Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fremont Butterflies & That's Funny But Of Course It Isn't! & An Idea

This past "super moon" weekend was filled with events and activities, including the so-called "Rock & Roll" marathon and the now somewhat famous Fremont neighborhood  "Summer Solstice" parade which is drawing an audience of over 100,000.  Now that Seattle has a population of just over 600,000 that translates into one/sixth of the city coming out to view naked, painted parade participants plus a few butterflies.  I know this fact personally because I drove mother and daughter butterflies to the parade route where they were scheduled to be on the "volcano" float.  The daughter was cute in her translucent wings, making the crude adults look like the ______they unfortunately are.  As I keep saying, I would pay big money to keep people from taking off their clothes. The child was wonderful, and her mother was great too!  Hurrah for ersatz insects!

The marathon created some of the worst traffic imaginable, cutting the city literally in half.  One bad example was the very nice family I took from West Seattle to Pier 91, the current cruise ship terminal.  With Highway 99 north-bound closed and both the east-bound West Seattle bridge and north-bound I-5 simply impassable I had to detour east to Beacon Hill and finally heading west on a clearing Denny Way.  They remained cheerful all of the way, ending up paying me $67.00 with tip.  As I warned them in the beginning, we were about to share an adventure.  What bothers me is why did the City government allow the city to become non-functional for nearly eight hours on a busy Saturday? They must have gotten a big monetary payoff to justify the inconvenience. Or what I really believe is that they never considered the consequences.  From my personal experience on the taxi commission, I know this to be true.


I could have told him but who am I?  No one is asking me anything.  I say this in response to an article featured tonight in the on-line edition of The Seattle Times.  A Rutgers University professor and bicycle transportation expect, John Pucher, has been riding his bike around Seattle the past couple of days and is much shocked by the conditions he faced.  "I was nearly killed 5 or 6 times!" he is quoted after he braved a ride down Second Avenue from Queen Anne to Pioneer Square.  He found the drivers comparable to or even worse than Manhattan.  He was also quoted as finding "bad pavement as anything in New Jersey."  Does that even include economically ravished Newark? 

If I had been given the opportunity I would have warned that he was taking his "life into his hands."  The drivers in Seattle are complete idiots.  I believe the statistic is one car to bicycle collision daily.  One Fremont Fair vendor I delivered to her booth from West Seattle had been hit by a car in May while riding her bicycle.  Her doctor still won't allow her to ride, having to wait a few more weeks. The driver turned right into her.  What else is new?

As I have been telling everyone in hearing distance, Seattle has become nonsensical.  And the reason no one is listening is because they too are nonsensical.  If you think I am making this up, I end with the comment from a woman passenger Saturday from that "giant" Eastern Washington metropolis of Ellensburg, who couldn't get over how many pedestrians she saw proceed recklessly into busy intersections giving no heed to obvious hazards. Yes, I agreed, it is simply suicidal, making no sense whatsoever. 

Yes, Professor Pucher, welcome to Seattle.  Make sure your health insurance is current!   Seattle will definitely bite you, especially when the moon is about to collide with our dear planet.  Better start pedalling before you are overtaken  because the average Seattlite is really out to get you.  No foolin'!

An Idea

During the last couple of  weeks the Seattle Times published one opinion piece and two articles concerning the new app-based car services represented by Uber X and others. What is clear is that the Seattle City Council views this as a transportation issue and not solely one of a legitimate, regulated taxi industry versus the illegal interlopers.  Sally Clark, the current City Council President has made it totally clear that we, the taxi owners and taxi lease drivers of Seattle and King County are NOT her priority.  Given that reality, I am making this suggestion and plan on doing all I can to implement it.

Though a small demonstration of about 20 cabs occurred last week while a petition was being delivered to the City Council, I know we need a much larger showing to gain their attention.  Imagine 200-300 taxis honking and circling City Hall for an entire hour, with another 100 plus drivers walking around the building carrying signs.  A show of force is all they understand and we will provide it.

