Friday, May 30, 2014

Taxi As It Is Today: A Current Assessment

The best I can say about the taxi industry I know and love is that it is remains in a permanent state of adolescence, which is quite the statement concerning a 100 plus year old industry.  Of course if you count the horse-drawn version it is much older, Sherlock Holmes in old London hailing a cab on the way to his next adventure.  Another element of that incipient adolescent quality is the apparent catatonic or cataleptic state of response to any and all issues, in other words remaining mute and unmoving even when it is clear thoughtful action is required.  Part of an inherent immaturity could be that the industry doesn't understand that it must respond but from my experience it is more like a stubborn teenager, someone who will not budge despite all evidence that an alternative is necessary.  One quick glance at New York City's ossified taxi industry and you understand there is no moving these folks.  As long as the money is coming in, everything is fine. 

Transferring that to Seattle and you see the problem, an unresponsive industry to nearly every serious problem and dilemma facing it.  And when the local industry does respond, it usually is with some consultant not directly connected to taxi, leading to the blind leading the blind.  One recent example from the past year was the explosive situation at Sea-Tac, with one crisis after another until the individual causing the problem, someone who happens to be a friend, was replaced by a life-long taxi veteran.  Since then, relative tranquility has reigned over what once was chaotic. Why is the industry's first choice always the wrong choice?

From what I can see of it, the question boils down to one essential point: when will everyone involved, from lease driver to owner, finally realize that they are operating a business like any other business, meaning you cannot make up rules on the fly, deciding one minute I will do something one way and literally the next minute deciding upon an opposite course.  A free-form venue, while quite successful when operating a rock & roll radio station, does not apply to standard business practices.  You just can't do anything you want just because you think you have an imaginary permission to conduct yourself differently from usual and expected norms.  What you end up with is anarchy. 

That is why we are being attacked by a new breed of competitors.  They don't take us seriously.  I can certainly understand why they don't.  What they see are a bunch of teenagers hanging out on the corner, laughing and joking and smoking cigarettes.  If we don't fit that description, then exactly who and what are we?  If you are honest, you know the answer.  Then what are we going to do change the situation?  Think about it and start talking to your friends and taxi colleagues.  It is time to be responsible.  It is time to stop making excuses.  It is time to become an adult.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Nearly Buying The Taxi Farm & There He Was: Big Bob!

He or she "buying" or having "bought the farm" is American slang dating from WW II, an idiomatic or informal euphemistic phrase meaning death in general, and more or less originating from the American (Army) Air Force, referring to a combat death occurring from active battle. This past Saturday I too almost purchased the farm, an errant car nearly hitting 478 head-on at 50-60 MPH.  It all happened in a span of about 7-10 seconds, the final conclusion only realized in the last second.  It is doubtful I would have survived the impact.  Anyone truly familiar with taxi knows it is a war and in those few fateful moments my passenger and I near causalities.

The fare began oddly, the passenger finally emerging from a darkened house in West Seattle.  Having already received my "no-show" I told him I was surprised to see him.  His response was elusive and offensive, making inappropriate remarks and providing a false destination, saying we were going only a few blocks when his real objective was lower Queen Anne a quarter mile from the Seattle Center.  This potentially set up an argumentative tone I thankfully ignored because shortly my full attention would be required.  What most passengers fail to understand is that crazy and disruptive behavior is highly distracting, taking attention away from the road which in this particular case could have proved fatal.  Another facet was the passenger's misinformation.  Had he not lied I would have turned left on SW Austin heading down to Delridge Way SW instead of taking 16th SW and driving past South Seattle Community College, thus avoiding the situation altogether.

Finally telling me where he was really going I proceeded north upon 16th SW nearing the point where it begins turning northwest, transitioning into SW Dawson, when suddenly a car flying up to what amounts to be a blind curve at 50-60 MPH loses control and now instantaneously aimed directly at me.  Instinctively slamming the brakes and pulling 478 sharply to the right I watched the grey sports car wildly fishtail out-of-control, just missing our potential collision.  Coming to a stop parallel to me I didn't even glance at the fool, just glad I wasn't dead.  My idiot passenger finally became more human, complimenting my skillful maneuver.  We continued on to Queen Anne minus further incident. 

Big Bob at 4 AM!

Buying organic cantaloupes and orange juice at Ballard Market this early Monday morning a town car pulls up and there behind the wheel is my taxi past, Mister Big Bob, an early and loved taxi colleague dating from my independent taxi days when if possible, taxi held a relative innocence missing from today's competitive food chain. If not a mentor, Bob was certainly a good friend, eating early morning meals together at Steve's Broiler or the Joker Day & Night, 24 hour Greek eateries never to be replaced, "old Seattle" at its best.

