Monday, March 31, 2014

Embracing Hope: Clarifying Direction And Options

When thinking about a title for today's blog the word horizon kept popping up, leading me to reference that famous title, Lost Horizon, of course the name of British writer James Hilton's novel published in 1933 about the mythical land of Shangri-La, an Utopian lamasery hidden somewhere in the Tibetan Himalayas.  After an early morning meeting with a lawyer, I am beginning to understand that we in the local taxi industry are entering into a new world that will dramatically change our operational DNA.  Just by legally questioning the City of Seattle and Uber and its ilk, we will be forever altering our approach toward ourselves. While traditionally fairly insular, the current crisis is forcing us to reach out, an emotional expansion heretofore never imagined by that growling crew known as the taxi industry.

In a sense, the horizon we are passing through is mostly an internal one, crossing up and over our own psychological barriers.  While our potential is immense, it has been chiefly us, only having ourselves alone to blame for stunting progress and development forward.  Many feel perhaps rightly we will stumble and fail.  I feel that assessment is an underestimation of taxi drivers and our in general collective industry.  I know we can prove our doubters wrong.  What I do know is that the answer will be known soon as our window of opportunity, as I have noted recently, is rapidly expiring and disappearing, having no choice but to stop a quickly spreading malignancy.

From This Morning's Meeting 

Three possible legal starting points:

1)  Consumer protection

2)  Takings, which translated means Uber etc illegally competing and taking profits

3) Takings, from the municipal prospective, meaning Seattle's lack of adequate enforcement allowing unfair and illegal business practices overtly affecting taxi industry profitability. 

Much more upon this subject later.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Taxi As It Is Today In Seattle

In the middle of all this bureaucratic and cultural argument I have the strong impression that what defines taxi, what taxi really is all about has been forgotten and lost.  A driver told me this year is Seattle Yellow Cab's 100th anniversary, serving at this point millions of passengers over an untold zillion pothole miles. 

Imagine a century of service from the beginning of the First World War to the Space Age and now to the Age of the Internet and beyond.  Love them or hate them, taxi here in Seattle and across our spinning globe is here for you when you step off that jet, train, bus or boat.  Having travelled round the world I have and continue to utilize taxis.

When in March 2011 I was in Moldova and wanted to visit a remote cave monastery in the countryside, how did I get there?  By taxi of course.  The driver was professional, taking me directly to the monk reading scripture by the dim light provided by his rocky cell.  That is what I and almost every other passenger receive, quick and reasonable and mostly cheerful service. Taxi drivers serve everyone regardless of social class.  We are there for you, including these few examples from last weekend, fully illustrating taxi as it is minus myth and hyperbole.

----I found the old guy at a motel, totally dismayed, not knowing what he would do.  His debit card wasn't allowing to him to pay for his room.  Discharged after 3 months in Harborview and no home to return to, having burned to the ground while in the hospital, he was utterly stranded.  Knowing that I too might not get paid I took him anyway in a further search for motels.  After $25.00 dollars on the meter and again his card malfunctioning I drove him to the nearest Denny's, gave him $5.00 for coffee and told him to call his bank when it opened.  Whether I will ever get the card authorization and be paid I don't know but for me the way I responded to his dilemma was my sole option.  Yes, taxi as it really is.

-----Bar-break and they are going east of  Mill Creek.  Nearing the Melrose freeway entrance, the young woman suddenly begins vomiting, thankfully missing most but not of 478s interior.  Finally we again get underway and drive first north then east into the suburban wasteland. The guy sitting in the front seat spontaneously says "I like you!" which I respond by joking you better not say that on Capital Hill!  What he meant was I remained calm and collected and friendly despite all the distress.  A $73.00 fare became $120.00.  The post-ride clean up was minor.  Again, taxi as it is.

