Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Wapato Ho! & Taxi Amateur Hour: $32.00 Flat Rate to Sea-Tac?

Greetings from my second day in San Francisco, having arrived yesterday at about 12:30 in the afternoon.  She-who-can't-be-named and I are taking in the local museums and Thursday, the University of California Botanical Gardens.  If you haven't been, I highly recommend the gardens as it takes up much of a hillside.  You also have some good views of the East Bay.  As I told her not only did I fly to San Francisco I also drove there, putting in 900 miles this weekend, including a late Saturday night journey to Wapato, Washington, a small eastern Washington city about 155 miles distant from Seattle, a round trip of 310 miles or if you prefer, 498 kilometers.

Having heard that someone last Tuesday got a HopeLink ride  from Harborview hospital to Idaho I kept saying I want to go too!  As every cabbie knows, the long fares are few and far between.  I've known more than one veteran driver who haven't had the pleasure.  My last one was nearly two years ago to Vancouver, Washington which is just north of Portland, Oregon.  More than the money it is the sheer excitement of going some place very different that makes it all worthwhile.  It is fun, even little Wapoto, new territory down the taxi road. 

If one could time these things, it would be much better to have them occur at the beginning, not the end of your shift but you get what you get and that is the entire story.  I got the HopeLink run at about 11:00 PM Saturday night from Children's Hospital, a young Hispanic couple going back home.  I am guessing that they left their infant behind for treatment.  As only the woman spoke some English, and my Spanish essentially nonexistent we had a quiet ride up and over the Cascades.

It truly was a beautiful early morning ride as the post-full moon bathed the countryside in an luminescent glow, the Cle Elum and Yakima Rivers suddenly milky streams.  I like that part of Washington anyway but on that early Sunday morning it was simply magical.  After passing over Snoquamile Pass the rain stopped providing a dry roadway down  I-82 past Yakima and into Wapato on State Route 97.

Once there and bidding adios to my passengers I fueled up at $3.29 per gallon only later  to discover gasoline a dime cheaper in Yakima.  I tried stopping at a local Denny's but it was clear that they were experiencing their own version of a post-bar closing rush and I didn't want to wait.  Instead I continued on back to Cle Elum where I had that kind of breakfast designed to shorten your lifespan.  Reaching the pass I exited and found a secluded spot, sleeping a few hours.  Though still tired from the trip the moonlight alone made it something I would gladly repeat.  I can always sleep but to be totally enthralled is something not to be missed.  As is said, life is for living, with a bit a sleep thrown in on the side.

Taxi Amateur Hour: More Reasons I Avoid Working DT

One of the benefits of working in less taxi frequented areas is that I rarely encounter the inexperienced or amateur taxi driver.  I am not faulting fellow cabbies as I know it can take years to adjust to the deranged working environment that is commonplace.  Us veterans are not surprised by the unusual or stupid.  We take it in stride because we know that anything and everything is coming our way.  It is when you have false expectations that taxi is some how normal is when you begin having problems.  Too often the cabbies I encounter in the greater downtown area are completely bewildered, baffled.  I'll see five Yellow taxis sitting on a hotel stand while dispatch is screaming for cabs all over town.  Where do they really think they will be going at 7 PM off the Westin?  Of course ninety percent of the time it will be a local restaurant and $7-10.00 dollars thank you very much.  After too much of this assorted nonsense drivers go crazy, losing sight of what they are doing.  Many unfortunately, due to a protracted assimilation, never quite figure it out, limping along at sixty miles per hour.  Why does it at seem to me that I am the only driver aware of this dimension, this disparity in performance?  Perhaps there are such low expectations that no one is truly noticing or caring.  I don't like to believe this but it very well could be true that paying your lease is enough, everything else more than secondary. 

All this is a preamble to two particular disturbing incidents from this past weekend.  I really do try to avoid problems but sometimes they just happen. Taxi will always be like that.  The first was just plainly stupid, a disgruntled rookie driver quite out-of-his-mind.  The second incident, occurring Sunday is far more complex, a series of mistakes when added to a prevailing problem equals pure chaos.  It was all full moon kind of shenanigans, lunacy in full April bloom.

