Monday, June 30, 2014

Be There! Seattle City Council Hearing: Monday 07/0714, 2:00 PM

Whether you like Seattle Mayor Murray, you must respect him as a political animal, someone who understands well the legislative forest, instinctively aware of impending threats.  Unless there is a postponement, the lawsuit questioning the legality of the Uber-sponsored November referendum will see its first trail date this upcoming Thursday July 3rd. 

It is now extremely clear that Murray understands, like we do, that the referendum is a political overstep destined for the judicial dustbin, prompting him to accelerate his TNC advocacy.  Next Monday, at 2:00 PM, per Murray's request, the Seattle City Council will be considering what action to take concerning two new ordinances put forward by the mayor's administration.  One asks the City Council to commit political seppuku, more commonly known as  hari-kari, disemboweling their own bill.  The other is to immediately implement the mayor's mediation agreement of two weeks ago. 

This kind of panic is sending a message, Murray obviously concerned that he about to lose political momentum, allowing those opposed to his policies to gain a perhaps insurmountable advantage. I truly don't think Murray wants to be asked just why he wants nearly 1000 security cameras to be removed from Seattle's and King County's taxi fleet.  The associated questioning might be embarrassing.  Do you really want to endanger thousands of drivers? Or perhaps even more telling, why is it so personally important  to you to take the cameras out of the cabs?   Mr. Mayor, what is your prime motivation for doing this?

Instead he would rather avoid scrutiny and push his agenda through.  Given that this new agreement will destroy our industry, leastwise as we know it, it is clear that we who care about livelihoods must show up in force Monday and display our joint resolve to scuttle Murray's misguided maneuvering.  Please be there next Monday afternoon.  I will be there, I can guarantee you that.  Tell all your taxi colleagues and friend that its a matter of life and death for our industry.  It is essential we tell the City Council that we do not want the TNC's to dominate the local transportation industry.  Cap them and let them compete fairly.  That is what we want.

Like in the Wild West of Old, it is time to circle the taxi wagons.  We are under attack and it almost getting too late to counter the mayor's efforts.  Clearly the mediation period was a orchestrated pantomime.  Please, lift the curtains and let the real performance begin, time for real and constructive conversation.  The mayor knows how to reach us, all of us easily located in his own telephone book, Murray fully knowing who we are.  Just leave a message, your honor, we'll get right back to you, and that you can be assured is a guarantee.

Change At The Taxi Helm

Last week Puget Sound Dispatch, the dispatching arm of Yellow taxi, experienced an old fashioned palace coup, with Tommy K. being quickly replaced by Amin S., better known as the leader of the WAT (wheelchair van) owners.  It was completely unexpected.  One source told me the impetus was needing someone who thoroughly knew the taxi business.  Amin has been driving over 18 years so he obviously understands the business from both a driver and owner perspective.  And given that he was most recently involved in the mayor's mediation group signals some political savvy.  I wish Amin the best.  And Tommy too, who appears to have quickly rebounded, is making new and positive plans.  We in the industry appreciated Tommy's sense of fairness. Good luck, Tommy, good luck!  Thanks for the helping hand.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Seattle's Uber Solution, The Why & How Of The Agreement: Part Two

Before I continue examining the insurance equation, I need to say, as mentioned yesterday, that the agreement presented by Mayor Murray had its prime architects which were more or less responsible for its final design.   Is it too obvious to point out that with different architects----meaning members of the negotiating committee----the outcome would have been vastly altered?  In other words, it would have been a different construction and final building altogether, especially if true and experienced taxi industry representatives had been included.

As recently as yesterday, Mayor Murray was found reporting to members of the King County Council that his agreement was supported and backed by the entire local taxi industry.  Sadly, he knows this isn't true, knowing full well that the lobbyist hired by the taxi associations was speaking for what must be said is a minority viewpoint.  Taking that a step further, it could be said that the lobbyist Don S______doesn't even know true industry outlook and opinion.  Don, while a true gentleman, is, in the clearest definition of a lobbyist, the proverbial "hired gun" working for the next bidder regardless of prior assignments.  His firm's last job?  Lobbying for the big business interests that were against the Tukwila, Washington $15.00 per hour minimum wage campaign.  The professional lobbyist in the purest sense is non-ideological.  While that may be good for the bottom line, it might not be the best approach for future clients, lobbyists too often weathervanes shifting with the wind.