-----I fly over to the 265 from the 285, finally picking her up on the 9200 block of 17th SW.  She is fine until 13 dollars later she hands me an one hundred dollar bill which would had been okay except a couple rides back I had cashed another hundred dollar bill for a five dollar fare.  I asked her why hadn't she warned me she was paying with a large bill and why didn't she cash it at the 7-11 store we stopped at?  She started yelling, "You are the taxi driver, you have to have the change." as we drove up the hill to the next 7-11, interestingly telling me she was going to report me to "Jim" who is none other than the head of dispatch, meaning Jim would certainly know who this clown was.  Long and short of it the 7-11 didn't have the change and before I could respond she and her money ran out the door and down an alley.  Funny thing is she left her radio/headset combination in the cab.  Ha Ha!  Taxi, folks, as it really is.

If only all these folks making these important decisions for us knew taxi as I do they would respond differently.  I know that.  Driving taxi changes you.  It really does, opening your eyes to the great wide world!

Monday, March 24, 2014

More Analysis Of Seattle Council Bill 118036 & First Law Suit Filed

Consider this only a second installment concerning last week's bill and ordinance which incidentally was signed over the weekend by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.  The 30-Day window alluded to last week is now tick, tick ticking away like a well-placed time bomb.  Four bomb technicians including myself met this morning, beginning discussions on how to disarm and defuse something that could potentially "blow-up!" our local taxi industry into smithereens, into so many irreparable pieces. A law suit was filed against Uber today.  More on that later.  Our potential litigation is broader and would be connected to similar efforts across the country.  Our situation here in Seattle is uniquely our peculiar conundrum given we are also confronting the well-established problem presented by the flat-rate for hires and their newly received sanctioning by the City of Seattle.  Call it a double whammy though doubling the pleasure, doubling the fun is not how I would describe our confounding situation.  Other adjectives are more appropriate in our case.

Today I finally took a few minutes to review Council Bill 118036.  So far I haven't found the finished version signed by the mayor but what I have read in the nearly finished version is instructive.  What had me shaking my head in disbelief was the admission the City of Seattle made stating they understand that the ride-shares are illegal.  As I said last week, how does the City of Seattle pardon and legitimize companies they understand have acted completely above the law?  Quotes from sub-sections 6, 7 & 8 fully illustrates this.

All these quotations originate from the bill's "Section 1.  Next week I am guessing I will have additional commentary but given my complete post-taxi exhaustion this short examination will suffice. 

A fragment from Section 1, sub-section or item number 3 says "demand study supports that the public is receptive to application dispatch technology," which seems to justify much of what the City has done and is now intending to do.  I could pick this sentence to death but I will let it speak for itself.  I personally am receptive to chocolate cake.  Does that mean the City should have bakeries mandated for very city corner?  Some I am sure would support that.

Item #6 says "The council finds that the use of application dispatch technology by unlicensed companies and drivers are competing with existing licensed taxi cab and for-hire drivers in the transportation market and causing negative impacts."

If they understood we were being subjected to unfair and illegal competition, why didn't the City of Seattle stop it?

Item 7 says "they are operating motor vehicles used for the transportation of passengers for compensation and these drivers are currently operating illegally without for hire driver licenses or regulatory oversight." 

My same question again.  Why didn't the City of Seattle intervene?

Item 8 says, "that companies providing transportation services via application dispatch with unlicensed  affiliated drivers are operating illegally without a license or regulatory oversight."

I find this kind of language amazing.  How did the City of Seattle not understand the implications?  It is a total mystery to me.

Item 14, authorizes the 100 new taxi licenses to be released this year, with another 100 in 2015.  All of this would have been reasonable say five years ago but adding to an already saturated market now makes little sense other than throwing a sweetener into a sour mix.  One thing this new bill doesn't do, at least I don't think it does, is address the 1,100 town cars illegally cruising DT.  Only the uninformed would think the City of Seattle can sustain nearly 3000 cars taxis and taxi-like vehicles.  Maybe in 50-100 years but not now.

