" dancer on Ballard Avenue and lived in what she called a "whore" house. She was now 70 and reminiscing. Those were the days!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Eavesdropping Upon Life

Taxi will always be that quick and secret glance at people's lives whether you want to hear or know it.  They are there with you and intimacy is unavoidable. For those few minutes their breath is yours.  A few of this weekend's many stories.

Very Unfriendly Fire

Taking the nearly-blind 1st Gulf-War veteran to his hotel from the VA Hospital, he tells me snippets of his sad story.  While on intelligence duty he and and a handful of other soldiers were caught in a "friendly fire" incident,  a fuel-air bomb (thermobaric weapon) blowing up, burning off his uniform and leaving second-degree burns over his entire body and additionally permanently injuring his optic nerves.  Since that awful day his eyesight has progressively diminished.  He is in Seattle due to excessive bleeding in one of his eyes. Fuel-air explosives (FAE) are the equivalent of nuclear bombs.  They feed off of the oxygen in the air.  Very deadly!  He said he is a "high priority."  I would hope so!

Sobering Center

RB was drunk.  The north-end hospital was paying his way down to the King County detox center on Boren.  He was from Florida and had spent time in Boston.  He did not like the people in Boston.  He wanted to buy beer but I told him that didn't make much sense as he was on his way to sober up.  He didn't respond.

The staff in the center stared at me, thinking I was requesting their assistance, somehow drunk but I wasn't the one staggering.   "Get me out of here!" was my reaction.  Why are people so damn hard!  I will never forget their faces.

Green Bay Fan

He was five when he became a NFL Packer fan, a bloodied player impressing him.  He had Green Bay pajamas as a child.  Many years later, a friend, knowing his mania, promised he had tickets for a Seahawks vs Packers game.  He was very excited but it wasn't true.  His friend was lying.  "I cried, I really cried!"


I took the Navy veteran (1958-62) home to Kent from the VA.  He knew about cars, making a savvy observation about 478.  He has stomach cancer and they can't operate. He is getting radiation instead. "That's all right, I am Christian.  I know where I am going!"  The prediction is that he has until December.  Considering his situation, he was rather positive, still taking an interest in life.

Treated Like A ____________!

The guy flagged me at a bus stop.  He just had a knee replacement.  I took him to "The Cuff."  Later I found his telephone in the back seat. 

Getting a fare back to that area, I stop to return it.  Popular even before I got to the door I quickly hand the phone to the doorman and get out of there.  I was undressed!  as too many eyes telling me what it must be like to be a woman passing a gang of men.  Leave me alone!  I am not your taxi center-fold, clothed or not!

Back in 1976 "The Cuff" was then "Oscar's Drum Broiler."  The woman I later married worked there as a waitress.  The men there were little better, buying and selling drugs and acting the fool.  Times they ain't a'changin'. 

Can't Stop Himself

Very last fare of the weekend.  Coming from the bar, he acknowledges I really know West Seattle.  I reply that I pretty much know the entire city.  I tell him, "Yes, you live on Pigeon Hill."  Still, after complimenting me, upon reaching  SW Andover he says "turn right." Of course that's all we could do since he was going up the hill.  It never ends, taxi an insult in the night. This is the way it is.  And for the foreseeable future, the way it remains.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Taxi Over The Salang Pass-----The Value Of Taxis!

In the Summer 2013 issue, volume 14, number 3, of Doctors Without Borders/Medecines Sans Frontieres quarterly magazine there is a feature about Afghanistan based on a blog by Stefan Kruger, a medical volunteer based at MSF's Kunduz Trauma Center.  It details how an extremely ill patient was taken, not by ambulance but by taxi cab on a 350 kilometer (210 mile) emergency ride from Kunduz to a better equipped facility in Kabul.  The route took the driver over the Salang Pass, which at an elevation of over 10,000 feet traverses the legendary Hindu Kush Mountains. Anyone who has been following international affairs the past ten years knows there is a war  going on in Afghanistan, making it one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Given that, still the Afghan cabbie braved not only severe driving conditions but checkpoints and potential gunfire and roadside bombs to get his passenger to the required medial care. 

I am relaying his story because it is clear that during the past few year of discussions concerning the state of the taxi industry locally, little has been said about the innate value and importance of taxis and the essential services they provide.  More times than I can remember I have rushed ill passengers to the hospital.  Sometimes the hacking and coughing is disturbing but nothing is more important than getting someone to the care they need.