Every taxi driver in the world loves passengers hopping in while others are leaving.  It is a classic taxi scenario. Dropping off at the Crowne Plaza Hotel a group leaps out of the lobby wanting my cab.  "Sure, I say," as my now former passengers are departing the taxi.  I check to see if there was a cab sitting on the stand fifty feet behind me, and given that it was vacant these new passengers were legitimately  mine.  Just as they are beginning to enter 478 another Yellow driver pulls up soliciting my customers.  I ask him what does he think he is doing and finish loading.   As I pull off I see he is stopped at the signal and I stop aside him to ask if he had been on the stand, thinking I might have made a mistake.  He says no and when the light changes aims his taxi directly for mine.  I avoid him as he then flies around the corner then abruptly changes lanes, turning left while running a red light.  As I keep telling the KC & Seattle licensing folks, you need to stop putting all these unprepared drivers on to the streets.  But since these officials have never driven taxi, they have no idea what they are potentially subjecting all these innocents to.  Do I think they really care?  Of course not. 

The other fracas occurred after I got back from Wapoto.  I dropped off in Zone 175 (greater Belltown) and quickly got an airport time-call originating at the Edgewater Hotel.  I thought that somewhat unusual because of all of the cabs pulling in and out of there.  I guessed it was a Yellow account fare and that they were specifically requesting a Yellow taxi.  What I found out later is that they had read in the Victoria Clipper magazine that there was a $32.00 flat rate to Sea-Tac.  Being dutiful passengers, they called Yellow dispatch at 10 AM receiving the happy confirmation that indeed it was true.  The truth is that the rate changed months ago to $40.00.   How both the Clipper folks and dispatch could get this basic information wrong is something for further investigation.  That it created the sticky mess I found is indisputable.  Thanks a lot everyone!

I called the out-of-state telephone number and got the distressing news that my passengers were already in a taxi but wait, telling me they had been told by the driver that "he was their taxi."  And there he was, and like the veteran I am I pulled in front of him, blocking his exit from the Edgewater because I knew that he would just drive off with my fare.  It turns out he had been belled in for someone else but being the opportunistic cabbie he grabbed the first customer he saw, not caring if he had the correct passenger or not.  Though everyone knows that they are supposed to confirm the name, it rarely happens.  I also could tell that the passengers were unhappy as they immediately jumped out of his taxi, displeased that he wasn't giving them what they thought was the legitimate rate of $32.00.  You got all that?   All I had done was accept a bell with the expectation that they would be waiting for me.  Naive I know.  Besides, haven't I and many others been telling dispatch to just "bingo" the hotels so we could avoid this kind of nonsense. 

The driver was of course not pleased to be losing a good trip but since it wasn't his I had no qualms claiming what was mine.  If the associations started enforcing known taxi etiquette much of this kind of free-for-all nonsense would disappear.  The maddening part is that the driver did not think to go back and find his actual passenger. That would be too obvious!

Later I was told to call S. whom I've known for 20 years, expressing disappointment in me, adding that how can I act like this when I trying to lead the drivers etc.  But, but , but! I said.  Anyway I have detailed this to show how it really is, how confusing everything becomes when procedures are not followed.  The couple got their $32.00 flat rate and I got a total of $40.00 for my troubles.  I left messages with dispatch and others telling them about the imaginary flat rate.  Who knows if something similar will happen again.  I don't know but I do know I am sick of all of it.  When will there be conclusive resolution?   Call Las Vegas and see if they will place some odds upon it. They would be crazy to get involved but you never know, strange and stranger things are occurring all of the time.  And maybe drivers will only pick up the passengers assigned to them.  If you believe that you will believe anything!  Ha! Ha! Ha!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Visitor From Houston & A Geography Professor From Minnesota.

A big thank you to everyone who has been making this blog a success by your active participation.  One reader from Houston, J. a long time taxi driver with over 23 years beneath the top-light under his taxi belt, came up to the Great Northwest to view the local taxi scene.  He once owned six cabs in Los Angeles/ Santa Monica and now is running a van in Houston.  A father of two young children he is seeking a healthier environment for his kids. He fell in love with Seattle, comparing it to Vienna (Wien) and Paris, two cities I have been to a number of times.  He like so many others loves the surrounding mountains and the perpetual green.  But as I warned him, scenery does not make the city, attempting to leaven his enthusiasm with mundane reality.  We all know about that first kiss, coloring the day, brightening the night.