Insurance, continued

During recent weekends I have been observing Uber drivers picking up customers who have been flagging or hailing from the street.  Regardless of the final outcome, Uber, Lyft and Sidecar drivers will only be permitted to pick up prearranged fares.  Since that is true, what it MUST mean is that every customer picked up off  Seattle's streets minus any app-derived appointment is riding in that car completely without insurance coverage, meaning that if in the next moment that Uber car is slammed into, one, there is no liability coverage for either driver or passenger, and two, all legal responsibility falls to the Uber driver, especially if the accident involves an uninsured driver. 

That is what makes this entire mediation agreement so disturbing, allowing a criminal situation to continue unabated.  I know who the majority of Uber drivers in Seattle are.  They are taxi drivers who have brought their own private car onto the road, not understanding the full legal consequences of their decision.  I must add that this attitude is not dissimilar to one associated with their past operation of a taxi, again having little idea concerning legal consequences, just wanting to make a living and nothng beyond that initial thought.   

What should be clear to Seattle's City Attorney's Office, that, provisional period or not, enforcement, meaning the protection of the public, must commence.  I envision a scenario where a Uber-related accident generates a lawsuit against the City of Seattle for failure to protect the public.  What puzzles me is that this clearly is a potential outcome.  Why then is the City of Seattle failing to enforce the law?  It makes no sense.


Training is gutted.  An on-line defensive driving course is proposed.  There is also language about new training systems being developed or allowing the use of existing systems.  There is language about license endorsements but what kind is unclear to me. All language testing will be eliminated. And finally, there will be no dress codes, meaning all future Elvis Presley  impersonators will be welcome.  With these new rules, not only can your future driver look like a "walking thrift store," but he or she needn't understand basic and essential English.  Who came up with this stuff?  Soon I will tell you.

Vehicle Regulation

Vehicle regulation and safety is gutted.  Instead of the City/County having a direct hand in car inspection, safety and all other inspections will be farmed out to approved and certified ASE technicians/mechanics.  While all well in theory, isn't this a bit naive?  Doesn't the City of Seattle understand who they are dealing with?  No!

Another new twist is the elimination of in-vehicle cameras, something that has been keeping drivers safe from assault or worse for years.  It was the in-taxi camera that made the conviction of the kid who murdered the Tukwila cabbie possible.  Too often to remember "real-time criminals" have queried me concerning the camera, wanting to know how it works.  The goal of eliminating this valuable tool is transparent.  By requiring Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to have cameras in their vehicles, their entire current business model would be destroyed.  This is a preemptive action.  If a taxi driver murderer gets away and is never found, so be it.  I view this proposal as both cynical and bloodthirsty.  Who the heck agreed to this?

Top lights are only allowed on taxis.

Personally, the funniest part of the entire agreement are sub-sections 6 & 7 included in the language governing car regulation.  Six specifically addresses United for Hires paint job, with Line 7 saying future for-hire vehicles can not use "known" taxi colors. 

While that is humorous, what comes next isn't, stating that there will be no TNC vehicle cap.  Translated it means that every licensed driver in Seattle and King County of a certain age can buy a new car and contract with Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.  What it means is doing away with driver professionalism and the craft that is taxi driving, introducing instead a new taxi "Wild West" where free-form driving, once criticized, is now sanctioned and embraced.

I guess it is funny that the agreement allows for 200 new taxi licenses over a four-year period while the TNCs can put on a million or more cars.  The only positive is that the new taxi licenses are limited to non-taxi license owners.  In the past they gave out new licenses to everyone, including current taxi-license holders.  Now that didn't make much sense but to those City of Seattle folks it was perfectly okay.

The Ruling Class

The Negotiators:  Mayor Murray and his staff

                            Reps from Uber

                            Sam, from Eastside for Hire, Abdul from CNG for Hire

                            Leonard & Dawn from Teamsters 117

                            Don S., the taxi association lobbyist

                           Amin Shifow, WAT group president 

                           Orange Taxi GM (she dropped out before the final resolution)

                         There could have been others, including folks from various City        
                         departments but those listed were the primary players.