We also need to consider suing the City and King County.  I am not surprised that the group issuing their "Intent to Sue" backed down.  I understood who they were and will leave it at that.

The time for action is NOW!  Will you join me?  We will need everyone to make this effort successful.  We are currently being stepped upon.  It is time to tell the City and County to STOP! and STOP NOW!  I don't see that we have an alternative.  In August,
after the Cooper/Mundy demand audit is released, all these illegal operators will be legitimised.  The writing is on the wall.  Unless we respond positively we are about to be run over by the "well meaning" bureaucrats. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Requested By Mark: What Do All Those Numbers Mean?

I had a bunch of airport runs yesterday, one of them originating in the late afternoon from Phinney Ridge, where I met Mark who was on his way to Sea-Tac.  He was curious about all those numbers he continually sees on the MDT or taxi computer which represent zones or various parts of the greater city and King County.  After I explained a fairly simple system he described as "trying to read Chinese" he thought it would be good to tell everyone how it works. Upon special request then, you now have the following details about the taxi altar because it is truly that important.  Without all that fare and "bell" information coming through I would instead be sitting on a hotel stand totally at the mercy of passengers coming out of one isolated portal, meaning that particular hotel.  It is the worst way to make money.  Utilizing the great number of calls shown on the taxi computer is best, allowing you a far more expansive playing field.  What the successful cabbie wants and needs is as many "scoring" options available.  I will forever remain amazed and appalled that so many drivers choose to sit on a hotel while the MDT is crammed with waiting fares.  There is dumb and then there is stupid.

The MDT screen is capable of displaying multiple pages which are accessed by simply scrolling up or down.  As computers goes it is a fairly basic machine.  The numbers Mark expressed interest in represents the city and county divided in areas or districts.  For instance, the neighborhood or part of town known as West  Seattle is divided into four zones.  Seattle is a city of hills and West Seattle is one very long hill, extending north from the Puget Sound before tapering and leveling off in White Center and Burien.

Beginning from the north end of West Seattle it begins with zone 260 and known as the Admiral District. Continuing south in consecutive order are the 262, the Alaska Junction, the 265 which is the Fauntleroy Junction and finally zone 500 which encompasses greater White Center, Top Hat and Arbor Heights.  Heading to North Seattle the University District is divided roughly into zones 150, 155, 120, 125 with the all important University of Washington Medical Center given its own sub-zone, the 152.  The primary reason the zones are sized the way they are is to keep the driving distance down.  When West Seattle was designated as one zone it was a complete misery flying from north to south and all points in between.

Each zone designation has two side by side boxes.  The box on the right states how many cars there are waiting in the zone.  The box to the left tells how many fares are waiting.  All of this is of course vital information.  When a call is not quickly matched with a driver, the call information migrates to the BID screen. 

When the call comes through there is all of the fare information to be noted.  And that is about it other than we currently use the MDT to obtain credit or debit card approvals.  Once a new system is in place that may change.  Don't ask me for anything affirmative because " what do I know?" I know nothing or it definitely seems that way when it comes to taxi driving though of course I will never admit it.

People Are Going Places

Our society, at least for some of the greater demographic, have great opportunity.  My first late Sea-Tac fare last night was flying to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The second guy was going to Hilton Head, South Carolina.  The fourth fare, also a businessman was heading to Memphis, Tennessee.  The third fare were two young students flying back to Thailand. That fare was a bit humorous because one of the pieces of luggage was nearly as tall as the woman. What wasn't funny was that I didn't have the telephone number and the big complex that is 600 SW Kenyon Street is locked after dark.  It isn't far fetched to say that the only reason they got to Sea-Tac is because I answered the call.  When I finally got the number I was talking to someone who could barely speak English and wasn't at the same location as the fare. Confusing and that is understating it. 