I personally introduced him to Tacoma Yellow, meeting with Belai the company president. We also took the time to talk to that ultimate local taxi guru, my friend Stacy, who regaled us with tales from the taxi past.  J. also went down to Seattle and talked to my friends in the superintendent's office.  I was somewhat amused as he gushed over all the business he saw at Sea-Tac and the Saturday night business explosion all over Capital Hill.  

Saturday business in part was fueled by this huge "motor-cross" event at Seahawk stadium, 30-40 thousand fans watching motorcycles roar through the night.  No doubt it was a good weekend, yesterday having two big airport trips, $70.00 &   $80.00 Sea-Tac runs, with a $65.00 airport fare late Saturday night. Yes we still have business despite the thieving for-hires and limos.  J. did notice how local passengers treat the for-hire cars just like taxis, without hesitation entering their cars.  Hey, if a complete stranger can see what is going on, then why is it taking the City of Seattle so long to take action?  Sorry for being rhetorical because all of us cabbies do know why.  We are past guessing.

J. is in most ways far more the taxi driver than I am.  He is invested in the industry as I am truly only an interloper.  Despite my too many years I remain on the periphery.  He was still taking calls from regular customers back in Los Angeles, arranging airport runs.  His father was a lifetime long taxi driver back home in Columbia. Like my father I am the reluctant dabbler.  He invited me to Houston for barbecue.  Perhaps some day I will head in that direction.


An earlier Sunday airport trip became a series of coincidences when I mentioned the name of someone I knew from the Tea house, amazingly turning out I had in the cab one of Luke's geography mentors from his University of Minnesota doctorate program.  They had dinner together the night before. The professor is a truly gracious person, saying that Luke is working too hard which is true. This is what happens when you are focused upon a goal like he is.  He is making it happen, manifesting his desired outcome.

The conversation led to me mentioning the area I visited in March 2011, Transnistria, or as they like to call themselves, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.  I stayed two nights in the capital of Tiraspol.  Being the modest world traveller I enjoyed that this tenured individual had not heard of that obscure breakaway country nestled between the Dniester River to the west and the Ukrainian  border to the east.  I even took a taxi in Tiraspol.  Now how many people can say that?   If only Sally Clark would now seek my opinion as a taxi consumer.  I have done a few assorted miles as a paying customer. One might say I know the taxi territory from many angles.  Is anyone out there paying attention?

New General Manager

Puget Sound Dispatch has hired a new GM, someone, as far as I know minus industry experience.  Rumor has it Wednesday is his first day.  I wish him well and hopefully he will hit the taxi terrain running.  It will be an interesting few weeks as everyone adjusts.

Per his request, no memorial was held for Frank Dogwilla.  We wish his family well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Punishing The Honoree

It was truly a crazy weekend, amazing hailstorms and whatever else you want thrown into the mix.  One major aspect of taxi is an "across the board" victimization.  However innocently I approach this business I end up being tossed upon the "taxi seas."  It is no fun whatsoever.

Trying to sign-in into my taxi computer this past Saturday morning I received the unwelcome message that "this ID is inactive."  This is bad news because it means during the past week some issue had arisen and the driver superintendent needs to talk to me.  I always dread this and besides, most importantly, it prevents me from booking in a zone and going to work, making myself available to whatever awaits me.  You never know what prize sits behind the taxi curtain.

I go in and Jack sorts through a sheaf of papers, handing me a label pin providing notice for not having an accident in X number of years.  While the recognition is nice, isn't there some other way to inform me and other drivers without preventing us from working?  How about an email or a telephone call or perhaps most effective, a general message listing all of the honorees for-hire numbers?  We see our number on the list and at our convenience pick up our pin.  How simple that would be. This current practice of deactivating IDs to deliver the most mundane of messages is not reasonable.  Need I say the obvious that I am not an employee?  An alternative needs to be found.