Clearly missing was anyone who is currently driving a taxi.   Why have someone who understands the industry intimately when instead you can have well meaning folks like Don S. and the Teamsters, thus justifying Seattle's position that the taxi industry was thoroughly represented.  Without knowledgeable and dissenting voices, Uber's position was rubber-stamped despite the inherent problems connected with doing that. The flat-rate for-hires got everything they possibly wanted, knowing full well that no one has or will stop them from encroaching upon taxi stands. 

The mayor's goal entering this negotiation was the essential deregulation of the taxi industry, not caring if Yellow, Orange, Farwest, and Northend disappeared from the transportation planet.  He stated this when he made his announcement and he should be lauded for his honesty.  He doesn't like us and isn't concerned about what happens to the drivers and their families.  His priorities lie elsewhere.  For the reasons why, you will have to ask him for yourself. Anything I could say would be guesswork and speculation.

As for our taxi lobbyist, his mission was little more than limiting the damage, knowing the war was already lost.  His goal, unlike what mine would have been, was not victory.  A real fight from the taxi industry meant making a large financial commitment without any guarantee of a win or even a draw.  While the taxi industry didn't completely capitulate, it didn't battle forcefully.  The Orange GM, while a great person, was over-matched.  The Teamsters unfortunately tried simultaneously to please too many opposing factions, thus diluting any real effectiveness.  What was needed, and what the City had no interest in having, was a strong industry voice backed by both owners and drivers.  Maybe in any future negotiations, that person will emerge.  What will happen next is any ones guess, with the regulatory ball in the City Council's court.  As always stay tuned.  I hope I have provided some necessary and helpful clarification, guiding you through the bureaucratic maze.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mayor Murray's Uber Solution, Municipal Comedy: An Analysis---Part One

Having now read and examined Mayor Murray's Taxi/For-Hire/TNC Mediation agreement, I have been fighting off astonishment, completely taken aback by a document that, while intended to be a final and healing resolution, fails, by all usual commonplace and known standards, to reach sensible compromise.  How a document this flawed was released for public discussion baffles me. 

I see my task as twofold, one to explain the agreement's components, the other to offer an understanding of how the document came into being.  My intention is to both be fair and precise minus unhelpful and empty rhetoric.  Rancor is easy but apperception, understanding new ideas and the consciousness behind decisions is a whole another story.  This examination is just that, an attempt at deciphering, bringing the back story into the forefront, making the confounding accessible.

Before examining individuals parts, I first have to question, given that the entire matter seemed to center around ride-share or TNC regulatory compliance, why were others parties, taxi etc, included in the first place?  It was the TNC companies and no one else who sponsored the now November 2014 referendum.  While the taxi industry hold their own interests, this argument was between Uber, Lyft and Sidecar and the City of  Seattle.  Not only was the inclusion of taxi and flat-rate for-hire issues not necessary, it was nonsensical to have them involved with this particular discussion.

From what I understand concerning this preliminary and yet non-binding agreement, it attempts to answer too many questions simultaneously, a reshuffling of the regulatory deck.  Need I point out that City Hall is not a casino and the issues faced not a poker game.  The issue was and remains basic.

 Uber, Lyft and Sidecar blatantly entered a business sector that is regulated on a municipal, county and state level, and probably in the case of some European countries, nationally, the TNCs disregarding standard and well-founded laws, rules and regulations governing taxis.  It was, and never has been, an issue of technology.  Instead it has been a question of rule of law, and why the TNC companies felt exempt. 

The efficiency of the entire taxi industry, one way or other, is a completely separate issue, one that needs to be examined.  But mixing the industries up, as I said, like a deck of playing cards, seeing who is dealt the aces, the winning hand, is something directly akin to something out of Lewis Carroll, surprising to me that the "Mad Hatter" and the "March Hare weren't invited to the party but given the results, perhaps they were there after all, only in some new and modern disguise, sipping some variety of mushroom tea.

Now a quick breakdown of some key agreement components:

Accessible Service

A 10 cents surcharge on all taxi, for-hire and TNC rides, designed to supplement the 40 WAT (wheelchair) vans currently operating, has been proposed.  What a sweet deal this is!  One, it gives the TNC companies the legal permission to not have to offer wheelchair service while providing WAT owners a free (under current estimates) $20.000 dollars per year to assist their operation.  What Mayor Murray and friends missed is that every taxi owner in the city will now convert their cabs to WAT vans, understanding that it is now a taxi Christmas beneath the municipal evergreen.  I thought I heard carols emanating from 5th & Marion!  Now I know why.