I walked into the store again with him, catching up on a missing decade.  Bob was part of a world before mandatory association membership, making it possible to make a very good living solely working hotel stands and sporting events.  When less tired I will describe that long-lost world and the characters inhabiting it.  There will only be one Big Bob.  Sometime I will tell you why.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Down A Gallon Of Oil & Just Take The Guy To South Park

One reading these pages recently might take me for a taxi apologist, a myopic cabbie "Rush Limbaugh" railing away at real and imaginary demons.  Those more familiar know I have in the past ripped the taxi industry to the point that the late PSD/Yellow general manager blasted me, threatening me on various levels.  Given the recent attacks upon us locally, I have restrained from criticizing my beloved taxi brethren but Saturday the tick, tick. tick emanating from 478's  motor got my attention.  That tell-tale sound usually means a low engine oil level, and I was right but finding it was down an entire gallon got my attention.  I was shocked.  And who was to blame?  The two fellows sharing 478 during the week failings to do that most elemental of tasks: having the mechanic's check the oil.  Both of the drivers are veteran cabbies and great people but you don't want to destroy the engine.  How could something like this happen?

As I have said, driving taxi is a brutal business, wearing out mind, body, soul, spirit and anything else connected to the human animal,  twelve-hour shifts akin to a boxing prize fight, each hour a round of business fisticuffs, each new surprise a jab to the gut. In other words you get worn down, especially when business is off, fatigue setting in and you either loose perspective or your mind.  There is also the legitimate excuse concerning timing, taxi being everything about time.  The best moments to check the oil is coming off the day shift or beginning the night shift.  Sometimes a driver just doesn't feel like navigating the stream of cabs coming and going which probably explains why 478 was short four quarts of vital oil.  Not a justification, an explanation.  Taxi is a rough business, a punch in the nose, a sock in the eye, a knock in the head.  Makes you dizzy and crazy and everything else you can guess in between. I put in a quart to make it back to the lot.  Can you believe $7.69 for one quart of oil?  Believe it! 

Give The Guy A Ride, Why Don't Ya?

This is a bad story.  I found the young guy in West Seattle still two miles from his destination.  It had taken him three confusing hours to get that far.  How did this happen?  When stepping off the ferry downtown the cab driver refused to take him to South Park, a more or less $25.00 ride and a mere ten minute drive from the Coleman Dock.  Totally unfamiliar with Seattle, he got on the wrong bus, his simple journey going from bad to worse. 

And what caused this was an idiot cabbie who knows nothing about what it means to be a taxi driver.  There are some real reasons why the taxi business is in the shape its in, one very foolish driver a good and very sad example. Once delivered to South Park the guy gave me a ten dollar tip, the passenger a true gentleman.  As the song goes, "when will they ever learn?''  Who the hell knows?

Only one day of training?  Ha Ha Ha!  Thank you City of Seattle and King County!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Serious Erosion & Anatomy Of The Bureaucratic Brain & 05/14/14 TAG Report

Monday a taxi colleague told me how he sat and sat in Ballard last Friday night, beginning at 6:15 PM and waited for the next 1 3/4 hours before getting a call. Driving over to Ballard Avenue, he watched multiple Uber cars dropping and picking up.  What Mike experienced and observed is something I know well, suffering through my two worse connective weekends in memory.  No fun, and from my observation, everyone, Uber, town car, for-hire and taxi drivers are dealing with what I have been saying was inevitable: a saturated marketplace, Saturday night's East Pike (Capitol Hill) bar-break looking like something out of Manhattan, cars jammed everywhere due to a smaller than usual bar-crowd, more folks staying home that night, meaning few fewer passengers available for the number of taxi and quasi-taxis out there working.  In a spontaneous, desperate spasm, drivers poured in from all directions, not understanding that at least this morning Capitol Hill would  not be easy pickings. 

Diagnosing the melee, I headed to the University, instantly picking up a bar employee off to Beacon Hill for $31.00.  Soon thereafter I picked up a woman in West Seattle fleeing a failed date, literally running out of the house signalling me with a flashlight.  Her erstwhile suitor was passed out upon the floor and his uncle was wandering in the house minus clothing.  I got $45.00 including tip for taking her all the way to the Renton Highlands. 

While there is business, and there always will be some, our local business model is seriously eroded, there just not being enough fares for everyone who wants one.  The sad fact is this situation was completely avoidable, a bureaucratic failure of gigantic proportions.  This is what poor management brings you: total chaos.  We are in deep trouble and the verdict remains out.  I am not sure what the final conclusion and outcome will be.  I do wonder if my taxi colleagues in general understand how serious the situation is, that we appear to be literally teetering on disaster's edge.  All I know is that I do not want to face the same business challenges I have the last two weekends.  Misery and complete desolation is not a healthy combination, enough to permanently damage the taxi heart.  Sitting for two hours is too much to bear, no one tough enough weathering that kind of stress.