And if you don't think this practice costs the driver money think again, because if I had lingered in the Supt's office I would have missed the "buzzed" (his terminology) gentleman who went from Georgetown to Federal Way, a sweet $57.00 dollars to start the day.  He told me that he thought about "running out" of the cab but decided to pay me because he said that "I was a good guy!"  He was drunk and his girlfriend arrested along with his car towed away.  Only the finest in my taxi!

In addition to my deactivated ID I was greeted not with one but two flat tires.  I saw the first tire in the trunk and the second nearly flattened spare on the left front side.  With no "extra board car" available I had no choice but to keep filling up the tire while waiting for the shop to open at nine.  Seven times I filled that tire, only to be yelled at, "it was destroyed and it would cost me."  As I pointed out, I had no idea who damaged the tire, tactfully not saying it was the shop's responsibility that all of the spare tires are inflated and ready to go if needed.  I am not the mechanic. Taki shouted, "I should have parked the car".  Did that mean that he was going to gurantee me the $195.00 I made while waiting for him to open up the garage?  I think not.  I did mention about the two studded tires I put on and myself paid for a few years back.  They disappeared along with my $200.00.  Oh taxi!

Anyway, does anyone think it was fun monitoring that damn tire for nearly six hours,  stopping seven separate times to keep it inflated?  And what about all those quarters I kept putting into the "air" machines?  Only one out of seven stations offered free "air" to their customers.  Don't you think it is fun being a taxi driver?  Sign up now and you too can suffer.  Com'on, don't be shy!  If you don't join up I'll know the reason why!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sad News: The General Manager of Puget Sound Dispatch Succumbed To Cancer Today

I am stunned to announce that Frank Dogwilla, the general manager of the dispatch company providing dispatch services to Yellow Cab, Puget Sound Dispatch, has died from a fast developing lung cancer that quickly spread to other parts of his body.  This scenario began in January while under going a routine gallbladder operation.  It was then that the cancer was discovered.  Though there had been discussion the past few weeks concerning his situation, no one knew how major his obstacles were.  The shock is palpable, another colleague gone.  Though some, including myself sometimes chafed at his "old-time Navy" style of administration, no one could question his steadfast dedication to improving the industry for everyone.  It was probably not totally fair to drop someone accustomed to military structured discipline and routine into the near anarchy that is taxi.  There was a sharp learning curve which included some shouting. In fairness I don't blame him because taxi will drive anyone "up the wall!"  Rest in peace Frank, and thanks for trying to instill some sense and order amongst the taxi mob!  You will be missed.

Great Taxi Articles in the Stranger Newspaper

Two terrific pieces written by Goldy (David Goldstein) appeared this week in the local alternative weekly, The Stranger.  See "The War on Cabs" with its great illustration and also the blog entry on the Stranger's Slog series of blogs, "FYI, We Already Tried Deregulating Seattle's Taxi Industry.  It Didn't Work."

I who rarely recommend anything from outside our closed world vouch for Goldstein's accuracy.  For a taxi rookie he did a tremendous job.  It is both good reporting and excellent writing.  If I had at least half of a computer mind I would include the links but truly in this instance I am truly "a taxi bear with very little brain" or something like that.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Nonsensical Demand Study

Tomorrow Sally Clark and her taxi/for-hire/limo sub-committee will be holding part two of her related public hearings, this time an attempt to gauge what is being called the "consumer point of view."  While it is laudable to be inclusive, to have as many competent voices in a given discussion there comes a point when instead of inclusion you have created a crowded room. This certainly happened last Thursday with panel B, two additional voices suddenly superfluous, cutting short more important testimony and insight.  Sally's pleonastic approach ultimately does little to enhance the argument other than filling the council's chamber with hyperbole and noise.  Doesn't she understand that it is the driver's themselves who best understand the passenger perspective given the intimate setting we are sharing with them?  It is also naive not to realize that taxi driver's also take taxis themselves, especially when travelling abroad. During my 2011 Eastern European trip I took a total of five taxi rides in a twelve-day span, including a fairly long ride out to an underground monastery. Since 1982 France, Italy, Spain, Dominican Republic, Peru, Ecuador, UK, Hungary, Mexico, Vietnam, Moldova are just some of the countries where I have been in the back, not the front seat of a cab.  Why aren't I on tomorrow's panel?  Simply because, just like Seattle as I know it, a lack of imagination is in operation, the prosaic and the mundane it's overwhelming guiding principals.