Adding to this fantastical quality, is that Uber, given their WAT exemption, will tell their favorite taxi company when someone has requested an accessible ride, the kind of service the taxi association MUST provide but not the TNCs.  One must ask, how did they come up with this agreement?

The long and short of it is that I must pay out of my pocket so the TNCs can avoid what is legally required of taxi companies.  I highly doubt that anyone, other than the WAT owners of course, would agree to this.


Another startling proposal is the creation of wht appears to be a new two-tiered rate system.  What Murray's agreement says is that ALL app arranged and generated fares from TNCs, taxis and flat-rate for-hires will be subject to variable pricing, meaning higher rates will now be permissible whenever the companies feel it is in their operational interest.  In short, just because you used your smart phone app  your  fare could be higher.  But if you use that same telephone to call the taxi company your fare will be or could be cheaper.  Huh?

Another part of this is that flat-rate for-hire cars will have full hailing rights but not able to sit on taxi stands.  Also ten new taxi stands are also proposed. 


This has been the contentious issue all along, the TNCs seemingly not interested in ensuring that their passengers are protected in case of accidents.  For me, this is the scariest part of the agreement because it appears to let the TNCs operate with unrevealed and unknown insurance coverage.  This is how I understand the agreement:

During what is termed a provisional period, insurance requirements of, $100,000, $300,000, & $25,000 liability coverage will be required. Understand, this is part of the provisional period.  What coverage the Uber, Lyft and Sidecar currently have, as I have stated, appear to be unknown.

This provisional period will begin once an agreement is reached----ratified by the Seattle City Council----and ends on the effective date of State insurance law changes; or two weeks after the end of the 2015 legislative session, which in an odd-numbered year runs a total of 105 days which I don't think includes weekends.  At the conclusion of the provisional period, ALL operators must comply with State law. 

In terms of public safety, this all seems fairly suspect.  Given initial City Council response, this agreement appears to have little chance of becoming law.  What this appears to do is leave the current insurance question unanswered.  The question is simple. 

If someone, say tomorrow or any time in the near future is seriously injured while riding in a TNC car, what will be their ultimate fate?   Will their hospital and rehabilitation bills be paid?  Right now it appears it be unknown.  How can that be reasonable, and legal?   Part two tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Local Taxi Universe & The Mayor Makes An Announcement

While more than ready to leave taxi driving behind, I readily recognize that my two weekend taxi days is a whirling compact world unique in its connection to humanity at large.  In my experience there is nothing matching taxi's quick and condensed intimacy.  Though physically fatigued after the too many hours, a part of me always retains something of great value taken from talking and laughing and getting irritated with over a hundred fellow souls sharing the mystery that is our existence.  Today I am sharing a few snapshots from the human river streaming through my taxi this past weekend, locals and tourists and travelers entering my life, forming indelible and unforgettable memories upon my sometimes agitated brain.

----First fare of the weekend, picking up two guys at the northern end of Boeing Field working an early Saturday morning that just won't end for them.   A closed runway meant the jet they were servicing landed instead at Sea-Tac.  Taking them to a part of the airport I was unfamiliar with, Starling Road, I dropped them off at the Weyerhauser hanger.  The fare was $33.00 and since they were "on the job" I ran their card for the straight fare, costing me $5.00 dollars because Larry had intended to tip me, my sensibility a slight and unnecessary over reaction.  I hate pickpocketing myself!

----Next fare originated from the only remaining Denny's within Seattle, this really nice guy from Brooklyn, NY going to Columbia City.  We had a real "meeting" of the minds, talking about Seattle as it "really is," comparing our experiences as people who have met blatant prejudice.  Terrific ride!

----This made the second time I took the machinist to his early morning job at a South Park machine shop.  Originally from West Africa, the gentleman this time around was far more relaxed, now being on the job for a couple of months now, taking off the economic pressure he was under.  Saturday means double over time translating to now affording his once a week necessary taxi ride.  Given new weekend bus scheduling he was left with no alternative if he was going to be there at 7 AM.  For five years he had his own machine shop aboard an Alaska-based fish processing ship.  New owners and lower pay made him seek other opportunities.