In Section 26, City Code 6.310.540 allows County-only cars to pick up contract business.  More on this interesting deviation later.  While personally supporting dual-plating this idea is just silly, implying that county car XXX will drop off at 9 AM and wait around until 5 PM for the return fare.  I say this because the primary focus of this inclusion is to eliminate "dead-heading" but of course it doesn't do that at all.  Car XXX would just go back to work in Bellevue and return empty to Seattle at 5 PM for the pick-up.

Law Suit!

More on this but today the single owners at Sea-Tac Airport, known as the Western Washington Taxi cab Association, filed a suit against Uber in King County Superior Court.  I am guessing this is the first of many.

On the Uber front, they are planning to put a voter referendum before Seattle voters.  Quoting the late C&W singer George Jones, "The Race is On."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Report On Seattle City Council Session 03/17/2014: If We Have The Will We Can Win

Today I just  wasn't in the mood for the public testimony.  Having no intention of speaking this time around I arrived after the proceedings began.  I even skipped the noon driver rally.  My feelings today centered around the fact of a crazed full moon weekend and the sorry fact that the resolution was a done deal, nothing I might say altering a finished document.  Next week I will hopefully find the time to explore with you the more important details. 

Suffice to say we in the taxi industry got screwed royally today, openly blamed for our fate, being told our poor service over the years resulting in our own comeuppance, some members of council suggesting all this should act as an operational tonic.  Knowing my constructive suggestions have been ignored for years on end, please understand my jaundiced outlook.

 In their limited fashion, the council attempted to reach a comprehensive and fair conclusion.  Unfortunately for us in the taxi industry the city council, by taking concrete measures validating the flat rate for-hire fellows and regulating the ride-share (TNC) industry, blindly overstepped their regulatory authority by issuing a de-facto blanket amnesty absolving everyone for their sins.  Mistakenly viewing themselves as jurists, the city council decided that the years of illegal operation by both parties to be unimportant, unworthy of any penalty or fine, telling us to essentially "suck it up" and accept the inevitable.

As insulting as their arrogance is, they have provided us with the legal opening we needed, making the City of Seattle's position vulnerable.  No municipality can selectively enforce known rules, laws and legal protocol.  Since they can't do it we should be able to force an injunction halting their legislation while we move to have it completely tossed out.  Tomorrow I will be asking both Mayor Murray to veto the bill and the City Attorney to open an investigation.  I am more than doubtful that either will effectively respond to our position.  That is why we in the taxi industry must immediately begin to respond.  This is what we should do:

Beginning this week we need to begin shopping for lawyers and gathering monetary commitments from all of the drivers.  Eventually the associations will join us.  To hesitate is to fail.  Thursday I will be more detailed.  Suffice to say we must move quickly.  The fate of our industry is in our hands.  That my friends is the cold and hard reality.  To do otherwise will be placing our heads in the bureaucratic guillotine.  Our industry is about to be decapitated. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Member Of The Mafia? I Didn't Know That!

At least I am not exaggerating when I lament about the demonetization of the taxi industry and its owners and drivers.  Mark Rogowsky's article on entitled "Seattle And It's Taxi Mafia Want Uber To Sleep With The Fishes" about says it all.  The Forbes link is entitled "Birthplace of Microsoft & Amazon Moves To Protect Dinosaur Taxi Monopoly."  All I am doing now is trying to figure just what kind of dinosaur I am.  Could I be a Tyrannosurus or a Triceratops?  Or perhaps instead a long and lanky vegan Brachiosaurus or a ponderous Iquanodoan?  I bet what I really am is a taxiosurus, completely yellow from head to tail, known for my thick hide.  And of course I smell like death-warmed-over!

All this of course is silly business, Rogowsky and again today, 03/14/2014 The Seattle Times editorial staff complain how no one appreciates the great public service those modern day carpetbaggers Uber, Lyft and Sidecar provide all those victimized taxi passengers.  Be wary of bullies!  Once Chris Christie is run out of New Jersey I can guess who he will start working for. What a natural fit!