My Last Fare

Trying to end the weekend I still got a final fare to Mercer Island.  Nice guy who wanted to talk and all I wanted to do was eat dinner and quit for the night.  Always remember that when driving on Mercer Island at two in the morning the police are watching.  Do not speed.  The cops there are notorious. 

 Not So Wiley

Late Saturday bar-rush I encountered a coyote near the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and South Charles Street.  The poor canine looked lost.  I hope it found an acceptable greenbelt to hide in.  Or perhaps it was looking for some rabbit chow mien.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Driver Called

Taxi affects everyone individually.  Some drivers excel while others are crushed by the pressure. Still others seem to float somewhere in the middle, existing in a nether world between success and failure.  One such driver called me last night.  His near  twenty-year association with a single owner ended two months ago, leaving him without a Yellow cab to drive.  Turning to a Farwest county-only taxi has not been successful even though he is only paying a $50.00 dollar lease for a 12-hour day shift.  His situation is rough, family thankfully assisting with rent.  I gave him a few suggestions and said I would help however I can.

I got word that he could work for the Yellow extra board and by getting his airport ID he probably has a reasonable chance of finding a permanent Sea-Tac cab which would guarantee him viable income.  All he has to do now is follow through and do everything necessary but talking to him this morning I understood it isn't that simple.  One major complication is not an owning a car which enables him to get to the lot.  Some things are basic in this business.  Having your own car is one of them.

My friend is a good guy, responsible and well meaning, but like so many cabbies he exists on the fringe never quite embracing life nor the wonderful opportunity that is taxi.  Despite the many hours taxi for me translates into a relatively good income and the freedom to live the way I want.  While others find it burdensome I find it freeing.  Many years ago when training to be a therapist we were immersed into something called "applied mediation" which essentially examined how one creates individual reality. It created in me a fundamental thought that has stayed with me, that positive steps build upon each other taking you to where you want to go.  Clearly there are no guarantees but each weekend I begin my Saturday guided by that core principal.

Getting back to my taxi buddy he now has a small road map that quickly could take him to where he needs to go.  As for all of us, it ultimately rests with him, with taking the opportunities presented.  Sounds just like taxi which is life magnified.  I only wish him and all my fellow cabbies the best.  Taxi is a rough and tumble world but it can provides riches of all kinds. Sometimes you just have to search for them, that's all.  In about fourteen hours from now I will literally be doing that myself, searching for that magical fare taking me to Spokane or Portland.  I'll tell you if I get there.

Monday, June 10, 2013

All Kinds Of Passengers: Angry Young Man & Misplacing the 9 In 21908 29th South & Laughter From Arkansas

As I am wont to say, I meet everyone in the taxi including many I would rather not.  Continuing my effort to present taxi here as factual, as the 'you too" experience you would have if you were misguided enough to join my abused fraternity, here are two examples taken from the weekend, one from each busy day because it was at times non-stop, not even bothering to count all the Sea-Tac runs I had.  No complaints on the money side.  It was terrific!

They were my first fare, and yes it is often true trouble comes in pairs, this version calling from a bus while I waited for them at the 108th & East Marginal Way South  Chevron station.  This was an "insult-to-injury" fare because I knew they were going short while making me wait and wait.   Getting my "no-show" I was hoping for a new fare to come through when there they were running toward me.  Of course the woman wanted to go the wrong way.  By the way this is typical of this kind of particular demographic, their behavior predictable.  You can depend on them being completely and utterly uncooperative.  They argue and they never, I mean never wanting nor willing to pay the full fare.  I have found that all I can do is recognize the situation and ride it out, understanding it is a bit of stormy weather and eventually the rain will stop falling.

They keep telling me that she is getting out and he is continuing on after he picks up something.  Okay I keep saying, no problem, no problem.  The meter is at $11.00 dollars when we pull up and she hands me a ten, holding me in place while he runs up to the apartment.  I keep the meter on "hold" while we wait nearly ten minutes when I finally say, "you know, I haven't been running the meter, you have to go." She immediately exits and I begin pulling away when the young gentleman appears shouting "hold on, hold on!"