----Picking her up at the VA hospital, she was flying back to Spokane while her husband endured a five hour ambulance ride back home.  Having part of his leg amputated meant he could not board an airplane.  She would beat him back and be waiting for his arrival.  She only had praises for the care he received from the VA system.

----I love Lynn!  Am I the only Seattle taxi driver who knows that she takes a cab each Saturday morning  from the NE 145 th & 15th NE QFC to her Seward Park home, a fat $50.00 dollar grocery run?  Arriving at her door, she was greeted as usual by her "wolf" dog who doesn't look like any "canis lupus" I have seen, the pooch shaking her favorite toy, a large stuffed animal.

----Afraid she will be late for her softball tournament, she goes from 39th South & South Kenny to a play field in Burien not far from the Highline Hospital.  I change my suggested routing, finally deciding 1-5 south-bound to west-bound State Route 518 was best.  Turning the meter off when we reached South 148th, we continued on to South 156th and 4th Avenue South,  the young woman paying me the full meter rate anyway, which was about $35.00.  No complaints about that!

----More than one driver has complained to me about the short fares coming out of Horizon House, folks usually going to either the symphony or the opera. Not this time as the couple went north all the way to Edmonds and the Nile golf course and country club.  The gentleman called me back later to pick him up but at that juncture I was about 20 miles south.  Hope he didn't have a long wait.

----Picking the mother and daughter up at Children's Hospital they complained that they had missed their flight home to Alaska because a rival cab company failed to pick them up despite being called three hours in advance.  Children's paid for their way back to the Nexus Hotel where they would try again on Sunday.  It appears ________'s drivers don't like this particular account, Alaska Medicaid paying for the taxi to Sea-Tac.  I told Yellow we should grab the account.  I for one would jump right on it, not caring how I get paid as long as I do.  So what if I'm nicked three percent for the charge.  I don't care!

----"They didn't do anything for me!" he complained when I picked him up at Harborview.  "You would think they would have someone there who could pull out a tooth!" the man furious that all they offered him was five pain pills.  He worried over how he would find a dentist on Sunday to pull out his swollen tooth.

----Bar break and the two guys take me to Kirkland, one very talkative while the other drunkenly comatose.  Between checking on his friend we talk about the worst employer I have ever had, Fairfax Psychiatric Hospital, that "not-so-fine" medical facility just down from where I am dropping them off.  A sixteen year-old neighbor has spent time there.  He has heard the horror stories.  Thankful for the last good fare of the night and pleased no one vomited I pull over to the side for a quick nap.  Two hours later I awaken, a slightly longer than expected catnap.

----First ride of the new day, now showered and more or less ready to go I pick up Roger at North 120th & Greenwood Avenue North at 10 AM, Roger having overslept his alarm.  Time he is supposed to be at  his cooking job across from SafeCo Field?  10:00 O'clock!  We make it at 10:15 AM.  Two weeks to go and he will have graduated from culinary school.  He is an optimistic soul!

----A few minutes after Roger I pick up a Sacramento, California dentist and wife heading to the airport.  The entire way he leans forward between the seats peppering me with questions and comments, the dentist a late Sunday morning comedian.  I tell him I like the Yuba River.  They have a place on the American River.  Between Roger and the California-bound couple I have a $84.00 hour.  Not bad when you are still trying to wake up!

----The family from Kentucky had been on the train from Louisville for two and one-half days.  First time in Seattle and the Pacific NW.  I rattled off a few suggestions for the first time visitor.  Staying for the entire week, Lou said he might call me next Saturday morning to take them to Sea-Tac.  I told them I will out there, willing, able and ready.  I wouldn't mind hearing about their adventures.

----Later in the afternoon I notice a fare in Zone 120 sitting on the BID screen.  I bid for the fare and suddenly I am flying north from DT picking up a Washington State Patrol call, an accident scene at about south-bound 1-5 & NE 70th Street.  Proceeding north to Northgate I swing around again to 1-5, pulling over to a short line of wrecked cars.  Swiftly I load the young woman's bag and off to Sea-Tac we go, the PHD candidate in Anthropology headed back to London and Oxford.  She hopes to get into some "literature" this summer and visit Hadrian's Wall.  Her mother was right about leaving early, no one expecting to be hit from behind.  I told her there was nothing more important than anthropology, understanding what makes societies and cultures tick!