Also in Friday's edition is an article about how the ride-shares, under pressure from the Seattle City Council, are upping their insurance coverage.  Everyone should keep in mind that nothing the ride-share (TNC) industry is doing is voluntary.  All of this is happening under the threat of the bureaucratic gun.  All they appear to want is essentially free operating costs and maximum profit.  How surprising is that?  It seems if there are any bodies to be tossed off the pier, it will be the corpses of the taxi industry, the billionaries backing the ride-shares clearly not in any personal danger, surrounded and protected as they are by thousands of Ivy League lawyers.  Maybe Rogowsky knows something I don't, or like Ray Mundy and James Cooper, is just another self-appointed expert upon on all subjects taxi.  Good grief, can we ever have any sanity and relief!?

Monday 03/17/2014 Taxi Rally & Seattle City Council Hearing

Noon at City Hall join all interested taxi drivers in pre-hearing protest.  The city council meeting begin at 2:00 PM.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Going To Eastern Washington

Tomorrow I am going over to the potholes and coulees near Quincy, Washington to breath in some high desert air.  Standing in the middle of a desert valley surrounded by buttes and plateaus listening to shrieking red-tailed hawks is my kind of therapy.  After another rain soaked taxi weekend I am ready!  Thank goodness today's City Council meeting was cancelled, allowing me to sleep to 1:00 PM.  That I am tired of all this pointless conversation is the taxi understatement of the year.  I don't like that we have and continue to be ignored.  On Friday I got a voice message from someone in the new mayor's office saying that they are too busy to meet.  Thanks for making our issues a priority is what I say!  This coming after saying there would be a meeting.  I am beginning to understand that those folks down at City Hall are not that well organized.  This is my prediction of upcoming events.

Even after all this---- the demand study, the many hearings, not to mention the many telephone calls, the emails and the face-to-face meetings---- the City Council will nonetheless pass a bill completely unacceptable to the taxi industry.  We will request Mayor Murray to veto it and of course he doesn't.  We will sue and get a court ordered stoppage.  Serious negotiation begins but only to be impeded by a City reluctant to reveal who has been making all these peculiar decisions over the past three years.  Finally we find out who was behind Seattle's failed strategy.  People are fired. Some may be prosecuted. Damages are paid to the taxi industry.  The flat rate for-hire industry continues to exist and operate but only upon their original mandate.  The ride-share industry is now regulated and allowed to operate with a truncated and limited operational mandate only after paying fines and penalties to the State of Washington, King County and the City of Seattle.  All current Seattle and King County cabs are made regional and dual-plated.  Up to two hundred new taxi licenses will be issued from a lottery of experienced drivers. 

This my friends, as near as I can tell, will be the near future over the next 6-18 months.  By the end of that period everyone will be asking why did the folks dictating the current crisis ever think they would get away with it.  Yes, I am both amused and curious.  Why did they ever think they wouldn't be held accountable?  But the kind of arrogance displayed recently makes no sense, which I guess contains its own distorted logic.  So much for sound and equitable government. Or is that just theory never meeting or matching reality?  I think I know the answer. And I would bet that you also know the truth.  Kind of obvious, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Poorest Of Guarantees

What kind of guarantee if any awaits the intrepid driver when facing a new day?  Physical pain certainly, aching hands, back, legs and sometimes your head, especially if incoherency is included.  Physical exhaustion must also be added to the list.  Come down to the lot at any shift change and its a "Night of the Living Dead" revival, one shift of zombies changing positions with the next.  One remedy is reducing your hours, exhaustion replaced by a gnawing anxiety holding its own special wear and tear, lesser hours equaling fewer fares meaning you haven't won because you are losing.  All this translating into relentless stress because not finding a fare anywhere,  ticking minutes becoming hours and now after paying your lease and gasoline you have three remaining hours to make your day pay.  Try that for weeks on end and see how you feel. 

