Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Marooned In Howe, Indiana On A Greyhound Bus

Greetings from Toledo, Ohio.  I am in my ancestral home town visiting my cousin Ed. Two weeks ago I was sitting on a California hillside basking in the sun.  This week I have been walking through minus 25 below temperatures counting the windchill. It has been a long time since I have experienced such cold.  It is a revelation.  Arriving in Chicago yesterday I walked up from the El Clinton Street station into a sub-Arctic blast.  Walking the three blocks to the Greyhound Bus station where my old friend Marty was waiting, I wondered if I would survive.  Two frozen cabs waited in front.  What amazingly chilly weather.

Our bus ride yesterday to Toledo was proceeding well until, once past South Bend, the driver announced that she had noticed various engine warning lights and that we might have to wait for another bus to continue us on our way.  I could not help thinking that for the past few months YC 478 has had three warning lights on the console telling me what I am not sure.  Old cabs are like that, especially cars with over 350,000 miles on it.  Feeling the need to be cautious the bus driver stopped at a roadside way stop and there we all waited.  I enjoyed my conversation with the three Amish farmers.  Finally we arrived in Toledo  at 4:00 AM.  What a night and journey.

Tonight I will refrain from all overt taxi topics.  All the issues I have addressed the past months remain.  Yet another Seattle City Council meeting concerning taxi happens on this upcoming Thursday afternoon.  I am glad to miss it.  I am tired talking about all of it and listening to comments from the blissfully uninformed.  An article in the Monday Seattle Times said the ride-shares are taking over King County. The article stated that, like the City of Seattle, King County enforcement officials are doing nothing about it.  Like I said last week, what in the frozen hell is going on?   I am sure I will pick up the theme next week.  I'd rather talk about faithful cats.  Far more interesting to me.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Story From Last Week: Monty & Boots

It was very late early Sunday morning and I was taking Monty home from a hospital to the East Hill of Kent, Washington.  He was disoriented and wrapped in a thin blanket.  He is dying from liver cancer.  He told me some of his current issues but I found it so painful I couldn't hear it. 

Arriving at his house silhouetted in the large plate glass window was the faithful Boots waiting for Monty's return.

"He has four white paws." Monty said as we walked together to the door.

Once Monty entered the house, Boots bounded from the window to greet him, a glimpse of life rarely seen, sweetness early in the morning.  I wish both of them the best.

From "Puss In Boots" by Clara Doty Bates

"She stretched, and began to pull,
Then came to her master's knee,
And, looking slyly up, began:
"Pray be content with me!
Get me a pair of boots ere night,
And a bag, and it will be all right."

Taken from a story "Le Maitre Chat" by Charles Perrault

Monday, January 20, 2014

Something Rotten And Its Not In Denmark

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Marcellus says to Horatio, "There is something rotten in the state of Denmark."  which is now more commonly phrased as "there's something rotten in Denmark", the original source believed to be referencing rotting fish, a good reason to hold your nose.  Whether there is still something odoriferous in Danish castles I don't know but last night, after the Seahawk's victory over San Francisco, something definitely smelled in the greater Pioneer Square neighborhood and it wasn't just carbon emitted exhaust.  There they all were, illegal and unimpeded: Uber, Eastside for Hire and the other for-hire companies, and those menacing "black car" limousines loading up all those taxi passengers. 

And notably absence from the post-game festivities was any obvious enforcement and all those drivers knew it.  Operating with total impunity, minus any fear of legal retribution they stole fares right before my eyes. Not only is it not reasonable, it is insulting.  We are the regulated industry and the only ones licensed to pickup off of the streets.  The City Council know this.  The Seattle Police Department know this.  The Office of Consumer Affairs know this.  The City Prosecutor knows this.  And nothing changes, everything remaining the same.  Incredible!

The inevitable conclusion then is that something is going on beneath the surface and I want to know what it is.  I want to know JUST WHO in Seattle city government is permitting this blatant theft because none of this can be accidental.  I believe there are a group of individuals involved in what is essentially a conspiracy against the Seattle taxi industry.  I want them to be outed and held accountable.  I can not think of one other instance where an entire sector of the Seattle business community has been this victimized. 