Which brings me to the demand study, this grand determination on whether or not Seattle needs more taxis or similar kinds of services.  The for-hire industry of course is all for it, as it delays the decision, providing them additional months to steal our fares off the streets while the City of Seattle snores. Before I elaborate further I will tell you what every taxi driver in Seattle and King County already knows.  If instead of the for-hire release, the City of Seattle and KC had dual-plated or regionalized the 900 or so taxis already licensed, there would currently be no conversation about the for-hires or this silly demand study because they would have increased taxi availability by approximately two/thirds or roughly 65 percent.  Talk about superfluous and doing the unnecessary.  If done tomorrow, the so-called demand problem would be immediately taken care of.  Sure, some owners would complain but we talking about serving the consumer here, not about maintaining inflated and artificial monetary values.  Think of it, over 900 taxis available 24 hours a day to serve the entire King County region.  And the reason is hasn't been done is because it is too simple, too obvious.  Seattle has this very bad habit of rotating in circles over and over and ultimately digging itself into a hole.  Not an effective way to govern. 

And in five minutes I am going to tell you what the demand study will take 3-4 months to determine.  That Seattle taxi business is cyclical, even on a given 24 hour day.  There are peak demands, even if only for 2-3 hours on the slowest of days.  That during any typical 24 hour period, there will be 2-4 busy periods, and the longest duration being about 2-3 hours.  I literally could knock this demand report out in one day and be completely accurate.  All of this bureaucratic fiddling then is nonsensical.  It is pointless.  We all know that the City of Seattle made a grave error by releasing an unnecessary industry upon us.  What is there to discuss other than how is the City of Seattle going to extract itself from the mess that it alone created?  That should be the question discussed and no other. 

My final suggestion is that the City of Seattle and King County create a permanent and paid Taxi Review Committee whose sole existence would be to review any and all taxi-related proposals generated by government.  No, I am not talking about anything like the current taxi advisory commission. Instead a small advisory board of say three prominent (and sane) industry figures.  This would prevent the kind of situation we are now dealing with.  Their small salary would more than offset the kind of potential monetary damages this unfortunate current quagmire might ultimately generate.  Folks, we need real and genuine thinking here, not what has heretofore passed as taxi wisdom. We need to do better.  How could it be any clearer?

And everyone is lucky that "she-who-can't-be-named", famous from these pages, is not involved.  Her advise after reading my posting about last week's meetings is, quote, "Go for the kill!" saying that all these people (meaning the City Council) are not going to do anything to realistically resolve the situation with the for-hire industry.  And this coming from a real 1960s hippie, cactus flowers in her hair and all that.  She is from Brooklyn, NY so she has the correct background to kick your you-know-what!  Watch out if I have her provide testimony.  There will be hell to pay!

A Smile

During my Monday taxi foray I had the nastiest of passengers. Quite ridiculous.  Anyway after that individual blessed me with her exit I picked up this family from Alaska, the parents and a daughter and took them from the University District to a DT hotel.  It was a good ride, the father especially laughing at my description of my previous passenger.  As her parents departed the taxi this 8-9 year old tyke gave me the warmest smile.  Whatever prompted her it was sweet, making the crazy day just a little bit worthwhile, a small balm upon the  afflicted taxi brow.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Now I Am Howling

I am joining my coyote friends back at the Quincy Game Range for a good howl.  Not their sometimes yipping and yapping but a good extended throaty howl because there they were this weekend, the entire 'for-hire" crew acting like taxis and picking up everyone in sight. 

It is true it is true I am not yellow but blue due to chicanery and theft leaving me penniless, leaving me bereft, howling up a storm til I'm out of breath.  Yes that is my feeling and not just belief, this is a real problem and I am doubtful that the city council will provide long-term relief.

Yes all my coyote doggerel friends, that is the real story as it really is, nothing changing since the grand statements of Thursday April 4th. Quoting Pete Townsend "we are not going to take it" and I find it amusing that anyone thought we would.  I'm working tonight due to the Seattle Mariner home opener and everyone knows who will be there after the ninth inning.  This situation is going to have a conclusion and it will have nothing to do with any so-called demand study. 

