Friday, February 28, 2014

A Quick Review of Thursday's 02/27/2014 Seattle City Council Meeting :"Did we win?"

Afterwards, walking down to the ferry terminal with an industry colleague, who like me, had stayed for the full three plus hours, asked "Did we win?  I responded that I would have to think about it.  My conclusion nearly 21 hours later is that I don't know. 

A cap of 150 drivers/cars was applied to each ride-share (TNC) company, which means either an additional 450 or 600 permanently added to the transportation mix, depending how you define Uber-X.  What is troubling, at least so far, is that it appears that the window is open for unlimited ride-share companies to enter the Seattle market.  Hopefully that loophole will be closed, a loophole at least as big as Mount Rainier is tall.  Look to Monday March 10th, 2014 for the final resolution and vote.

And while many of my taxi friends and colleagues felt some kind of ride-share cap was a victory, I remain convinced it is an unwarranted and unjustified intrusion into our regulated business sphere. We are also looking at two hundred plus for-hire vehicles being allowed to function as taxis.  I personally feel that this conversation will not be ending March 10th, but unfortunately extending far into the future.  As I have been telling and asking all of my fellow drivers, will you be willing to commit a set monetary amount each month to assure that this conversation continues?  Right now all of this is theoretical but come March 10th I believe important decisions will have to be made.

I think for me perhaps the most important moment of the day occurred after all of the network television cameras had scurried away to meet their deadlines.  A second round of public commentary was allowed, and the testimony of a young female Lyft driver got everyone's attention. 

While first saying she was glad that she could get a job "without any training!" allowing her to make $25.00 a hour, her tenor suddenly changing, the young woman now instanteously emotional, saying how she received a lower driver rating because she hadn't "fist-pumped" her customers.

She left the podium nearly crying, seemingly pleading to be helped, leaving behind the clear impression that she had been ill-served by Lyft, perhaps opening a curtain behind their actual and real operations.  The council members, quite taken aback by what they were hearing, plan on talking further with her.  Now that should be an interesting conversation.

Hey, maybe it would educational for the Seattle Times editorial staff to buy her a cup of coffee.  Who knows what they might learn?


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Whatever This Is, It Is Not Democracy

As recent events in Egypt, Thailand, Venezuela and the Ukraine have shown, voter plurality doesn't necessarily translate into functional, fair governance where the interests of all citizens are considered above any and all competing agendas.  Too often it appears government officials, both elected and appointed, feel they have been given a personal mandate to do whatever they want.  In Egypt it was a Koran-based constitution.  In Thailand it has been old-fashioned nepotism and self-promotion.  In Venezuela it has been rampant mismanagement after a broad nationalization of private and international assets.  Recent developments in the Ukraine have displayed governmental corruption leading to an avoidable massacre. Too typically, while Ukraine's economy floundered, the now deposed president was amassing personal wealth and a lifestyle Julius Cesar would have recognized. 

While not reaching that level of governmental malfeasance, we in the local Seattle and King County taxi industry have faced a regional and municipal authoritarianism dictating to us our operational reality.  One very recognisable historical facet of authoritarian rule is that the same individual or groups protesting a wrong or problem are blamed for the very same grievance they are complaining about, and in the aforementioned examples, risking their lives.

If you don't think this is happening in Seattle, think again, as the democratically elected Seattle City Council are making up rules "right-out-of-thin-air" and applying them to the taxi industry.  Monday's 02/24/2014 Seattle Times editorial complains about what they call the "taxi monopoly," implying we are to blame for everything, stymying competition and innovation, while portraying the illegal ride-share industry as victims.  Anyone familiar with fascism see this as an old game.

Everyone should remember that in the 1930s Germany blamed its cultural and economic woes upon the Jews.  Just this week Uganda activated an anti-gay/homosexual law dishing out life sentences, joining 38 other African nations banning gay and lesbian lifestyles.  Similarly, taxi drivers across the United States are being targeted and ostracized publicly, demonised as less than civilized. 