He is going all the way to 200th and Pacific Highway South and I now need a guarantee I am getting paid.  Having already given unintended discounts I am now adamant, " I need some money before we go."  His favorite response is "Are you serious? Are you serious?"  And of course I am.  It is four o'clock in the morning in the almost middle of nowhere and I have this violent, aggressive kid in the taxi and he doesn't care whether I live or die.  I know this and I tell him to give me an advance or I am dropping him off at the 7-11 a mile away.  While he yells a variety of crap I calmly drive to the store and pull over to the curb.  Making it clear there is only one option he finally departs leaving the car door open. Knowing this scenario I pull off rapidly which closes the door.  I get the telephone number added to the "no-service" list and  proceed to my next call, an airport time-call. 

Again, this is taxi as it really is.  An incorrect response and instantly there could a serious confrontation. It is no joke.  I am sure that more than once this kind of situation has escalated into gunfire and needless death. The wise cabbie remains cool while maintaining a measurable control.  Giving that up you minimally get ripped off and the worst you are dead.  Taxi driving is not a game.  It is a very serous business. That is why it is a crime the way the City & County license the unprepared.  Do they care?  You know the answer!

What is that address?

English was not her first language.   Not speaking well, neither could she understand.  She kept saying that she was going to 29108 29th South. "Federal Way?" I asked.  She responded "Des Moines" and I thought one could call parts of that area "deep De Moines."  As we near the South 200th exit she says this is it.  Trying to make sense of this I say okay as she keeps repeating, "29108" knowing that eventually it will all make sense.  We pull up to an apartment building and tells her boyfriend to come out.  Finally she gets out and so do I as he is paying.  It never fails that when the ride is somewhat strange or confusing, it continues, with the boyfriend unable to unlock his door from the inside.  Ridiculous as three minutes past, the guy showing no sign that he will ever succeed to open the door but finally he does, protesting that he has to pay $40.00.  What a couple, what a world and let me out of here!

Crime Scene?

I pick up the father and son from Arkansas at the Museum of Flight.  Talking some about baseball, and yes, they had attended last night's game, they laughed and laughed about the crime tape, disbelieving.  Yes it is unbelievable but not in Seattle, idiocy now manifest.  You don't believe me?  You must be from Seattle!

Audit Update

The initial presentation from Cooper and Mundy is now again scheduled for this Thursday June 13th at 2:00 PM, city council chambers, city hall.  Could there be a riot?  Surely not!


Friday, June 7, 2013

SafeCo Crime Scene & Injustice? & More Demand Audit

Starting tomorrow I am very likely returning to a permanent crime scene.  Usually this would make me nervous or at least circumspect as SPD's bright yellow "crime scene tape" means that a serious crime involving murder or other such nefarious mayhem is under investigation.  Instead of something felonious, it turns out that the cautionary tape wrapped around the northeast corner of the Seattle Mariner's SafeCo Field designating blood and gore and human sorrow is all about preventing Mariner fans from accessing taxis.  One could joke and say the Mariner's performance so far this season is the only thing criminal but no, in this case the criminals are taxi drivers who insist on picking up where the customers are. 

Ever since SafeCo opened, fans have congregated at the intersection of 1st Avenue South and Edgar Martinez Way waiting for taxis, the fans not understanding that this is not where the City of Seattle wants them to stand.  There is a long history to this, and over the past five years it is something I have attempted to resolve with City officials.  This week I attempted again but all for naught.  My taxi commission contact, Kenny, provided me with two telephone numbers.  No call backs but I did receive an email referring me back to the same person who has not responded to industry needs.  Frustrated, I emailed Kenny last night saying this is why I am resigning from the commission.  It is clear no one cares.