----Another run from the train station, this time an older couple from Florida going to an University District bed & breakfast located on 22nd Avenue NE.  A tricky location on a dark and rainy night.  I was glad they didn't get a Sunday night-shift rookie.  It could have turned into a very painful and prolonged ride, the last thing these folks required.  Saying I would take their luggage up the steep staircase, by the time I finished the credit card transaction the husband had sprinted up and down with all of their bags.  Very nice people.  They were just great!

----I always hate gas station calls because more often than not they are gone by the time I arrive. This one, an adjacent Zone 498 call belled from the 505 gave me the AM/PM Arco station at South 154th Street and Pacific Highway South.  Turning around and racing back south first on Highway 509, then east onto Hwy 518 I finally arrive to find three young Ethiopian guys wanting to go to the Blue Nile Bar at about 12th Avenue & East Jefferson Street.  Making all of them sit in the back seat, I softened my stance by letting one of them smoke a cigarette, "Just sit by an open window is all I ask."  They were very animated and asked lots of questions.  They knew Abebe, my colleague at Yellow.  Getting close to the James Street exit, I turned off the meter and told them "thirty was okay!"  Exiting at the Blue Nile they gave me $40.00 dollars despite my protests.  I liked them a lot.  They were a pleasure to have in the cab.

----Much later, having had a good day, and now stuffed to the taxi gills with Chinese food, I head north to gas up 478 and hunt for one or two last fares.  Picking up J_______ at a north end hospital, a slightly crazed and developmentally impacted young man who couldn't stop laughing, I tell him I was glad he was in such a good mood. 

After him I get one final passenger going from the Holman Road QFC to North 135th & Linden Avenue North.  Trying to provide me with instructions he had never heard of 3rd Ave Northwest.  Like my previous customer all I could to was laugh, crazy taxi finally overwhelming me.  I was ready to STOP!

There you have it, 18 quick examples of another whirlwind weekend, mental photographs from a grueling two days.  Today I slept 12 hours.  You might say I sort of needed it, a warm bed a cabbie's best friend!

The Seattle Mayor & Uber: What Is Going On?

Yesterday Mayor Ed Murray held a press conference flanked by the negotiation participants.  When I know the full details I will tell you but one major point made by his own press release grabbed my attention.  Even after 12 days of negotiations over a span of 55 days they still haven't agreed to what kind of insurance requirements the ride-shares (TNCs) will be required and meeting.  What that unfortunately means is that the TNC insurance situation remains the same, leaving their customers at risk in case of an accident.  Why the mayor's office didn't immediately mandate a clear insurance requirement and guarantee mysteries me, the City of Seattle not appearing to understand they are continuing to endanger anyone unwise enough to utilize Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. 

Something else catching my attention was Murray's quote, "We have deregulated a highly regulated monopoly."   The implications of this statement are many.  It at least insinuates that we in the industry have conspired to dominate and control local transportation infrastructure. Nothing could be further from truth and reality.  Murray's statement simply ignores relevant history.  Everyone knows, or should know it was the City of Seattle itself who re-regulated the taxi industry in I believe 1985.  And it was the City of Seattle who forced all of the one-car independent companies to either form or join large taxi associations, thus creating----in the mayor's mind----the very so-called monopolies he criticized and disparaged yesterday afternoon.  If you are going to make pronouncements, at the very least they should hopefully contain some small parts accuracy and veracity. Misstatements like this only create further mistrust, making an already difficult situation even harder and more complex to unravel.

Where this negotiation ultimately takes us remains unclear.  July 3rd, 2014 is the first scheduled court date concerning the Uber referendum challenge.  Will Uber and their lawyers be there?  What Mayor Murray doesn't appear to understand is that the ride-share model is an illegal business model ignoring well established and verified business practices.  What Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are attempting to do is take us back over 100 years or more to a time when consumer protection was essentially nonexistent.  The question for Mayor Murray is a serious one. 

Why is this great so-called Liberal trying to take us back to a disreputable regulatory era dominated by true business monopolies?  Anybody remember Standard Oil of California?   The real monopoly appear to be represented by companies like Uber and their 17 billion dollar valuation.  I ask everyone to begin reading between and lines and start listening for what Seattle's mayor is really saying.  I personally think I might be hearing the jingling of coins.  Who the heck knows what is truly happening?  It is all very confusing.  I ask you, what are you hearing, what do you think is going on?  I am afraid of the answer.  Stay tuned is all I can say.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Promoting Lawlessness: A New Municipal Permission?

