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!

1 comment:

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