Should I mention and of course I must all the wonderful passengers completely convinced minus any doubts that 1) you are cheating them, and 2) you are a despicable  human being, and 3) you are capable only of the menial, and 4) you are in general a compete degenerate.  You like these guarantees?  What about mechanical breakdowns and malfunctioning computers and drivers on the road you know are trying to kill you, knowing that in any traffic court of law they would be convicted with the key thrown away.

All this possibly explaining what happened this past weekend, when questionable actions by my fellow lease brethren could have led to the unnecessary and preventable demise of everyone in my taxi.  Beyond a doubt it is true that stress and disappointment and physical exhaustion leads to poor decision making. All taxi drivers working at the various associations have minimum requirements, basic things like telling the shop why the taxi broke down or that something mechanical is failing.  What happened to me this weekend is like connecting the dots.  Someone failed to follow procedure, and as the following illustrates, it is never a good idea.  While many cabbies take pride in a general nonconformity, sometimes rules are there for very good reasons.  It is as basic as that.
A broken down 478 greeted me Saturday morning, finding it parked next to the garage, sending the clear message something bad happened.  Breaking down somewhere, it had to be towed in.  On the "trouble-sheet" clipboard I saw the towing receipt but not the required filled out "trouble-slip" explaining as well as possible what had happened to the car. 

That the night driver, a good guy and taxi veteran failed to fulfil this simplest of tasks made the mechanic's task just that much harder, providing them a riddle that must be deciphered.  As everybody knows who has listened to NPR's "Car Talk," diagnosing a problem isn't always straightforward or simple.  That is why I try to make my "trouble-slips" as detailed as possible.  The guys in the shop need as much information as they can obtain, potentially leading to the final clue.  All I know is that 478 wouldn't start, having tried a couple of times.

With a number of cars available on the "extra board" I hop into YC 6____.  Great car except that I soon discovered the automatic transmission was slipping occasionally.  Though initially not much of a problem, it progressively worsened as the shift proceeded.  Once back at the lot  picking up a repaired 478 I encountered 6____'s night driver.  "Why didn't you write up the car? I asked, only to receive a lame reply.  I told him I couldn't understand why he thought it was reasonable to drive the car in its current condition, making no sense to me.  At least I notified the shop and wrote the car up.  Someone had to do it.

478 was okay, no problems and I finished the day.  Sunday morning saluted me with a flat tire which is usually no problem but due to soft soil the jack slipped off the car not once but twice.  Finally I got the tire changed.  No fun of course but I was off, just another wasted hour.  As I always say, just taxi as usual, unlimited laughs coming your way.

It was now about 5:00 PM and coming back from Sea-Tac.  It was raining hard when I picked two fellows up at the Munson Motel.  They wanted to go downtown to 3rd and James.  Just seconds from being on I-5 northbound 478 drops dead in its tire tracks.  Fuel pump failure!  We push it to the side and I wait over a hour for a tow, losing in total over two hours in addition to the $20.00 plus fare.  The passengers were great, cheerfully walking away in the downpour.

We all had good reason to be happy because an additional 60 seconds would have put us on the freeway and potentially a fatal accident.  No one could have stopped and 478 theoretically would have been slammed into.  I don't like thinking about it.  My sister said it just wasn't my time.  Yeah, right!  Come on everyone, fill out those "trouble slips" is all I can say!

Fatal Taxi Accident in Puyallup

Early Monday morning an Ace Taxi was hit head-on by a drunk driver.  A passenger in the taxi, a pregnant woman along with her unborn child were killed.  The driver is under arrest, charged with vehicular homicide.  The taxi driver survived the crash.

Did We Win?

Upon reflection, of course not.  With adding the ever present limousines and proposed 100 new taxi licenses, we are looking at over 2000 cars above our current 950 taxis, making it a 200 plus percent increase in capacity.  This is not sustainable in the current market.  What is the Seattle City Council thinking?

Next City Council Meeting 3/10/2014

This is when the final decision will be announced.  I don't know the time but I will be there.  Will you?

Update 03/06/2014:  Next week's Seattle City Council hearing has been cancelled.  As soon as a new date and time is issued, I will post it.