Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Not Much To Report But Tuesday September Third Is Now The Day

Today at Ten this morning myself and taxi buddies Dawit and Hassan met with Jesse, one of Sally Clark's legislative aides.  I had been hopeful that some council members would be in attendance but the city council is currently in recess, meaning no one was available to extensively discuss all issues taxi.  We had a good talk but it was mostly a rehashing of past topics. I told Jesse that these were my current primary concerns and themes:

1)  That we do everything we can to avoid litigation.  I suggested two courses that would assist.  Concerning the for-hire situation I feel some kind of warning, a kind of cease and desist should be sent to all of the for-hire owners requesting they immediately stop their illegal street activity.  Non-compliance would result in an immediate suspension of operating licenses.

A similar letter should be sent to Lyft and Sidecar announcing any further operation on Seattle streets would result in the impounding of all of those non-inspected cars.  As far as I understand it, these ride services are liable for criminal misdemeanors.  It might be time for the City of Seattle to toughen its enforcement policies.

Given that the City of Seattle has the authority to do this, it would be a simple matter to ensure compliance.  I guarantee you these actions would immediately put a stop
to the problems the taxi industry have been facing.  I know I would be satisfied, feeling
a class-action suit unnecessary.  If the City of Seattle decides not to do this, there must be a questioning of its motivations and sincerity and why its own rules and laws are not being enforced.  Compliance cannot be random.  Being the governing civil authority, the City of Seattle has the legal responsibility to protect ALL of its residents. Nothing could be clearer.


 2) That the local taxi industry be recognized as the completely independent and autonomous entity it is, something not be mixed up or confused with competing services.  Currently it seems they have categorized taxis and other similar services as equal and equivalent.  This is not acceptable.

Demand Audit Presentation

Cooper and Mundy are now scheduled to make their City Council presentation on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 at 5:30 PM.

Matt Driscoll's Article

I highly recommend Matt Driscoll's taxi-related article in The Seattle Weekly's August 21st-27th, Volume 38, number 34 issue, entitled "Tale of Two Rides:Fair Share."  It is also available on-line.  It is well researched and thoroughly examines current issues facing the taxi industry.  There are more pretty pictures in the paper edition.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Waking Up Dead

Earlier in the day I was feeling desperate for a fare, any kind of fare not mattering.   Fast forward to the fatigued end of my Saturday ordeal, business has been good, whatever panic I might have felt a distant memory, and now, just past bar break the guy says "Kent!" meaning a small city about 16 miles southeast of Seattle.  A good fare, yes but do I have to? 

On the way there he tells me he already has two DUIs to his discredit and he is not interested in a third.  Each offense cost him $8000. dollars, a total not including lost work time etc.  Sounds like he got the message. 

Dropping him off I understood it was time for a nap.  Parking next to a field, lowing the seat to almost vertical, I was instantly out, sleep clearly a necessity.

Awakening about an hour later, I experienced something I call "waking up dead" which translated means my new waking state seems unusual, holding the strong sensation I have died and I 'm on the other side of ordinary human consciousness.  Disconcerted I have to question my surroundings before fully realizing  that "Hey! I am not dead but parked in a field in Kent, Washington."  Sometimes I think this is what death will be like but who knows, I know I have no true idea one way or the other.  Now if you ever hear a cabbie says that he feels "like death warmed over" you will have a good idea what he or she means.  It means that terms like "fun" or "reasonable" are not part of the usual taxi lexicon.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

This Kind Of Discrimination Has No Justification (And Never Will!)

It's Saturday night (early Sunday morning) "bar break" and I'm cruising Capital Hill after my usual bowl of noodle soup at Ocean City.  Dropping off at Melrose & Olive Way I watch as the vacant Yellow taxi in front of me passes a young black man waving at him.  Waving at me I immediately stop and off we go south of the airport to Federal Way.  The guy, a perfectly nice Comcast supervisor who had the misfortune to have two of his car's tires slashed and flattened, could not get a taxi.  Numerous taxis of all the local associations passed him by.  One Yellow driver did stop but upon finding he was going a long distance, said his car couldn't go 60 mph and told the passenger to leave.  What was happening here?  Why was this great guy who gave me $80.00 dollars for the quick ride home treated like some potential monster?  Fear and ignorance, my friends, and nothing else.  And as I keep repeating, this is what happens when you place individuals in a position they are not prepared for, the victimization of an innocent person.  Just like the NYC mayor's infamous "stop and frisk" policy, racial profiling hurts everyone.  All this passenger wanted was to go home after his car was vandalized.  Instead he is insulted twice over.  This is not reasonable.