Last week of course the Seattle-area suffered through the senseless Seattle Pacific University campus shooting, yet another in a string of national school-related, gun connected tragedies.  Given my past-professional background, I was keenly interested when I heard that the shooter, when attempting to commit himself, was deemed sane by yet another group of inept local mental health professionals.  You may not know or understand that many recent involuntary,----or as in this case, voluntary,--- commitment denials are part of a new fiscal restraint dictating who is or isn't committed for psychiatric observation.  The incident I described a few weeks back was exactly that, the MHP counting pennies regardless of the obvious, deciding to send someone home when clearly professional intervention was warranted and necessary. 

A photograph published in the Seattle Times this weekend displayed the Seattle Pacific President and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray engaged in serious reflection.  While clearly someone firing a shotgun at defenseless students is beyond acceptability, I couldn't help thinking about the economic violence  perpetuated against the taxi industry.  When, if ever will the kind of concern shown by the mayor be transferred to us, the long-suffering taxi business owners?  What he and the city council don't recognize is that their three-plus year tolerance of renegade taxi-like services has created a new municipal attitude condoning lawless behavior: it is  perfectly okay to do anything you want, to victimize the general citizenry. 

I can hear the protests now but I for one will not take them seriously.  Selective enforcement, the cherry-picking of what is acceptable or not, is both insincere and disingenuous.  Gunning folks down in the street cannot be tolerated but the dismembering of a regulated and legally compliant industry appears to be completely okay.  The question will always be why, why is the destruction and demonetization of an entire industry reasonable?  Some will comment that what I am saying is both far-fetched and outrageous but my response will always be, you are not the ones being victimized.  How can you know, especially if you are the aggressor or the one setting the rules?  

What I am requesting is that those in charge, the mayor, the council members, the City Attorney's office, recognize that a multiple-tiered version of justice isn't equitable.  Fairness must be part of all dialogue.  What has occurred, and is ongoing, cannot be described as fair.  A new approach is required, one that includes a real and comprehensive understanding of my oft-maligned industry.  If the patient is ill, let us instead find a cure.  The remedies now being discussed are fatal.

Again, how is that justifiable?  I just don't see why we must be interred in an unmarked grave.  Whatever our alleged crimes might be, none of them warrant a death sentence. Instead it is time for understanding and comprehensive reexamination.  Time to let the patient live and strive.  There is no other answer.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Seattle Mayor Posing As Santa Claus?: Whispers From Uber Negotiations

Alarming, given what my sources have told me, concerning what is going on and being discussed during ongoing negotiations between Uber and other interested parties. As I have noted previously, there are no active taxi drivers on the committee, meaning we have been completely shut out.  Hired lobbyists and Union reps should not be doing our talking.  They do not speak "taxi," that difficult and sometimes indecipherable language. Some major points upon the bargaining table:

The flat rate for hire industry will be given equal status to taxi cabs, meaning they will have all on-street privileges, including sitting on our stands.

All taxi-owner leased City of Seattle taxi licenses will become "real property" medallions.

300 new taxi licenses---soon to be medallions----will be released, this a change from the originally mentioned 200.

No limit on rideshare (TNC) cars.  This is nothing new given the cap was never a hard cap, allowing unlimited TNC companies to be created.

Understand that all I have just reported should be considered rumor until confirmed.  What appears to be happening is that Mayor Murray is attempting to placate everyone.
Don't be fooled is all I can say.  What they are doing is a complete de-facto deregulation of Seattle's taxi industry.  That is what is going on and nothing else.  Do you really want to be saddled with all the inherent expenses of taxi ownership and not be able to pay your bills?  Be forewarned before you sign on to something you will truly regret.

Pete Holmes in Denver, Colorado

A taxi colleague working Denver's streets sent me a photograph of Seattle's City Attorney's business card.  He quotes Mister Holmes as saying Seattle enforcement will be starting soon.  I certainly hope that is true, perhaps implying or hinting there is a serious division between the various parts of City government on what to do concerning Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.