This situation is unprecedented.  We need to know why this is occurring.  We need to know who is allowing it. And we need it to stop.  Noting less is acceptable.  For over three long years I have watched these crimes perpetrated against the taxis fester and explode.  All our protests have been ignored.  Why?  Again I ask, why?

The time for the City of Seattle to be held accountable is long past.  I truly feel that once the story is revealed there will be resignations and potential arrests.  It is now time to begin asking if graft is involved.  Incompetence can't be the only explanation.  I am calling for the Seattle Attorneys Office to open an investigation.  Waiting for the Seattle City Council to finish their deliberations can not be used as justification for doing nothing.  I and my taxi brethren are losing money.  Thieves are stealing our business.  We are not just requesting justice.  We are demanding it. 

This is all very strange.  I am beginning to feel like Lincoln Steffens, deja vu a hundred years later.  What city am I in anyway?  Has Seattle suddenly relocated itself to the Midwest?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Seattle Syndrome, Part II

Greetings again from San Francisco upon an early Thursday evening.  Point Reyes was beyond comparison for a mid-January week, with temperatures ranging in the low 70s F.  The elephant seal chorus was wonderful.  And we did three hikes in three days.  O my poor post-taxi body!

When thinking about the City of Seattle's regulatory response to the taxi industry I am beginning to feel that it is a mistake to take it personally.  As I suggested in Tuesday's posting, Seattle administratively appears to be mistake ridden, meaning the problem is ingrained, congenital, institutional regardless of who are making the decisions.  The examples are everywhere and I will list but only a limited number of errors.  I don't want to be here all night.

I'll start with all three stadiums, all lacking conclusive taxi stands and wheelchair van accessibility.  How can a city invest over a billion dollars and not provide the most basic of services  to its community?  Come to Seattle and they will show you how.

Months ago Aurora Avenue North (Highway 99) was temporarily reconfigured both north and south between the Battery Street tunnel and Aloha Street.  It is a modern labyrinth of narrow, twisting roadway.  I remember travelling northbound and nearly colliding with the newly installed concrete barriers.  Why?  Because of the failure to  install flashing warning lights, something that has yet to be done.  A mistake of this magnitude is nonsensical and dangerous, endangering pubic safety.  The lanes and the problem remains.  Come see for yourself but only during the daylight hours.

Another Highway 99 snafu occurred about a month ago on a Seahawk Sunday.  The one and only exit to Century Link Field off of southbound Highway 99 was closed all day.  Who knows how many people had to drive another two miles and turn around? Crazy!

During the just past Mayor McGinn administration, roadways were narrowed, miles of new bicycle lanes installed, and many other lanes were designated as "buses only" while overall bus service has been curtailed and zoning laws changed allowing bigger apartment buildings meaning more people and their cars.  All the while blocks of downtown parking have been eliminated while street parking rates throughout the city have raised exponentially.  While all these ideas within themselves hold some merit, McGinn was imagining the wrong city, perhaps Phoenix, AZ or Albuquerque, NM which have unlimited space.  Did McGinn not notice that Seattle is pressed between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington and all those rolling Cascade Mountain foothills?  What was he and his advisers thinking?  I'll leave it to you to speculate. 

What can you say about the Seattle Police Department and its reaction to the intervention by the US Department of Justice?  After years of obfuscation it took the election of a new major to appoint a new interim Chief of Police who will finally unquestionably cooperate with the Feds.  Thank goodness for that!

Have you, like I have, sat at a red light at 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning wondering why the signals aren't re-timed during lighter traffic hours?  You will find this happening all over the city, wasting your time and polluting the air.  And this is an environmentally sensitive city?