Hey! City of Seattle, listen up!  We are DEMANDING that you reverse your decision. All of this was completely unnecessary and don't expect us to remain complacent while you snail-pace down the taxi highway. I suggest you consider speeding up the process. And asking the consumer public is only delay.  What do they know about taxi policy decisions?  Nothing whatsoever is the answer.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Three Days: Three Meetings

Yes I have had a busy week of taxi politics, rushing around here and there, and of course the various telephone calls and emails.  There is a good reason why I am quitting all of this come June: it is a full time job and I can't afford to give my time to it.  It is that simple.  Somebody offer me some kind of position and pay me then I would consider sticking around for a maximum of two years.  Many are saying "you can't go" but course I can and will.  Again if I am that vital and irreplaceable it is time to transform all my volunteering into  a real and viable job.  And besides by devoting 8-10 hours five days a week in the service of the local taxi industry I would hopefully achieve much that is needed.  I can guarantee that I would be closely  monitoring government on the municipal and county and state levels.  Not again would anyone do the kind of damage which we trying to undo concerning the for-hire vehicle situation.  I would immediately jump on that kind of nonsense.  The decision to release that unfettered industry upon us was unconscionable.  Now how many unnecessary years will be given to this?  I hate to think!

Tuesday's Commission Meeting

The highlight was the appearance of current City Council President, Sally Clark.  Her 25 minute presentation which included a few minutes devoted to questions and answers was impressive.  She has done her taxi homework, clearly stating the various points and the not always obvious nuances concerning the taxi industry.  Her commission appearance was made in anticipation of Thursday's two part panel discussion involving primary figures from the taxi and for-hire and limousine (town car) industries  She more than anyone at the city council or in the mayor's office understands the complexities of for-hire issue (and limousine) and how it is impacting the taxi industry.  I wish her well and support her in this grand effort toward resolution.  My greatest hope is that all parties can ultimately avoid litigation.  That is why the taxi industry must keep talking while not backing down from our core positions.  We are the injured in of this.  We did not ask for this fight.  It was created for us by the City of Seattle and no one else.

The commission has had very real attendance issues.  Not only are members not attending, many clearly feel they don't have to officially notify us when they cannot make a meeting.  I had requested from Kenny Pittman, our mayoral liaison a record of commission attendance.  I am the only one receiving a gold star while my colleague Abebe from Yellow had one notified absence.  Again much of the blame lies not with the individuals but with the municipal and county officials who appointed them.  It is as if they were wearing blindfolds when the selections were made.   Regardless, just like the current for-hire folly, my industry is the one paying the cost.  This kind of repetition is boring, and I would think unnecessary. 

All this came to a head as one member has failed to show up for four consecutive meetings.  No notification, nothing at all coming from the individual.   After the third absence we hold the ability to vote on a recommendation of dismissal.  The person was notified last month that we need some kind of clarification. No response of any kind was received.  But you should have heard the uproar when I insisted we has to vote concerning our missing friend.  The vote was close but a recommendation for dismissal was sent forward.  Clearly the issue here is not personal.  It is only about professional conduct.  The real problem is that too many commission members are not taking their responsibility seriously.  Many would love to take their place.  I say, let them.  As we near our second year of existence I encourage everyone to embrace the opportunity given instead of throwing it away.  Again, the taxi community that is our constituency is depending upon us to speak for them.  Plain and simply it is our duty to not disappoint them.  What can be clearer?

Labor & Industry Appointment

On Wednesday I drove south to the state capital of Olympia for my much personally anticipated solo meeting with the new director of Labor & Industry, Joel Sacks and his deputy director of Field Services, Ernie LaPalm.  That I was pleased to to have this meeting cannot be understated.  I really appreciated these two busy individuals giving me a full 45 minutes out of their packed daily schedule.