 Last Sunday I drove a very sick passenger to Northwest Hospital, her dire situation concerning me.  She was in great distress.  I could go on but suffice to say too many instant critics do not understand what cabbies do, in Seattle, in Afghanistan and over the face of our spinning globe.  On November 4th, upon my late arrival in Mexico City, I will be relying on a taxi to take me to my hotel.  On my trip to Eastern Europe in March of 2011, more than one cabbie quickly delivered me to my hotel in unknown and darkened cities, despite my bad habit of picking difficult locations. 

All I request, and will ever ask for, is that everyone attempt to understand and appreciate the service taxi drivers provide.  Simply put, the world needs us, as illustrated by the Afghan example.  Next time you see a taxi, wave, and if she/he isn't busy they will take you where you need to go.  That is what we do, whether it is around the block or driving over the Hindu Kush!  Twenty-four hours a day, the usual rain or shine or exploding missiles or treacherous mountain pass, we are there for you. Many years ago, coming back from my first fare to eastern Washington, I was caught in a raging blizzard.  I had gotten the train crew up and over the Cascades to their assignment.  I was glad to do it even though afterwards I couldn't see a damn thing with the blowing snow blinding me.  Such is taxi driving and our shared world.

Monday, September 30, 2013

What $280.6 Million Will Buy You & Taking A Jew Fishing?

Late Saturday night I double-loaded two sets of University of Arizona fans post-UW Husky who were shivering in the near-record rain soaking everyone and anyone valiant enough to have literally weathered the entire game.  Both couples had been wandering for over two hours searching for the elusive taxi, receiving bad and erroneous advise from the local finest on where to locate a cab. The sad reality is that after an over two-hundred and eighty million dollar investment in the spanking, brand new and thoroughly renovated Husky Football stadium, not one penny it appears has been directed toward accommodating taxi and disabled accessibility.

After all that money expended, a fan's best bet finding a post-game taxi is still the main entrance of the University of Washington Medical Center. When I was chair of the taxi advisory commission we sent a letter to the folks directing the construction, asking about taxi stands.  No reply and I know why, because they knew what I knew, understanding that UW had no plans and no interest in making it easy and sane to load up the thousands of fans seeking taxis during half-time and game's end.  The end result were those four Arizonians wandering through the downpour vainly looking for what they could not find.  A clearly marked stand would have been and is the answer.  I advise everyone to complain to the UW Board of Regents.  Maybe, just maybe they might be responsive, especially if you threaten to cancel your season tickets because their only interest is money and nothing else.  Of course they will issue denials but the truth rests in the taxi pudding.  The next home game will be a repeat of Saturday. I can personally guarantee that unavoidable conclusion.

Thanks for the Anti-Semitism

Drunks are idiots, plain and simple.  Picking up three  guys from a West Seattle bar one asked a question, about all things, fishing charters.  Attempting to deflect the nonsense, I responded, "Do I look like a fish?"  Evidently, clearly not, as the wonderful person said, "Why would I want to take a Jew fishing?" thinking I am Jewish and displaying his bad attitude.  Unfortunately this is not the first time I have encountered this variety of racism and mistaken identification but hey! if you want me to be Jewish or anything else, why not?  I will be any perceived derogatory fill-in-the-blank you like.  Like I have been saying for years my favorite taxi moniker is "bitch faggot."  With that title I feel I have achieved something.  It isn't anyone who can claim to be something so rare.  And this is taxi reality as it truly is.  Are you ready to be insulted and maligned by fools?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Ever So Briefly......Comment Concerning Yesterday's City Council Taxi Hearing & KIRO TV

I realize that, given my push to complete my newest book by the third week of October, I will have little real time to give to the very serious subject confronting our local taxi industry: the incursion of non-taxi ride services presented by the for-hires, the limos (town cars) and the new so-called ride-share services like Lyft, Uber and others.  I will be taking two weeks off in early November and only then do I envision having the time and space necessary to adequately address the issue.  Suffice to say, the City Council committee on "Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations" is forging ahead with their deliberations.  Yesterday said much about their expected direction.

The hearing began with Ben Noble, a legislative assistant providing an extensive background briefing for the committee.  Mr. Noble has really done his homework, I believe understanding the issues as well as anyone, myself included.  It was clearly hard work done well. 