Recently, KIRO Television did a news feature about taxi drivers calling it "The Big Stink."  My complaint to them was never answered.  Does anyone see a pattern developing?  Taxi drivers smell and are greedy, in other words dehumanizing us as a group.  Read the Nazi propaganda from that era and compare and see if I am exaggerating?  Ask the folks at the Seattle Times and KIRO and in the city government and they will all join in a chorus denying any bias or prejudicial attitudes.  And after their denial they go back to what they were doing beforehand.

What everyone is missing is that we in the taxi industry have been obediently following the rules for years.  We pay our fees yearly.  Sometimes we have been deregulated.  Other times, like it is currently, we are regulated.  We are given little say either way.  Usually, and historically, our requests concerning our own destiny are ignored.  When we have requested that more taxi licenses be released, we have been told no, they are not needed.  Then just over three years ago, over two hundred very similar "for-hire" licenses were released without explanation.  When these same fellows began operating illegally, taking our customers, nothing essentially has been done for the past three years to stop them.  Now the city council is now planning on sanctioning them by allowing them to pick up on the streets.

While all this has been occurring,  Uber, Uber-X, Lyft and Sidecar came upon the scene disregarding all rules and regulations, in a sense their own "Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) moment, telling everyone in the taxi industry to move out of the way, they are here to stay.  What has been the response?  Just like they responded to the "for-hires," the City of Seattle suspended any real enforcement and are about to sanction their illegal incursion into taxi operations.

While the Seattle Times editorial stated that the market should be allowed to determine itself, they are missing that it already has.  What they don't see is that there isn't a growing customer demand for taxi-like services, despite what was stated in the Mundy/Coooper study.  There are at least two city council member advocating for no caps upon the ride-shares.  You can be sure that they have never driven taxi and never will, knowing next to nothing about our business reality. For them it is perfectly okay to flood our market with unneeded drivers.  They will not be the ones sitting in the taxi freaking out, wondering how they pay that day's lease, never aware of the pain and suffering they have caused.

And why should any industry, taxi or otherwise, accept an illegal invasion?   Would Weyerhaeuser allow anyone to start harvesting timber off their land?  Of course not.  And if anyone thinks that the Seattle Times editorial staff would support illegal logging on Weyerhaeuser property, you are lying.  The Seattle Times would instinctively support the rich timber company, which is why I see their current stance as dishonest.  Uber etc have all the money.  In last Sunday's edition Uber published a full page ad asking for political support.  How much did that ad cost anyway?  Then the very next day we see the editorial supporting Uber and friends.

If anyone views the treatment of the taxi industry as democratic, please think again.  Grab your political dictionary and look up the definition.  Rules are, and always have been forced down our throats, bureaucratic force-feeding.  So how do they expect us to respond?  Does the City of Seattle really think we are going to accept 800 plus new quasi-taxis and continue on as usual?  Think again, folks, think again!


Monday, February 17, 2014

Getting Everyone's Attention

Originally I thought today's posting would be all about last Friday's City Council hearing but a surprise announcement made Saturday upon Mayor Murray's blog altered that.  In whatever fashion it has occurred, we in the taxi industry have gotten the mayor's attention.  It also seems clear that certain city council members are becoming more focused upon issues impacting taxi drivers and owners.  We might suddenly be reaching a turning point. 

This all coming, after Friday's session, when I had begun conversations about how and when we needed to respond to what the council was proposing.  I am not saying that eventually we won't respond but it appears clear that our next move is to just wait and see how everything plays out the next two weeks.  The next Seattle City Council hearing regarding taxis, etc is scheduled for Thursday, February 27th, 2014 at 4:00 PM.  Again, as always, it will be important we have a large taxi industry presence.

What was different about the February 14th hearing is that it was a full session, allowing me for the first time to both hear and gauge opinion from all of the council members. It was revealing, identifying both potential allies and the present scope of knowledge pertaining to the taxi industry.  Amendments to the proposed taxi, for-hire and ride-share bill were discussed.

Later this week I will be more specific but suffice to say much that was tossed around are proposals anathema to the well-being of the taxi industry.  Does anyone like hearing that they want the for-hire vehicles to be given the legal right to do what they are now doing illegally, grabbing our customers off of Seattle's streets?  And instead of capping the TNC (ride-share) drivers at 300, they are talking about expanding that to 600 drivers.   All of this can change, and from an industry point of view, must deviate to something approximating workable reality.