There are some "scary" looking folks out there but this guy wasn't one of them.  If he wasn't menacing then what was preventing all these drivers, many African-American themselves, from stopping for this well-dressed man of about thirty years of age?  The answer, as I have already stated, is a combination of  factors adding up to nothing good.  Apprehension plus inexperience plus naivety plus insensitivity creates unjustifiable attitudes that are and will remain indefensible.  Given the hour and the distance I asked for money up front but having only a twenty dollar bill and a card for the rest I eventually relaxed, handing him back his money, telling him to "just pay me at the end." 

After hearing his story the last thing I wanted to do was "play the fool" because at this point in the taxi game I know the complete story and refuse to embrace idle justifications.  All any passenger wants is a good ride from point A to B, not some futile exercise displaying in all its excess glory the cabbie's ignorance.  All of us are out there to provide an honest ride, not some kind of misguided disservice.  That cannot and should not be the public expectation though too often it is because drivers think they can do anything they want, not understanding they are poisoning the taxi waters.  Is it really necessary to further sully our image?  I don't think so.

The only problem I had was staying awake and processing the man's debit card which bore tooth marks from his two troublesome pooches.  All I ask of everyone is to remember that we are all human, carrying the burden of the mystery of this life and existence.  Don't punish someone when they haven't done anything wrong.  It just isn't fair, it is just plainly stupid, especially when for no good reason an eighty dollar fare is passed up.  My advise to all my fellow cabbies is to wise up and learn how to read the taxi landscape.  Everyone will be the better for it.  And if paying attention, richer too!

On A Personal Note

After nearly five wonderful days camping and hiking along the Rogue River it was difficult being back beneath the top-light.  I experienced a genuine resistance to keep going down the road.  Eventually I calmed down and made some "real" money but no, I wasn't having much fun. Most don't  realize just how horrible of a work environment I and others find ourselves in.  Too much senseless noise and toxic fumes!  Walking along the south fork of the Rogue River is far more reasonable.  And during that last night two pesky deers refused to leave our camp, their eyes a piercing green in the flashlight's amber beam.  Far better than a speeding ambulance or police car.  Give me an inquisitive deer any day or night!

Monday, August 12, 2013

3:42 Monday Morning

Little to no sleep is the cabbie's common fate.  Today I will get approximately three hours before leaping up and getting ready to fly to Medford, my flight leaving just past 10:00 AM.  My just completed weekend was harrowing as Saturday morning, 7:15 AM 478's transmission began slipping in "Drive."  By 9:00 AM it is being looked at, and after getting an extra board cab at about 10:15 AM assured that it would be repaired by evening shift change, which is 4:00 PM.  That's when the situation became the unusual because it appeared that barely little had been done during the nearly six hour interval.  I was nearly speechless.  Were they really going to allow me to miss the entire night shift, making me, expressed in my own sour words "to eat it!?"

Being diplomatic, the best I can say is someone had a contrary motive.  Luckily an old and powerful friend happened to be at the garage and intervened on my behalf, ordering that it had to be done now.  I left to take a shower and have a quick snack.  Less than ninety minutes later  the transmission "that might not even be ready tomorrow" was installed and 478 was ready to go.  All this was and is very strange.

My first post-repair "bell" was a musician in need of assistance.  Needing to transport his huge acoustic bass and amps, he proclaimed "I was a genius" getting it all in.  No, just experienced, that's all.

Finally arriving at 3rd and Bell it was over $50.00 on the meter and, what a surprise, a $150.00 tip.  I told him no, it was too much but he insisted I take it, second largest tip in my 25 years on the taxi road. Madness and madness equalling to I am one very tired person.  Good night!  I am ready for some greener surroundings.  And that my friends, is a mild understatement.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Taxi Demand Appraisal

With the delay of the James Cooper and Ray Mundy "demand audit" I thought it would be helpful to fill the gap, knowing as I already do, the answer.  I have addressed this before but more detail will not hurt my argument that the Cooper/Mundy report was completely unnecessary and could have been done locally without the cost of paying an outside firm.  Admittedly I have not used the same statistical data that the good and able professors are using but perhaps my methodology is the more accurate, utilizing twenty-five years of local taxi experience plus the innate taxi instinct developed over a quarter of a century.  Darwinian theory says the environment molds the living creature.  I can honestly say that before the autumn of 1987 I was not a cab driver.  Now, having lived the life all these years I am no longer the same.  I am a different animal.  I am a taxi driver.