I suggest this weekend during the home series with the New York Yankees you come watch the SPD parking enforcement "cowboys" and "cowgirls" herd all those rascal cabbies down 1st Avenue South.  Some might even find it entertaining, similar to watching those ersatz television westerns popular during the 1960s.  "Move along little doggies, move along!"  Wasn't it that man amongst men Clint Eastwood who was shouting "Rawhide! Rawhide!?"

Injustice?  What Is Going On Here?

A May 29th article in the local "The Stranger" newspaper entitled "Unfare" and written by Cienna Madrid brought back to everyones' attention the last murder of a  local Seattle & King County taxi driver.  Harjit Singh was murdered last year while dropping off a friend's daughter.  After some controversy it was determined that Mister Singh had been hired to provide the ride thus making his wife, Baljinder Kaur, eligible for Labor & Industry compensation.  What I didn't know and what the article examines is that he was driving a WAT van taxi that he was awarded during the second round of two Seattle/KC taxi lotteries.  Part of the conditions attached to this is the stipulation that the winning cabbie must drive 40 hours a week for the next five years.  Since Singh was murdered the City & County revoked the taxi license for, quote, his " personally drive the vehicle 40 hours per week."  This seems to be a hard judgement since Singh's inaction is not voluntary.  I am sure if he hadn't been murdered he would have happily continued fulfilling his obligation.  This is when the story then takes on a Kafkaesque tone, seemingly blaming Singh for his own murder which I am sure all agree is an appalling conclusion.

Madrid goes on to portray his wife as a victim because commonsense would dictate that as the direct heir she should "inherit" the taxi and the mandatory conditions attached to it.  To that end the wife is currently qualifying for a (taxi) for-hire driving license and soon will be a bona fide rookie cabbie.  Madrid's article, despite some errors and deficiencies, is well worth reading, pointing out there is clause allowing the City & County leeway when there are extenuating or unusual circumstances.  Isn't Singh's murder enough to prompt official introspection?   As long as the wife excepts  the same conditions her husband agreed to it would seem to be both logical and humane allowing her to fulfill the contract.  What is important to note is that after the five-year period the dual-license would be hers to either keep or sell.  Currently it is worth between 200-250 thousand dollars so much is at stake.

What Madrid failed to point out is that Ms. Kaur already owns a city-only plated Farwest taxi, having inherited it from her husband.  In the kind of bureaucratic wisdom puzzling known and accepted logic, the City & County permitted drivers who already owned a taxi to qualify for the lottery.  Take note that the wife hasn't been driving the taxi, instead leasing it out for the approximate lease of more or less $130.00 for two separate 12 hour shifts per day.  It helps to do the math, $130.00 times the usual 30 days in the common month.  Even after expenses it is a decent chunk of change.  In addition the wife was granted what I believe is a life-long L&I pension of $2000. dollars per month. I only mention this because the Madrid  piece implied that the widow is bereft.  Even after taxes she must be clearing nearly $5000. a month without lifting a taxi finger. 

Madrid also has the wife driving the decommissioned taxi, using it as a symbolic focal point.  The only problem with this is it seems that the actual WAT taxi Singh was  driving is being stored by the police as evidence.  I know this from a telephone call received this morning.  I was also told something extremely interesting.

While all of the legal maneuvers continue, once the wife is duly for-hire licensed, she can buy another WAT van and the City& County will provide it with the proper plates, making her and the van road ready.  She will be allowed to operate the WAT taxi until a court decision is reached.

It seems then that someone has been providing Ms. Kaur with erroneous or only partial information.  I called someone who then called her attorney.  I also talked to Cienna Madrid about the situation, informing her what I understood the situation to be.  I really appreciate her and "The Stranger's" involvement.  An active press is a vital public service, especially since the diminishing of local reporting by the larger dailies. What do they care about taxi drivers?  Not much as near as I can tell.

More James & Ray

Wednesday night I wrote James Cooper and Ray Mundy an interesting email, complete with typos, comparing them to giant alien outer space cannibals and myself as some  herding dog faithful to his flock.  James wrote a cordial reply promising not to gobble up all of us unwary cabbies.  All I can say, this is what happens when you involve yourselves with the infamous crazy world that is taxi.  Welcome to the asylum!