And if it does change, we can thank Mayor Murray for inserting some coherency into the conversation.  Briefly, he is proposing a temporary 12 month cap upon the TNC industry.  One aspect really getting my attention was Murray saying it was necessary to appoint outside experts and a panel of local taxi representations assuring that the taxi industry is properly served and its needs understood. 

This is, at least from my experience, is the very first time anyone from Seattle City Government has expressed both concern and insight in relation to our issues.  His words are potentially a real beginning toward permanent resolutions.  Only time of course will tell where this all leads.  It would be great to see something become easy as opposed to the usual.

Potential Trouble in Olympia: WA State Senator Cyrus Habib

It looks like Lyft, Sidecar and Uber have a friend in Olympia.  On Wednesday, February 19th, 2014, at 1:30 PM, State Senator Habib, representing the 48th Legislative District which includes Kirkland, Bellevue, Clyde Hill, Hunts Point, Medina, Redmond and Yarrow Point, will be introducing HB 2152 to the state senate for consideration.  Essentially designed to allow independent contractors to opt out of L&I coverage, what it really appears to be is a poorly disguised attempt exempting the TNC industry from L&I costs.  If you don't think this is true, I suggest following the croissant crumbs and they lead directly to the prominent Seattle law office of Perkins Coie, where his primary duties are related to technology start-ups. 

Habib's background says much about who he his and overall life priorities.  He is a Rhodes Scholar who went to Yale where he edited the Yale Law Journal.  He teaches at Seattle University's Law School.  When he ran for office, he set a Washington State record for local campaign fund raising, netting over $340,000 dollars.  Big money, big East-side money is backing this guy. Next thing we will be hearing is that he is running for Congress.  That should be an easy prediction.  If anyone has the time, you might want to make it down to Olympia Wednesday.  Watch out for wolves in liberal Democratic clothing, sharp teeth biting all the same.  I know he will be saying he is the taxi driver's friend.  If you believe that then all I can say is that fairy tales are your favorite source for interpreting reality.  Watch out for the poison apple.  Even a home grown apple at that!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Crashing The Party & Amos & Andy All Over Again! & A Letter From Orange Cab

The noise is getting louder as a definitive vote nears deciding just what the Seattle City Council will do concerning those gate-crashers, Lyft, Sidecar, Uber and Uber-X.  In a guest column today co-written by city council-member Mike O'Brien, he came out in favor of capping the ride-share industry at the proposed 300 cars.  He also mentioned adding I believe another 150 taxi licences, which should put smiles upon some faces until faced with the stark reality of making a living in a saturated market. 

While it might be possible to sustain the number of proposed cars during the summer months, what happens in the remaining nine months?  I have been saying it for months, and I will keep repeating myself until everyone understands.  The current passenger demand will not sustain a doubling of existing cars. 

If the council members would just go down to the Westin and the Sheraton to ask the drivers for honest assessments of what they are making, I am sure Sally Clark and Company would be shocked.  I know the truth and no one appears to want to believe me.  Why?  Am I lying?  Am I mistaken? 

I invite all of the Seattle City Council members, the Mayor and his aides, Craig Leisy and all of his cohorts to ride with me any weekend they wish.  They can see what I see, and believe me, the reality appearing before them will say everything they need to know.

As I have said, since about 2010 we have been facing a de-facto deregulation of the taxi industry.  The numbers do not lie.

                                          200 City-only for-hires
                                          300 Ride-shares (with this proposed cap, current                 
                                                                       number unknown)
                                          150 New Taxis  (according to Mike O'Brien)

                                          650 cars, doubling the city fleet

Now add the 800 or so town cars running amok.  How do you like those numbers?
Suddenly the established taxi industry is dealing with a total of

                                          1450  cars.  Wow!  

That figure dwarfs the existing number of cabs, including county vehicles, making a more or less total of 950 cars.   Add that total to 1450 and suddenly we have

                                         2400 taxi and taxi-like vehicles.  Amazing!

And as mentioned previously, what about all those King County-only for-hires picking up in the city?   What a mess!