While all this taxi banter has penetrated the atmosphere, suppositions flying around the block about how much cab business we have locally, no one has mentioned that about thirty percent of a certain kind of demand has disappeared, a bygone era never returning.  Because the uninitiated think of taxi fares only as human bodies they are totally unaware of what once was totally routine, the delivery of packages of all kinds.  For years on First Hill there was an official, City of Seattle-created cab stand serving the Puget Sound Blood Bank.  Sometimes hundreds of whole blood packages and blood specimens would be delivered by Yellow Taxi to points all around the Puget Sound Compass, north and south and east and west we would fly with this life-saving cargo.  Many times in the past I have driven up north to Mount Vernon or down south to Olympia.  Now I may get only one "blood-run" a weekend, with that going only a few blocks over to Harborview Hospital. 

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s Farwest Taxi had a huge share of the package business, delivering business documents and small parts again throughout the Puget Sound and the state itself.  Now with the advent of the Internet and the expansion of courier services, taxi delivery is redundant, nearly as relevant as the Pony Express.  When I drove for Farwest, especially on the weekdays, sometimes over half of my fares would be package deliveries.  How I wish those days would return but now ninety-nine percent of my business is passenger-based.  So when computing demand you first have to consider the lost package business and not pretend it wasn't a primary life-blood of the industry. What we require are real facts and figures, not presumed fantasy.

When we had that great package business Seattle's population was about 500,000.  Now Seattle is at about 625,000.  The metropolitan area has also increased in population so one must factor those numbers in too.  Doing the taxi math, at anyone time I would say five  to ten percent of Seattle's population take cabs on any kind of a regular basis, or hold the potential to call or flag a cab.  Back in 1990 you could say thirty percent of businesses used cabs for deliveries.  I once even delivered pots and pans to the 76th floor of the Columbia Tower.  Subtract all that but add increased tourist traffic during the late spring and summer and early autumn generated by the cruise ship lines and in my taxi mind you come up with about same number of fares of all kinds we had in 1990. 

Another factor always existing is the prime-time business created by a Husky or Seahawk football game or the usual Friday and Saturday night bar rush.  These short-duration surges affect business but are not and cannot be considered as normal and daily sustaining business.  Like the mayfly they appear then they are gone.

My contention then is that actual demand, real fare numbers are about the same.  It isn't that the local industry needs a large increase in legally licensed cabs.  A few additions would not hurt the existing business but the real answer if what I call the "professionalization" of the workforce.  If we had a truly professional driver-base efficiency would greatly increase, let say by thirty percent, instantly filling the perceived demand gap. 

The current reality is that we have a situation where fifty to seventy-five percent of today's licensed taxi drivers in Seattle and King County are inefficient, in other words they have been prematurely put in a position for which they are not qualified.  The blame can be spread around but it rests primarily with King County, which is the licensing agent, and acts as Seattle's proxy.  Last Sunday a Swiss businessman jumped out of one Yellow Cab into mine because the driver had no clue.  He didn't know the way to the hotel to pick up the luggage and continue on to Sea-Tac. He refused to turn on his meter.  He refused the passenger's credit card.  All of this was highly frustrating for the passenger, who was relieved to find me.  But don't blame the driver.  He is just another innocent jeopardizing both himself and his customers.  When, I ask, will this particular driver become a real and functional cabbie?  And how many passengers will be victimized until he does?

A solution to the problem of "prime-time" would be to create taxi licenses devoted only to those hours of a given day.  Weekdays, Monday through Thursday, the taxi would be licensed only from 2 PM-10 PM, an eight-hour shift. Weekends, meaning Friday through Sunday make the hours 4 PM-4 AM.  By making the licensing restrictive, and by strict monitoring, you would have the necessary cabs out there at the approxpiate times.  It can be done if the will is there.  And again, we can have a professional workforce if people just do their jobs and license individuals only when they are ready and not before.

As for Cooper and Mundy, what will they be telling everyone sometime in September? That what I just stated isn't true?  How would they know?  Oh, I see, like the fictional Sherlock Holmes, they will take their magnifying glasses and see something I don't.  If you believe that I advise you turn on your television and take in all of that manufactured reality.  It is clear you will believe anything, especially when delivered by so-called expects.  And what do I know?  According to some it appears nothing whatsoever!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Am I Bored?