What prompted my allusions were the repeated glowing reports from the many folks whom James and Ray were talking up.  Given that many of them knew for the most part zero to nothing about taxi reality I began, despite my personal favorable appraisal, to question the good professors' motives.  In Jame's reply he emphasized that it was necessary to thoroughly converse with all concerned and interested parties.  While that may be true, isn't the passenger audit statistical, a real head-count of actual and potential passengers?  All I can say is that the taxi dog remains a bit sceptial.  As I told James and Ray my tail is still wagging, though warily. 

The space cannibal stuff comes from that great Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man."  If anyone remembers, those creatures were friendly, and as it turned out, too friendly for humanity's good.  Expect a few more barks!

And PS:  James and Ray were scheduled for next week to give the city council a preliminary reading of their audit.  Without explanation it has been cancelled.  As far as I know no new date has been set.  I will keep everyone updated.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tales From The For-Hire Crypt & Two Good Gentlemen

I would call these cautionary tales though not necessarily from the tomb.  Most of the participants I assume are alive but clearly they drive like zombies.  As I have said and keep saying, becoming a skilled and professional cabbie (of whatever version) is not easy, not the instantaneous add motor oil and mix formula currently operational.  I have also tired of repeating that the folks regulating the taxi industry know little or nothing concerning the craft.  That along with many other issues explain why I am officially announcing my resignation from the Seattle & King County Taxi Advisory commission tomorrow.  The time has come for me to begin withdrawing from all taxi political activities, with the end of July being my preferable target date.  The one irony which is not lost upon me is it seems that after years of trying, most everyone involved locally now trust me.  It is no small feat given the paranoiac attitude prevalent.  My affection for everyone remains but given the progress I am making on my new book I have to give up something.  And until another reliable income source arrives, I remain beneath the top-light for at least the foreseeable near future.

Our Yellow Taxi accountant recounted a friend's story of flagging what she thought was a Yellow Cab at North 85th & Greenwood Avenue North and instead a United For-hire car stopped, its two-tone yellow and orange coloring fooling most anyone.   She was going to the University District and agreed upon a flat-rate of $15.00 which is more or less the correct fare.  Everything was fine until they arrived at the destination with the driver now demanding $40.00.  When she refused he locked the doors and began screaming at her.  Intimidated she gave him the money and was released from her imprisonment.

Yesterday I took a young woman home from Swedish Hospital who has been a regular HopeLink rider for least a year.  Last night HopeLink told her that they would be nice to her and send a Yellow taxi instead of a for-hire car.  On the way north she had many distressing stories about the for-hire drivers getting lost or making multiple unexplained U-turns or one driver who exited then immediately returned back to the freeway taking her back to where she had just come from. 

Suffice to say, all of this is disturbing which brings me back to the central point that being a professional driver is not easy.  Every weekend I am reminded of that and I have 25 years experience. Another passenger yesterday told me that a Yellow taxi driver of 10 days duration had to be guided to their hotel.  All these examples scream out that this is serious situation.  Does anyone care?  No, and don't believe them when they say otherwise.  They are misleading you.

Friday morning Abebe, president of Yellow Taxi and I met with Ray Mundy and James Cooper, the two fellows who are conducting the passenger demand audit.  One important note is that James drove a local version of a taxi somewhere in Scotland for six months.  I had to shake his hand on that piece of information.  More later on our conversation but in short I can assure everyone that they are serious, sincere and knowledgeable guys.  Their opinions and comments display understanding. No one, and I mean no one on this planet of ours can fool me upon the subject of all things taxi.  I know when you know and when you don't.  James and Ray hold some broad knowledge and are attempting to learn more.  When less tired I will dissect the conversation.  My one regret was not asking them about their methodology.  It was a clear omission which I will attempt to correct later.  Their preliminary findings will be announced on June 13th.