Amos & Andy: Two White Guys Portraying Black America

Back in the mid-1920s two white gentleman, Freeman Gosden (Amos) and Charles Correl (Andy) decided that they would go on America's radio waves with a program depicting a comical version of Negro reality.  Given that few blacks in the Chicago and NYC ghettos and the Deep South had anything to joke about didn't stop Gosden and Correl from presenting a stereotyped version of Black America. They were extremely popular, the radio broadcast running from 1928 to 1960, a total of 32 years. 

In addition to that, they created a television version which aired from 1951 to 1953.  Understanding they could no longer appear in "black-face," radio essentially hiding their true identities and race, Gosden and Correl brought together an all-black cast, with Alvin Childress appearing as "Amos" and Spencer Williams portraying "Andy."  What didn't change was the "comic book" portrayal of how African-Americans lived and loved and worked and of course, laughed.  The NAACP filed protests but nobody cared, not with all of white America laughing.  Further insulting was Gosden and Correl's initial intent of actually "lip-syncing" the lines for Childress and Williams, eventually deciding against that. Gosden and Correl sold their rights to CBS for 2.5 million dollars.

I mention Amos & Andy because here in Seattle we have a similar situation where non-taxi drivers are telling us what are reality is.  Even worse, they are dictating what are working reality will be.  While it is true they are requesting comments, it still leaves all the final decision making in their hands. 

I would feel differently if instead all of the City Council members have, for the past 12 months, been out in the taxi community, riding in taxis and talking to everyone down at 74 South Hudson (the Yellow lot).  The fact is, they haven't. 

Further insulting is their demand study conducted by two non-drivers, James Cooper and Ray Mundy, two nice guys safely ensconced in their academic seats.  No laboring beneath the top-light for them!  Yes, folks, welcome to our own Amos & Andy reality show right here in good,old liberal Seattle.  Funny, isn't it?  Is it time to begin laughing, or perhaps more correctly, crying?

Letter From Belyou Dagnew

Dagnew, Orange Cab's General Manager, wrote a beautiful if not quite grammatical letter to the mayor and all of the city council members.  In it she correctly presented current Seattle taxi reality from the immigrant taxi driver's perspective.  It was poignant, it was simply wonderful.  If that letter doesn't soften their hearts, nothing will!

Certainly I am sure the good folks at City Hall don't want to be memorialised like Whittier's Skipper Ireson:

                                 "Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
                                   Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart,
                                   By the women of Marblehead."

What a sight it would be, the entire City Council paraded down 4th Avenue.  Got to be better than any Seahawk celebration!

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Is There Anything Else I Can Call You For?" & Other Passenger Interactions

Taxi above anything else is about interactions, verbal and non-verbal between driver and passenger.  How can it be explained when, like last night, I received $50.00 dollars for a $5.00 fare, the entire ride less than a mile?  The two older waitresses were a trifle drunk but not loaded or over the edge.  So much happens on the sub-conscious level it sometimes seems that actual consciousness makes up only five percent of the decision making.  Is everything sex, like Freud might have said?  Or are we all just acting on an instinctive innately animal level, aggression and reproduction our most primal states?  A cynic would say that you are making everything, especially taxi, too complicated.  Perhaps but I don't think so.  A video tape of a typical shift would, I think, completely explain everything. Real and living taxi reality is an amazing world.

Yesterday morning, post-snow storm,  I picked up two woman from the Frye Apartments going to 16th & E. Alder.  Saturday night they couldn't get a cab, which wasn't surprising, they and everyone else competing in the unexpected winter frolic.  I was friendly, making a few jokes and gave them my card, saying if there is a next time call me and I'll see what I can do.  That is when the woman in the magenta goose down jacket asked about my availability.

The response took me by surprise, replying that I could write a resume or a short story for them but of course I understood what I had been asked, sexual innuendo however circuitous clearly stating intent.  Her question reminded of the best line delivered ever in my 25 plus years laboring beneath the top-light, when, upon apologizing to the female passenger pressed against me in the front seat, responded, "That's okay, I felt you in all the right places."  Sex then it appears is always just under the surface.  I am just glad Seattle is pretty conservative in those areas because in any overt environment like San Francisco or NYC I would need a protective Airedale keeping the aroused masses away.  And I am sure the big terrier would improve tips.  Everyone likes a pooch!