After his briefing, they moved on to part two, which was the presentation of three options numbered one, two and three.  Again, excuse my brevity but roughly here are the three headings in order:

1) Maintain Current Regulatory Structure

2) Enable New Entrants and New Technologies to Direct Regulation of Individual Drivers and Vehicles

3) Enable New Technologies and Allow New Entrants............While Minimizing Role of the Existing FHV Category

Option One is the most pro-taxi while the others more or less open the floodgates to the for-hires and ride-share services.  No one appears to know how to deal with the increasing tide of town cars except hand it back to the state of Washington.  Those guys simply put are trouble.

I told one legislative assistant I am on friendly terms with that I am eager to work with committee to sort out the various options.  Sally Clark stated that she wanted to use Option 3 as the starting off platform which I think should scare the hell out of the taxi industry.  In short everyone, it is time to put on your "lobbying" hats and get your views known before it is too late.  I understand that it is imperative to act quickly but personally, as I have said, I have little time currently to devote to a pending disaster.  The one thing I know we don't need or want is for the City of Seattle to be flooded with an unlimited number of taxi-like vehicles, regulated or not. 

As I stated in my two minutes before the council, I have grave doubts whether this great increase in passenger demands actually exists.  I wish somebody at Seattle/KC would hire me to do a demand study.  Whatever the results I would guarantee they would be accurate within five percentage points. Cooper & Mundy never mentioned once the great decline in the package business, which was once nearly 30 % of the total business, and during certain hours, 50 %.  Again, the results the City is looking at were created by non-industry folks.  Do you think the FAA would use non-pilots to investigate their industry?  Of course not, of course not!

KIRO Debate Coverage

I finally viewed the two minute plus KIRO report about last Saturday.  Ed Murray says there should be a moratorium on the ride-share entry into Seattle's transportation market.  Finally a sane voice in the taxi wilderness!   Toward the end of this month I will be stating my choices for mayor and city council.  Stay tuned.  One thought.  Being nice doesn't always translate into effectiveness!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Progress Is A Journey

I missed the TaxiPac sponsored mayoral debate this past Saturday afternoon and I was disappointed, by all reports, that the turnout was smaller than expected.  My question to all of my fellow local cabbies is basic.  Don't you understand that nothing will change for us unless you take a long-term interest and become actively involved?  What impression do you think was made upon the current or potential future mayor?  These kinds of opportunities are few and far between and should be taken when offered.  Complaints become empty when not backed up by constructive action and dialogue.  If I  hadn't been working on Saturday I would have been there because I understand the value of personal involvement.  Please, if possible do show up for Thursday's City Council hearing regarding potential decisions concerning Lyft and the for-hires and possible taxi license expansion.  I will be there.  And once I get more detail about Saturday's debate I will include that and a report concerning the City Council hearing on a posting sometime Friday.  Look for that late Friday evening, as I will try to get to it before my 8:00 PM bedtime.  I must get some rest before the usual taxi onslaught.

$25.00 for a $8.00 Fare?

Post-Seahawk game a woman jumps out of a for-hire car into my taxi at about 2nd South and South Washington.  Why?  The driver was trying to charge her a $25.00 flat rate to the corner of Bellevue Ave East and East John Street on Capital Hill.  My meter was $8.00.  I told her who to contact.  This is what the City/County has released upon the streets.  What else did they expect?  Watch out for the gypsy cab monsters.  We are just a mere 40 days or so away from Halloween.  By then all of the Lyft etc drivers will have grown fangs!

Drunk Seahawk Fans

Finally getting a spare moment, I stop at the Queen Anne Metropolitan Market to have a quick chomp.  Concentrating on my potatoes a very drunk couple gets in my cab, asking to go down the street.  Just prior to them I had just accepted a fare on the computer.  Not accepting or understanding I couldn't take them to pick up their Mexican food they became very belligerent, the woman coming within an inch of striking me.  The smart cabbie always keeps the doors locked because you never know when trouble comes knocking!  I wonder what they would have been like had their team not been victorious?  It is scary to think of all of the possibilities!

Who Can See?

Sunday morning intense rainfall obscured the roadway as I made my way to Sea-Tac, visibility at best an eighth of a mile, the highway surface a white blur.  Why was every one passing me?  Welcome to taxi and the many hazardous miles.  This weekend I drove the equivalent to Corning, California and beyond.  Boy! am I ready for the Olive Pit, home of a million samples!  And after that, I would drop by the Farm Sanctuary and visit all of the lucky animals.  And if I could remember the name of another nearby town I would tell you I would like to live there and sit by the local river watching all my worries float downstream. I am ready!

Taxi Post-Script:

Name of that town: Colusa,

and the river? the Sacramento.