Analysis of a Bad Situation: the Tainted Gifts of Bureaucratic Mistakes

We in the local taxi industry are up against the wall and our future is bleak.  While understanding better than most the plus and minuses of the local taxi associations, I still place the primary blame upon the regulatory system, which after years of disinterest and mismanagement and outrageous mistakes, have both strangled and financially paralyzed the industry. 

Instead of providing constructive guidance, the City of Seattle and King County have openly obstructed much needed refinement and expansion.  And instead of providing regulatory protection, they have openly ostracized us, opening markets to illegal competitors while inhibiting our ability to respond, obligating fees, licences and rules not required of others. 

In the essay/parody concerning  governmental servants, I jokingly describe the bureaucratic mindset making destructive and befuddling decisions, attempting to demystify with humor what to many must be a puzzling incompetence.  One all important point to remember: liberal does not necessarily translate into progressive policies.  We in the local taxi industry have been clearly blindsided by liberal politicians attempting to serve everyone, mindlessly blowing up the economic dam, engulfing and drowning us in a sea of unnecessary service providers. Our local taxi market cannot sustain 5000 or more individuals all trying to serve a limited number of real and actual customers.   Who would make these kinds of delusional decisions?  No other than a Seattle City council populated by self-perpetuating liberals not interested in knowing our reality from the ground up.  Why really know something when pretending instead is far more entertaining?

And from the taxi perspective, it is impossible to deal with regulators who say they are responsive while simultaneously obstructing thoughtful resolution.  Over 30,000 Mariner fans attended Sunday's baseball game and still official no cab stand at SafeCo field.  And who was sitting at what once passed for a taxi stand?  Two flat rate for-hire drivers. 

That is the bureaucrat's answer to our concerns.  Clearly they do not care, despite all sincere protests to the contrary, the City of Seattle and King County  is selling us down the taxi river.  Consider the following essay an explanation but not an excuse.  The City of Seattle and King County could do much better.  They are simply choosing not to, proscribing and setting the agenda, limiting options and narrowing potential outcomes. It is obvious.  I will repeat myself.  It is obvious what is going on. 

                                              Anatomy of the Bureaucratic Brain

The nominal bureaucrat's cranial circuitry is a smokescreen presenting benign impartiality as official policy, pretense and pantomime its all important tools.  "We are here to serve you.......We are the unprejudiced public servant.......We are the labyrinth you must negotiate.......What do want........?----- Can't you see that there are thousands just like you waiting in line?" 

This seamless contradictory response, a simultaneous acceptance and denial is the bureaucratic acknowledgement that yes, you are entitled and yes, you are a nuisance demanding basic services that theoretically can or will be provided if only you complacently comply and accept what is given even if it isn't what you asked for in the first place!  Protest?  There can be no protests!

Efficiency is the bureaucratic brain, and time is lost asking unnecessary questions that are unanswerable because you are down looking up and we at the top are  ever so busy, busy, busy! processing incoming and outgoing we do not have an appointment for you this century!  But just in case, take a number!

But rest assured, our degrees from the Pinnacle Heights School of Governmental Parenting and the finest training received From Those Who Know More Than You Do enabling us to  make decisions concerning what is culturally and eugenically best for you and all other yous even if the particular you that is you is left behind bereft, homeless and with nothing upon to dine,

please do not for a moment think that the bureaucratic brain is cruel or unkind because this very moment, at their leisure, they are toasting you their unwashed brethren with a glass of vintage blood-red wine!

TAG (Taxi Advisory Group) Quarterly Meeting Wed 05/14/2014

I took the time to go, wanting to ask some questions, and considering the answers, I am glad I did.  What I found interesting is that folks from the City of Seattle and King County, a total of six matched the number from the combined taxi and pubic sectors, equalling of course twelve for what was intended to be a briefing about the city council's bill/ordinance.  Where was everyone else?

When asked about Uber, town car and flat-rate for-hire enforcement, we were told unequivocally that powers (unnamed) from above are stopping the enforcement arm from doing anything.

That the Uber Referendum is now scheduled for November, 2014. 

That Mayor Murray's negotiation with Uber & friends is not going well.  It appears that insurance is the issue.  That a cease & desist order is pending.

I didn't laugh when, asking why the City-only and County-only flat-rate for-hire cars aren't clearly delineated, we were told there are orange and black stickers in the upper front windshields.  That must explain why I have never noticed them in over 4 years.  When I responded why don't have "plates" on the rear, the answer was they didn't want them to look like taxis.  Now that was funny!