I was not pleased!  About 7:00 PM it started coming down.  I thought of quitting but knew I wouldn't.  I have my weekly budget to meet regardless rain or shine.  Having learned to drive in part in northern Alberta there can be no denying I know how to drive in ice and snow.  I do so I did.  Clearly many drivers quit for the evening, leaving an intrepid few to answer the demand. 

Passengers were both grateful and generous, showering me with amazing tips.  Demand was like New Year's Eve, and like that holiday, people were going everywhere and anywhere, my last three fares illustrative.

After minced chicken and corn soup at Hing Loon, I found this young gentleman motioning for me to stop at the corner of Denny and Melrose East.  Flipping a quick U he said "Kent!" and off we went.  Where we were really going was deep Covington as further and further east we drove, an entire $80.00 dollars worth.  Experiencing some sort of crisis he just had to visit his aunt.  Was she awake?

Back in Seattle a woman took me to DT Bellevue for $40.00 including tip.  By this point I was past tired, entering a new state of being.

Deciding on one last fare, Harborview Hospital ER took me to NE 137th & Lake City Way NE for 30 bucks.  It was now nearly 7:00 AM  and airport fares were waiting everywhere.  Wisely I chose sleep and glad I did.  Later, after awakening, I got a blood package from the "medical" up to Everett Providence, a cool $80.00 dollars.  I liked the women in their lab.  Friendly and down-to-earth.  Best package I've had in a long time.

City Council Friday Feb 14th 9:30 AM

I think this is when they will be announcing their final decisions.  Important to attend if possible.  Like I said, I will be there.  Either the ending or the beginning of a saga.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Taxi Hearsay

Last Thursday the Seattle City Council's "Select" Committee on Taxi, For Hire and Limousine Regulations held another hearing.  Being back in Toledo, Ohio at that time I missed the proceeding.  That unfortunately will not be the case for next Friday's scheduled meeting for 9:30 AM.  I will be there whether I want to or not, and believe me I'd prefer any other location, even if it means standing in minus 30  degree F. windchill. 

Today's commentary will thankfully be brief given I have failed to locate the City Council link outlining their 01/30/2014 presentation.  I did find the video link but I don't have the time presently to watch and listen for the required two hours.  Given that, all the new information I have is based upon telephone conversations and Alexa Vaughn's 01/31/2014 Seattle Times article.  I like Alexa but have found her articles lacking important details.  Please then bear with me while providing only the barest of facts and details.  I promise that any report generated from the February 14th, 2014 meeting will be far more complete.

From what I understand, the City Council plans on releasing 300 newly created "TNC" or ride-share licenses to individuals who can then work for whatever ride-share company they please.  These permits limit the driver to 16 hours per total week.  But as I have stated previously, anyone holding what I have, a City of Seattle and King County "For-Hire" drivers license, can work unlimited hours.  While this news might sound favorable for the taxi industry, think again because it legitimizes Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, permanently placing 300 new quasi-taxis in an already crowded market. 

Another facet of City Council proposals is the tightening up of insurance requirements for the ride-shares.  Since the terrible Uber-X fatality accident occurring 01/31/2014 in San Francisco, and Uber's subsequent unwise press release disavowing any and all responsibility, municipalities across the country have taken note.  It appears clear that the ride-shares unbridled access to taxi markets is beginning to be reined in.  Finally our warnings are being heeded.  Unfortunately it took a child's death to get every one's attention to what was clear to begin with.

I also heard that contained in the proposal is the release of 75 new City-only taxi licenses, obviously a bone tossed to the taxi dogs.  My advise is not to get too excited.

Personally I find none of this reassuring because the City Council is ignoring the fact that our market cannot sustain a doubling of available cars, and I am not even talking about all those illegal town cars.  Here is the basic math, brothers and sisters, and the figures should scare the hell out of you.

Currently we have more or less 620 taxis that can operate legally within Seattle's city limits.  This is the reality that the City is attempting to say is acceptable:

                                                     300 Ride-Share Cars
                                                     200 For-hire Cars
                                                       75 new taxis                                      

All this adding up to 575 taxi and taxi-like vehicles we did not have 3 years ago.   Add in the nearly 800 limousines illegally plying the streets and you can see that none of this makes any sense.  And need we forget all those King County-only For-hire cars sneaking into the city?