Miami and Dade County are now impounding Lyft cars.  Nothing, and I repeat nothing has ever prevented Seattle and King County from doing the same.  And Mister Holmes might be astonished at my network of taxi spies!  Watch out as we are out there, our own modest version of the Federal NSA!  Obama would be proud.  God! maybe one day, just like the Seahawks, we will be invited to the Whitehouse.  Of course it will have to be repainted Yellow on that special day.  I can't wait!  I would even take my once yearly shower.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Good & Bad & Indifference

The Good:

Business over the weekends has picked up over the past three weeks, making up for a down period.  Good weather plus robust business facilitated by the nearly 14 to 15 thousand cruise ship passengers coming and going from the boats each Friday, Saturday and Sunday frees the city from any short-term economic stagnation.  A James Taylor concert, a Sounder's game and two Mariner home victories over the Detroit Tigers all added to a busy mix.

Most of my business this weekend was not centered near or around downtown, always a good indicator when outlying neighborhoods are producing lots of business, two of my airport runs originating from the greater Greenwood neighborhood, with another coming from the deep Maple Leaf.  On Saturday I even got a fare from Normandy Park to Southcenter.  In other words I was picking up fares from all over the taxi map, with a Sunday grocery run from the Des Moines Thriftway going all the way to Columbia City, a very reasonable $24.00 taking the ice cream home. 

As often occurs, the cruise ship action loosens up the business dynamic, making for more available bells.  My one experience this weekend, and first occasion this year working the boats resulted in taking two European crew members down to DT Macy's, for $12.00 and no tip.  Working Pier 91 is always a gamble in terms of time versus gain, making me glad most drivers view the ships as floating geese laying taxi golden eggs.  Unfortunately for me too often  my eggs have been rotten, making me hold my nose.  Unless something changes I will be doing my taxi fishing elsewhere, looking for bigger fish in smaller ponds.

This weekend YC 478 surpassed 390,000 miles.  The Ford Crowne Victorias are amazing cars.  My only compliant is that the trunk latch is sticking.  Hey, you too would be a trifle arthritic after walking the equivalent 400,000 miles.  Though still running well, and remaining agile as demonstrated  by last weekend's life saving maneuver, this particular Crowne Vic is due to be retired within the next couple weeks.  Thanks for the terrific miles, this weekend adding up to 700 more or less.  I appreciate all those safe miles!

The Bad:

When a passenger calls for a taxi they don't care whether they are at home or a grocery store or at Seattle's train station for the very first time.  They don't know about "bingo" bells or grocery runs or the Amtrak station address.  All they know is that they need a taxi and don't understand when factors beyond their control and understanding hinders or prevents them from getting a ride home or to their daughter's house. Disorganization and old-fashioned stupidity irritates me.  I will leave it at that.

Taxi can do a lot better and given our current business climate we have no choice.  Yellow and Farwest's new dispatch system will be up by mid-summer.  I am looking forward to a new efficiency. Our customers deserve the best we can deliver.  We are the transportation specialists and ultimately far superior to our competitors.  By the end of this summer I know who will be on top and who will be languishing in the basement.  Time to blast some taxi home runs and win the game.  We have the bats to do it and I know we will.  I am confident.

And the Indifference:

About a month ago I had nearly convinced myself to join the taxi union affiliated with Teamsters Local 117.  Why not, I kept asking myself?  Well now I know beyond a doubt why it wasn't and isn't a good idea.  Last week it was announced that Teamsters Local 117 was now representing a group of over two hundred disgruntled Uber drivers, clearly spelling out Teamster priority.  They are not interested in addressing and protecting taxi interests.  Teamster priority instead is representing ANYONE who comes knocking upon their door.  I hate to think who else they will be signing up next.  Perhaps some wounded billionaires will be next seeking sympathy and comfort.  Could you imagine their monthly dues?  

Doesn't Local 117 understand that it was the City of Seattle who created this mess by allowing entry into a closed and regulated market, first by introducing the flat rate for-hires and then compounding the situation by not enforcing the laws Uber, Sidecar and Lyft were breaking.  Representing the Uber driver only adds further validation. How can we in the taxi industry support that?  We can't and we don't, the Teamsters insulting the very Sea-Tac taxi owners who signed up for union affiliation.  If this new Uber Union isn't a knife in the taxi back, then what is it?   This is why I will not be joining the union.  I see it as suicidal.  What else could it be?