Jim, the Farwest general manager complained that three of his cars were cited for burnt out license plate lights.  Considering that Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar have been operating illegally for years, with serious questions about insurance coverage, there seems to be a glaring enforcement imbalance.  As I have been saying, the taxi industry have been completely compliant, obeying all the rules, paying our fees and what to we get?  Of course a big kick in the butt!

Eddie, Jodie Trueblood's replacement, the new head of King County Licensing, also attended yesterday's meeting.  He came over from WA State Liquor Control.  Next posting I will provide his full name and email address.

PS 05/16/14: Eddie Carter is his full name.  Telephone # and other contact info next blog posting.

Friday, May 9, 2014

She's Has Had Enough Of All Things Taxi!

Even for a dunderhead like me, insensitive to subtleties, it got my attention when "she-who-can't-be-named," the very same person who pressured me to start this damn taxi diary in the first place over three years ago, told me this morning she hadn't read this week's posting and never wanted to read my blog again.  And what could have sparked this nasty rebellion?  Simply, she has heard too much about crazy taxi, she just can't take it any more.  Enough is enough!  Nothing ever changing, the madness forever enduring!

And how can I dispute her argument?  It's true, the taxi story repetitious, irritating, boring!  Watching taxi eat me alive for nearly twenty-five years is enough for anyone. She knows taxi first hand, riding with me Holloween 1989 when our cab was attacked by a group of thugs during those literal high times of the infamous crack cocaine wars.  I stepped on the accecerator, the fools leaping out of the way, my attitude being, "you want to kill us, well sorry buddies, it is time to kill you!"  Clearly then she knows crazy taxi inside and out and back inside again.

Despite all denials I do know she will keep reading.  The problem is she cares about me and is more than ready for my final departure from all my minutes and hours and days and years that is insane taxi.  Yeah, I can't wait as the saying goes.  I am not looking forward to my upcoming taxi weekend.  Hey, what's wrong with me!?   Plenty, brothers and sisters, plenty and it all relates back to

                                                        the sweet and sour

                                                        and the many hours

                                                        both good and bad

                                                        that is taxi driving me

                                                        completely MAD! 

Or something to that effect!

And please, don't get me started about the City and County and........................etc!  As you know it is an old story.  And that is precisely the problem, folks.  Again, enough said!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Don't Slice Your Finger Before Beginning Your Shift

Having already learned the lesson of  not driving taxi while suffering from influenza, near delirium upon a New Year's Eve the worse of plans, this week I had a similar repeat performance, driving with my right index finger swathed in gauze.  A mere hour prior to sleep Friday night, while opening a bottle of beer, the lip of the bottle breaking and slicing nearly a half inch of my poor finger off and away.  Instantly confronted with a bleeding mess enjoying a new unimpeded freedom, I stemmed the flow best I could and made it quickly to the closest ER, where my wound was cauterized, or descriptively appropriate, burned to closure. 

No fun and no sleep I began my weekend.  Not to be recommended or repeated.  Taxi is bad enough without adding to the pain and misery, or idiocy.  Heading west off of Beacon Hill down South Lucile Street nearing Airport Way South the bicyclist runs the red light.  Slamming 478's brakes I tell her "to pay attention." "I am," she replies. I respond, "All you  are going to be is dead," implying denial quite pointless and totally beside the point.  Always welcome to taxi as I don't want to know it.

Taxi Revolution On Hold

A couple of weeks ago, internecine conflict stalled our little conspiratorial cabal, meaning at least from us, any and all lawsuits directed toward Uber and friends and/or the City of Seattle, are on hold.  Personally I still have 80 pages left before me, revising and editing my new book a second time, meaning I know where my priorities lie, and I promise you it isn't from the interior of a Crowne Victoria.  How could it be?

And besides, I am not pleased I wasn't invited to the Mayor's Uber Referendum negotiating committee, instead the taxi uninitiated speaking upon subjects they have little knowledge.   Not one lease driver to be seen, veteran or novice.  Or especially someone similar to me, having over 26 years beneath the top light, and still battling it out upon the local byways, knowing  more than he ever wanted to know concerning  the painful subject.   I find it nonsensical.

I also find it both puzzling and disturbing.  Doesn't anyone have any pride, misrepresenting themselves when the stakes for so many are this high, with thousands of livelihoods at risk? 

And who is to blame for this?  Why the taxi industry itself, insistent upon utilizing professional baby sitters and other ersatz taxi expects ready to part fools from their money.  What I find amazing is, after the damage caused by Cooper and Mundy's demand study, that the local taxi folks haven't learned their lesson concerning hired expertise, their misinformation directly fueling the crisis we are facing.   Is the taxi industry suicidal?  I hate to say it, but forced to make an assessment, I would have to say, yes it is, requiring more than a mere 72 hour commitment.  Where are the restraints and padded cells?