I had come to further explain taxi reality on how it pertains to the independent contractor/business owner that is the Seattle & King county taxi driver.  During an ongoing L&I audit of Puget Sound Dispatch (PSD) I found out that a field auditor had requested six quarters (1 1/2 years) of driver trip sheets, something that neither PSD has nor is required by local government entities.  I brought a trip sheet along as exhibit one, showing Joel and Ernie how I fill it out when I make my turn at the cashier's window. "FOR PAYMENT ONLY" is what I printed on it, that being my only legal requirement.  Besides I told them, I or anyone else can literally put whatever unverifiable information we want on those sheets.  Requesting trip sheets is a exercise in futility.

I also told them that I wanted them to come down to Seattle and become taxi drivers.  After they were fully licensed we were all going to lease Yellow taxis and drive out together to my favorite Lincoln Park in West Seattle.  There we would park the taxis and walk around for a couple of hours enjoying ourselves.  After that we would stop and have lunch.  All of this to undeniably prove to themselves that they like me are independent operators, not the "covered workers" or the "quasi-employees" some at L&I have insisted we are.  No one would either call or contact us on our taxi computers wondering where we were or what we were doing.  You see, no one cares because it is our right to do whatever we want as long as we pay the lease.   No one would be directing their actions.  And Joel and Ernie, if they saw fit could repeat this pattern as long as they wanted.  As I told them this is Seattle taxi reality, and if you were Seattle taxi drivers, it would be a reality you shared.  They both cheerfully took in my mild tutorial.

We also talked about fairness and justice and other related topics.  They assured me that L&I was only interested in treating every company in an equal and fair manner.  Given recent settlements I believe they will have everyones' best interests in mind when final negotiations are concluded.  As the PSD audit is ending within days the verdict will soon be in.  I will fill everyone in as soon as I know.

The ride down finally allowed me to visit the Hungarian restaurant, the Paprika Cafe that is now in downtown Olympia.  It was good.  I will be back.  I hope no one has forgotten that I am Hungarian-American. "Sud!" is what my mother would have pronounced, her only swear word in any language.

City Council Panels

The panels were divided in two one hour sections, A & B.  This was intended to lend equal status to both but unfortunately, panel B, the one I attended had six speakers while panel A only had four.  What this did was effectively give panel A more time to state their case, about a full 8-10 minutes while panel B members had to cram everything in a scant 5 minutes.  Making panel B a bit of a travesty was the appointment of the infamous Bashi to our anointed membership.  Bashi is indeed a taxi character and self-promoter who somehow had convinced the council that he represented STITA taxi.  But during the one-minute public commentary period a STITA owner came up and said that Bashi DID NOT represent them.  That was humorous but it truly wasted everyone's time as Bashi was barely comprehensible.  Even though he was sitting 12 inches from me I couldn't figure out what he was saying other than he is proud to be an American and that his two children are Americans.

Other than our friend Bashi everyone did a good job presenting their cases.  In particular Abdul from CNG For-hire and Samatar from Eastside For-hire were impressively well-organized and eloquent and extremely convincing.  If  I didn't know the inside story I believe I would have begun weeping.  Seriously they stated their positions well.  They are serious businessman.  They aren't taking any crap from anyone.

I took the position that the blame fell clearly upon the City of Seattle's bureaucratic shoulders which has prompted all this infighting.  I said, which I have said before, that the for-hire industry was set up for all this, as the licenses were released in a less than thoughtful way.  Evidently folks liked what I said as afterwards both Sam and Abdul shook my hand, with Abdul announcing "Now that is the Joe I remember!"  I have tired to remain consistent but regardless I am glad we are all pals again if only for a few minutes. 

The public commentary forum was certainly colorful, with many "for-hire" speakers ranting and raving and literally having to be escorted from the podium by their fellows. One minute truly isn't enough time to fully vent a lifetime of frustration.  One council member actually commented that he was beginning to understand what the taxi drivers were talking about in relation to the for-hires.  I enjoyed that.

But there is an important bottom line here.  Despite all of their noble eloquence, not one of the for-hire panel representatives stated that they would now begin following the law, following the mandates by which the licenses were issued.  It is a telling omission.  While they are requesting legitimacy they will continue to steal my fares, our fares.  I just hope that the city council sees through this and stop condoning their blatant impunity.  The question remains is whether the City of Seattle will continue to allow the outlaws to overrun the taxi landscape.  I tell everyone this.  If the for-hires are out in force again this weekend stealing our fares I will be howling. And I am not going to shut up!  I can promise everyone that! 