It is obvious then that the City of Seattle is just following its usual dysfunctional form when allowing first for-hire cars and limos and now ride-shares to operate illegally and unfettered for the past three years.  And what are they offering us in the  taxi industry for all of our misery?  Why complete and utter deregulation and freedom for our adversaries while keeping us firmly under their regulatory thumb.  This only makes sense if you are a City of Seattle administrator or working for a particular New Jersey governor.  At least his administration, however devious, was trying to manage the roadways.  He deserves some credit!  Or perhaps not.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Single Study Syndrome: Is Seattle A City Out Of Administrative Control?

Greetings from San Francisco.  I am here until Friday celebrating "she-who-can't-be-named's" birthday.  Today we are driving north to Point Reyes National Seashore where we will be staying for two days, hiking above the roaring Pacific Ocean.  Glad to be out and away from the cab.   I had my first $100.00 plus fare of the new year on Saturday night, a HopeLink run from Harborview Hospital to Bonny Lake, a small city about 30 miles southeast of Seattle.  Of course I am always glad to see that there are still a few big fish swimming out there in the taxi sea.  Drivers are howling about the lack of business.  There has been little fun the past few weeks.

Sunday night while listening to the nationally broadcast radio show, "On The Media" I heard some commentary concerning how decisions are made, the speaker remarking that our country has what he called  a "single study syndrome," people using over simplistic statistics to justify sweeping decisions.  Of course we are dealing with that very same syndrome locally, with the Cooper & Mundy demand study treated as if nobody before or after them knew or knows anything about foundational customer activity.  Does the City Council really think we are incapable of comprehending the nuances of our own business?  Evidently that appears to be the sorry case, a glaring example of the disrespect directed our way. 

Whatever the final results of the argument is, what must forever change is how the decisions for the taxi industry are made.  Currently the individuals involved have no personal knowledge or investment in taxi.  In the future we must have some kind of associated regulatory board comprised of experienced taxi figures who are paid to assist in the decision making.  Until that happens we will have what is our sad reality, elected and appointed officials dictating our futures like parental figures telling all us children what to do.  This has never been acceptable, and given current circumstances, displays just how unfair the system is.  During our ongoing conversations and negotiations we must stress it is time for the administrative balance to change, because in general it seems that the folks charged with managing city affairs are not doing a good job.  All evidence points to that sad conclusion.

What I am saying is that all you have to do is to look around and what you see is a mismanaged  city.  The most outrageous current example is the blockage stopping the Alaskan viaduct tunnel drilling.  Everyone in charge, meaning both city, county and state officials, failed to thoroughly examine the route before the drilling began.  That they were surprised to find the well piping dating from a few years back says everything about local competence.  In regarding the tunnel project, project managers either were not paying attention, or far worse, are incapable of understanding the task at hand.  Transfer that mentality to our situation and you then begin to see what the problem is.  That is why we can not wait for the City of Seattle to make decisions for us because clearly they do not know what they are doing.  An email from yesterday illustrates this.

Yesterday, in response to my inquiry to the City Attorney's Office, someone from the Office of Consumer Affairs wrote to me about how they are currently conducting enforcement.   When I responded that nothing is being done, I received an email outlining their efforts from Saturday night.  The list I was emailed displayed a total of four confirmed non-taxi cab violations along with three taxi cab infractions. Given that in a blink of an eye Saturday night you simultaneously saw multiple illegal pickups I am not impressed.  Four citations out of  potential hundreds is nothing to crow about.  These examples only back up my contention that we in the industry are not being protected by the very same administrators charged with those same responsibilities. They have failed us.  There can be no other conclusion.  They have failed.

Much more upon this subject later.  Today is someone's birthday.  Time to change my focus.  Time to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and embrace sanity.  Believe me I am ready, already hearing the gull's raucous chorus, nature's "Bronx cheer!"  Given that "she-who-can't-be-named" is from Brooklyn, that will have to do.  Happy Birthday to rational thinking!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Where Is All The Business Hiding?

The last two weekends have been hellish in terms of there being very little business, especially the kind of demand sustaining unlimited numbers of new drivers.  Weekends like the past two are what make the Cooper & Mundy demand study so dangerous for those who are actually trying to make a living picking up passengers.  Even a taxi magician like myself have found the top hat empty, failing to have that happy rabbit leap out, telling me, "Let's go to Tacoma!"