Yes I am bored with all things taxi except the necessary money at the end.  Insufficient sleep over four days deadens the most optimistic outlook but in reality biting one's tail isn't productive.  After less than five hours sleep I dragged myself out to a driver's meeting where a friend bombarded me with criticism.  I like her and everyone else but doesn't she and everyone else realize that taxi is absolute bedlam and expecting resolution is unrealistic?  How can I be responsible for the too many years of taxi screw-ups?  It isn't possible.

Earlier this morning drunks half-circled the cab  ready to kill, screaming and calling me names, an ersatz riot seeking purpose. Why?  Because I wouldn't cooperate with madness, with alcohol- generated behavior. Call it tedious, call it stupid, call it inane.  No I won't be your dance partner, the asphalt parking lot an uneven floor.

My response wasn't personal.  I for the most embrace the individual regardless of behavior.  What isn't confusing about being alive?  Still, conducting yourself responsibly is essential. Otherwise you are dissonant, discordant, minus musicality.  Sour notes are boring, splitting the post-midnight quietude, the wrong hour for post-modern composition.  Who wants to hear it?  Clearly I don't.

A reporter called this afternoon, asking about the protest and similar topics.  Thursday James Cooper and Ray Mundy present their demand audit before Sally Clark's sub-committee.  All of the issues simmering are nearing boiling temperature.  Fingers will be scalded but for what purpose?  What has been gained by the mollification of the for-hire industry?  Is there an invisible principality intervening amongst the mortal?  Sometimes it does seem that way.

What am I really looking forward to?  Sleep and more sleep.  When "she-who-can't-be-named" and I meet up next week at Crater Lake what will I be doing?  Sleeping.  I will be sleeping.  And when I awaken, walking along the Rogue River listening to watery dialogue, a narrative both stimulating and calm.  Five days not enough but it must suffice, a healing poultice, a momentary balm soothing the scorched taxi soul. At this point I will take what I can get.

Post-Script Alert:

The Mundy & Cooper "demand audit" presentation scheduled for Thursday August 8th has been postponed to some future date in September.  Please take note and I will let you know when the meeting is rescheduled.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Taxi Protest August 2nd, 2013

From my experience, today's rally was effective, the turnout of over one hundred taxis and perhaps more making it clear we are not interested in future excuses from City officials.  A bill of $300,000 dollars representing an estimated three years of losses to the "for-hire" cars and others was presented to the City Council.  Some feel that amount is only a fraction of what me and others have in reality lost.  My guess would be more like three to five hundred thousand dollars annually.  One friend put it as ten percent of the entire state industry which he says would make it seven million yearly.  Another way of computing the losses is to multiply expected income times the number of "rogue" operators out there which number from 1000 to 1500 individuals.  Even with these rough numbers you can see why the local taxi industry is upset.  We are being pick pocketed while the City of Seattle watches.

Personally my day was complicated by the absence of an available key for YC 747 upon  arriving at the lot.  Extremely frustrating because I called last night and left a message expressing my concern about key availability. This has happened to me before.  The sole existent key was locked in the shop, meaning I had to wait for the mechanics to show up before I could go to work.  The new general manager will try to resolve the intractable, this being a known problem decades in length.  Why not waste my time?  I'm not doing anything else, am I?   Unbelievably I appeared to have the only key to the car in known existence, prompting me to demand another be made.  Logical don't  you think?  I certainly don't want another driver to face the same dilemma tomorrow morning.

Returning to the demonstration, we effectively surrounded City Hall, with cabs three lanes deep on Fourth Avenue.  It was the first time I was proud of my brethren, seeing friends and long time colleagues coming together and uniting around a common cause. Bravo!  And thanks to everyone who made it all possible, including Teamsters Local 117.  Traffic problems were kept to a minimum, allowing for sympathetic curiosity, acrimony no where to be seen.  Most interesting to me was the total absence of the Seattle police.  Having long experience with them after games and large events, I was pleased they allowed the Teamsters and others to keep traffic flowing.  I had a SPD motorcycle cop snarl at me last Saturday, while he was parked in my official Hotel W taxi stand!  It never ends is all I will say about that.

Finally, just fours blocks from the protest, I encountered a doorman at the Red Lion Hotel flagging a passing town car.  Honking loudly I intervened, taking the folks to Pier 91 myself.  It was only $16.00 with tip but it was my money the guy was stealing.   The fare made me nearly 35 minutes late but I had no other option other than interrupt the ongoing crime.  The City isn't stopping this theft so instead we have to do it ourselves.  By my tone you can guess I have had enough.  Yes it is true!