Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Taxi Blueprint

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

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

Demand Professionalism

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

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

Demand Improved City & County Training

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

Revamp Association Training

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

Adopt New Technology ASAP

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


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

Monday, October 28, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

McGinn versus Murray

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

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

Conlin versus Sawant

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

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

Editorial note:

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Analysis: Outline Of A Taxi Crisis & More Stories

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


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

A Non-Participatory Industry

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

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

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

Regulatory Authority

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

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

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


Some recommendations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Taxi Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

Eavesdropping Upon Life

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

Very Unfriendly Fire

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

Sobering Center

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

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

Green Bay Fan

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


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

Treated Like A ____________!

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

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

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

Can't Stop Himself

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

Thursday, October 3, 2013

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

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

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

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

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