Winters can be slow but folks  have to at least pay their lease and gasoline.  The only salvation have been all the call-offs, Yellow's "extra board" filled with waiting cabs. My friend Ali who shares 478 with me is now in Ethiopia for two months.  If a third of the fleet hadn't been idle this past Sunday I don't know what would have happened because all the passengers  appear to be somewhere hibernating in a cave sipping hot chocolate and egg nog.  Good for them!  I too am ready to join them in their fur-lined sanctuaries, napping away the chilly hours.

If you can believe it, my real Sunday didn't begin until about midnight with my torture ending just before 5:00 AM Monday after dropping off a $48.00 fare including tip at Sea-Tac.  Two late quasi-ambulance runs also helped, one a young man from Rainier Valley who was progressively getting sicker as we neared Harborview; and a much older man living way up north in Shoreline who fell down upon leaving his house.  I leaped out and and helped him up the sidewalk to the cab.  He was extremely short of breath and might have been in cardiac arrest.  I flew to Northwest Hospital over the dangerously frosty streets, very concerned he would expire before I got him there.  Heaven help us all!

And as I keep saying, the City Council is inviting the uninitiated and the unsuspecting to an insane environment I know all too well.  Why would they do that?  Maybe they don't quite understand what they are saying, as I keep hinting when pertaining to all things taxis.  Upon other subjects I have no idea, leaving it to the voters to decide.  All I know is that we DO NOT require what they are proposing!  When will everyone realize Seattle IS NOT a major or large metropolitan area?  Since marijuana is about to be legal I know what they are smoking!  Distortion should not manifest into working reality.  That should be obvious but in Seattle perhaps not, calling itself something it clearly isn't.  Good grief!

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Riotous New Year!

Barely 2014 and all hell is breaking out!  Time to pull the bed covers over the head and hide out until sanity returns, whenever that may be. 

My MDT/Computer in my taxi refuses to function on the busiest night of the year, making me a "bingo" cab for the evening festivities.  While some drivers prefer not using the "bell," I know it cost me over $100.00, not to mention a lot of deserving account customers were left sitting for no good reason whatsoever.  Blame the regular YC 730 drivers for not taking care of business and passing the problem on to me.  Thanks very much a__holes!

Uber is back in the news and its all bad.  Uber charged a Seattle customer $173.00 for a nine mile ride just after midnight New Year's Eve.  Same fare in my taxi is $30.00 more or less.  Far worse is the fatality accident caused by an Uber driver in San Francisco a few hours before midnight, December 31st, a six-year child dying on the way to the hospital.  Incredible insult to more than injury was Uber's instantaneous distancing from all responsibility.  Is anyone paying attention?!  Maybe Seattle's City Council President should turn her attention to "scrubbing the ride-shares!"

Picking up after the Sodo rave, passengers began reporting to me of price gouging by both taxi and for-hire drivers.  My meter to the Loyal Inn was $9.00.  What did the driver charge getting them to the stadiums?  $25.00.  One group of young ladies said drivers would stop for them and demand $40-50.00 just to let them inside.  All these guys must be imitating Uber.  What fun this is turning out to be!

Feeling half sick and with a screwed MDT I turn left onto Queen Anne Avenue North off of Roy when some fool starts screaming at me that I had run the light etc.  I didn't know what he was talking about and being in such a wonderful mood responded that he was "mentally ill!"  Of course he calls Yellow and complains, my friends in the Supt's office offering me a friendly warming which proceeds to repeat itself at least 15 times due to the malfunctioning computer.  Ain't taxi grand!

Thank god I missed the madness when some idiot attempted to burn down "Neighbors," the Gay dance club on Capital Hill.  Nearby, drunken revelers threw rocks and bottles at the police.  And further north on "the hill" a speeding car on Lakeview overturned, killing two people. 

Was all of this necessary?  Happy New Year!  And run and hide!