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.

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