I am still demanding that the 2010 (or whenever it was) release of the 200 for-hire licenses be examined because that made no sense whatsoever.  Before anyone accepts their presence as permanent some serious questions must be answered.

One  good piece of industry news is that Chicago's taxi industry is suing the City of Chicago for lack of enforcement.  Sound familiar?  Stay tuned!                               

Monday, February 3, 2014

Vehicular Menace

There is much to comment upon last Thursday's Seattle City Council meeting.  Though I was still back in Toledo, Ohio I heard all about it.  Later this week I will again examine the issues, today instead concentrating upon inherent dangers surrounding a cabbie, this past weekend a case study concerning reckless and foolish drivers.  And given that the full moon won't be smiling for another couple of weeks, what was everyone's excuse?  A passenger said it was due to an unprecedented second new moon. 

That I know nothing about but lunacy was in the air and visible upon the local streets.  The Seahawk Super Bowl victory added more downtown pedestrians to the mix, joyfully pounding on hoods and generally playing the boisterous fan.  After taking a Virgina Mason nurse down to the ferry terminal I got the hell out of there.  Later there were reports of minor rioting.  Why not is what I say!

Immediately Saturday it was clear that something was terribly wrong with the local drivers.   Having just driven with the Toledo speed demons in snowy Ohio I was again taken aback by the lack of common sense and skills demonstrated here in good old Seattle and area.  Is it that difficult to turn right upon a red light or respond when a signal turns green?  Clearly, in Seattle it is a task beyond many.  Why, I can't tell you.

Close call # 1 occurred mid-morning Saturday while proceeding south-bound down Rainier Avenue South.  It was raining lightly when the signal turns yellow and a foolish driver decides to make a left turn directly in front of me.  Simultaneously applying my brakes and horn I thankfully convinced the driver to stop short as I slid past and through the intersection.  One second more and I am afraid that "she-who-can't-be-named" would have posted that I was unfortunately dead and no longer available to continue my weekly postings.  That near accident, my friends, got my attention, reminding me never to hurry because the next moment might very well be my last.  Sobering to say the least, and I haven't had a drink in months.

Close call # 2 occurred on a stretch of Martin Luther King Way (State Highway 900) running through Skyway.  I was south-bound taking two older ladies back to their Renton hotel from the VA Hospital, both of their husbands having recently undergone stem-cell transplants.  That part of MLK is a fast roadway and wouldn't you know it, an idiot driving a Chrysler 300 pulls out of gas station on my right, cutting in front of me and making an unadvisable U-turn.  Hitting the brakes and going into a controlled left leaning slide I safely avoided a collision.  I jokingly told my passengers that "it was a text book maneuver" in how to avoid a crash.  They agreed and heaped on the praise. 

Incident # 3, also in Renton, this time next to the Renton airport, happening when I pulled onto Rainier Avenue North, which somehow offended a driver who proceeded to chase me.  Putting on 478's four-way flashers I came to a stop, wanting the driver to just give up and drive away.  Becoming obvious I was dealing with a truly deranged soul, I dialed 911 and lifted up my telephone to indicate I was contacting the police. 

As I was receiving instructions the driver decided that inviting the police to the party was inadvisable and pulled away, clearly nervous that the cops were on his tail.  Giving the operator the car's license plate number I drove on knowing the fool would be looking "over his shoulder" for the next few days.  Complete silliness is all I can say.

Incident # 4 was your basic drunk or druggie cutting me off on University Way NE, the passenger sporting sunglasses at midnight.  Never saw the driver but I am assuming he or she was similarly fashionable.  Such nonsense upon a NFL holy Sunday!

The weekend was busy, filling three trip sheets plus ten or so.  Favorite passenger of the weekend was Cricket, a small black and white pooch about the size of a Manchester Terrier who politely licked my hand, displaying the best of manners. 

                      If only my fellow humans were as wise and good,

                      barking a hardy cheer yes I would,

                      wishing everyone a canine mind if I could,

                      a little common sense idling beneath their cranium hood!

Woof! Woof!