Monday, April 1, 2013

The For-Hire Took My $49.20 Away (But It Really Was The City Of Seattle)

Someone please help me wipe away my taxi tears.  A spare kerchief will do.  My eyes are moist because a Saturday tradition has gone astray, that is the HopeLink return trip, message 68 for all you non-Yellow folks, which allowed the driver to request the second half of a round trip fare.  This has always helped on a slow morning, not to mention not making the HopeLink client/passenger wait.  This particular fare from South Park to Shoreline, Washington (suburb just north of Seattle proper) was a good one.  No driver I know is going to decline a $98.00 round-trip.  But Fred, who was a trifle slow getting back me, had bad news.  Yellow did not have the return trip.  He didn't tell me why but I knew.  She was returning in a for-hire car, for the reduced rate of $43.00 and some odd change.  She has been doing this ride daily for a few months now and she only gets a Yellow taxi on the first leg of her Saturday journey.  Do the math and you can see that from this one individual alone, collectively Yellow taxi has taken a severe monetary bath.  What about all the unknown others?  I don't like thinking about it.  As I have been telling everyone, sure, all of us are losing money from all those illegal for-hire street pickups but the real threat is their dispatched-based business.  Because of a languid morning it took me another 2 plus hours to match the lost $49.00 dollars.  That my taxi friends is reality hitting you smack! in the nose.  Fun stuff it isn't.

Another dimension to all this is something the passenger pointed out. The majority of the for-hire drivers she has been meeting are very inexperienced.  She recounted a story exemplifying this.  Earlier this past week she had a for-hire driver divulge all this personal information to someone in her building who is essentially a mild stalker. When the driver pulled up this particular person asked and received answers to questions he had no business requesting, the driver not in any way realizing or understanding his error.  When later confronted with this, he denied that he had done anything improper.  It was a minor confrontation, concluding with  the passenger filing an official complaint.  Though it was an innocent error it again shows how truly difficult it is driving a taxi, ersatz or not.  What the City of Seattle (and King County) is doing is flooding the market with rookies that only further dilutes the overall professionalism.  It isn't wise but do you think the bureaucrats are paying attention?  Beware of 8 AM to 4 PM  (or 9 to 5) government, employees punching their time clocks and cashing their checks while everyone pays for their somnolent complacency.

What Was That Driver Thinking?

In fairness, it just isn't "for-hire" rookies that are making mistakes.  A Yellow driver on Saturday night showed that all too clearly.  Business was heating up a little and this driver, taken up in the moment, decided to speed up the taxi equation.  I was driving down First Avenue south-bound in Belltown when Yellow 6 _ _ flies by me going nearly 40 MPH.  Not reasonable when crowded conditions suggest extra caution, not the opposite.  Compounding his error were the foolish jaywalkers crossing Virgina, the driver swerving to the right and just missing the pedestrians.  Turns out the guy is new. And I will keep saying this until the good folks down at Licensing finally understand this.  The pressure and stress inherent to taxi causes the best of people to make stupid decisions. When you put the woefully unprepared out in this deranged environment bad things inevitably happen.  As Bob Dyan sang, "When will they ever learn?"  Who knows but I can tell you this, the answer is not "blowin' in the wind" instead clearly lying directly in front of their noses, long or short.  "Com' on," I say, "isn't it time you respond to the obvious?"  I can only hope so.

Stay Tuned, My Seattle Taxi Brothers & Sisters

Today is an important week for all of us.  Tomorrow Sally Clark the current president of the Seattle City Council is appearing before the Seattle & King County Taxi Advisory Commission.  The meeting begins at 9:30 AM, Seattle City Hall in a room on Level L2.  All are welcome.

Wednesday morning I am meeting with Joel Sacks, who is the new Director of Labor & Industry.  Amongst other topics will be the audits.

On Thursday there will be two City Council panels discussing the for-hire and limo situation.  I believe I will be sitting on the second of the two scheduled panels.  Friday I will give a report concerning all three meetings.  Yes, I am working for YOU my fellow residents of the taxi ZOO!