Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Taxi Cartoonville But Why Am I Not Laughing?

Down south in Arcata, California "she-who-can't-be-named" assists Dave who assigns all blame upon "the goons," they somehow responsible when he loses his wallet or having his car stolen after leaving it unlocked and the keys left unattended in the ignition.  The goons, the goons, it is always the goon's fault, and maybe it is but perhaps not, given how easy it is blaming metaphysical or other mysterious influences instead of taking personal responsibility for ones' own incompetence. 

Now I have never heard anyone in the local taxi industry mentioning "goons" but rare is the time anyone has said, "I take full responsibility!" for anything.  Contrarily moderate to mild bedlam reigns, with few attempting to transform chaos to operational tranquility. Why I can't tell you but I am beginning to suspect neurological or cognitive damage stemming from unrelenting stress and disorder.  While the 18th century colloquial term "mad-as-a-hatter" stems from using mercury when producing "felt" for hats derived from beaver and rabbit pelts, everyone knows that taxi drivers are insane, hence the usage, just another "crazy cabbie" which, as we in the business know too well, is sadly too often true. 

Some recent events unfortunately back this contention, all of us toxic from the many years breathing in gasoline, diesel and other related fumes and toxins.  On too many occasions passengers exclaim "that you don't look a day over forty!", prompting my joking response that what they are seeing is a kind "Botox" effect isolated to the taxi.  Now for some recent behavioral examples of taxi behavior better left to the comic pages.  Maybe one day they will come illustrated and the entire nation can join in on the screaming and shouting.

-----Monday, while on the way to the main Yellow taxi lot, the head of PSD/BYGs Sea-Tac operations had his van sideswiped by none other than a Sea-Tac Yellow taxi.  "Unbelievable!" was the response from a long-time taxi superintendent. 

-----As part of a new feature of PSD's new computer system, info announcing a fare's availability has been sent to the entire fleet, hoping someone would get close to the call.  What did happen was a small army of taxis converging upon, let's say, the 700 block of Broadway East, honking their horns and in general causing a ruckus.  There has now been a policy change in response.

-----Many readers know that Seattle and King County cabbies are independent contractors, or in other words, independent business owners.  This known fact makes it all the puzzling, when, beginning next week, PSD says it is planning, similar to Uber, to electronically rate driver performance and punish driver's with "system time-outs" if an offered call is rejected. 

The one major problem with this approach is that the driver and owner is "paying" for the dispatch services, which translated means they are being asked to finance their own punishment.  How is this in any manner conceivable?   I don't think it is something that can be done.  While understanding PSD/BYG frustration with certain behaviors, one would think their response should be within the limits of known legal parameters and beyond challenge.  This appears to be an approach that will be questioned.

While some of this might or could generate a chuckle, isn't the joke truly on us in the taxi industry?  We should be the last ones laughing because if you think any of this is funny then it is truly time to schedule your neurological/psychological testing.  I think it could be necessary.


  1. Joe;

    So if understand this correctly, they are planning to roll out the ratings system, but leave most of the other problems in place?

    I must say, in light of the rollout and implementation of this system, in addition to the clear lack of planning behind it, as well as the huge dropoff of business we have all experienced as "independent contractors" (now there is a joke), in addition to them still wanting to collect a full lease fee for a system that has literally cost EVERYONE business, well, I have to say, at least there is some irony and humor to be found in their response to the situation!

    In other words, lets make a bad situation even worse by making people pay for a service that has literally cost people their income and then, on top of that, rate them for their losses!

    Makes sense to me.

    Then again, I hope you understand that there are problems that cannot be worked out and will never be worked out.

    For example, there is a massive difference between a Zoned setup and a GPS driven one with a floating 1 mile radius. People have already seen instances of corruption (in the form of call takers forwarding select calls) because of a lack of transparency.

    Furthermore, by adapting an Uber like setup, while not adapting their overall business model (lease based versus fee based), well, what can one say?

    Which is my way of saying that even though we have already entered the “slow” period, the amount of damage they have already done to our base business is so huge that many night drivers can no longer make enough to even cover their lease payments from Monday thru Thursday. Can you image staying out all night and not making enough to cover your operating expenses and yet this is happening as we speak! Literally, many have fallen behind in their payments (or have been giving themselves discounts in response to this loss of business) and yet, even with these losses, they now want to implement a ratings system?

    I mean talk about a disconnect and irony!

    Think about it Joe.

    Their new system has literally caused everyone's business to fall off a cliff, but they still want you to pay the full lease. Then, because of the limits of the system (and there are going to be limits), they want to further destroy what little business you have left by implementing a “subjective” ratings system?

    I wonder if they have even thought about the overall concept of this kind of ratings system?

    For example, part of Uber's rating threshold is also built around the shape of a vehicle at any given moment. So lets say your vehicle is in a complete state of disrepair (which applies to most of the fleet). Now, we are also going to be responsible for the shape of THEIR car as well?

    Again, talk about another disconnect and irony!

    Look, if this is how they want to do things, then there is nothing any of us can say to them!

    Nor is this about legalities and what you think your status is.

    This is about your ability to survive and how YOUR business has been directly hurt by what they have done and how your business will continue to see a decline as a result of this.

    Or adapting Uber methodologies while not addressing the shortcomings of the system, fleet and/or disparities of the business you have lost versus the lease payment they are expecting you to make?

    Hell, at least with Uber (and assuming you have a paid off vehicle, which many former drivers do not – keep in mind that many took out car loans to work for both UberX and Lyft), IF you are having a slow night, you can, at least, call it quits without any up front costs.

    Here, you cannot and even with the system costing you income, you still are still expected to pay the full lease!

    Talk about a recipe for disaster on all fronts!

    Something has to give!

  2. As a followup to my previous comment, it does appear that during that meeting (as told to me by several who did attend), that they did indeed play hardball and took NO responsibility for the loss of business!

    Not only will they not make all of the changes that are being ask of them (the comment "Learn to live with it" was repeated over and over by those who attended), they are going to implement a Ratings System that will incorporate Rejected calls!


    Now that they have now reincorporated calls like hotels and the Ferry as part of their dispatch methodology, in addition to other calls that will likely have NO money at the end of a call (things like bar calls are especially irksome), to sending you to calls that are far outside of where you are at any given moment, they will also RATE you for rejecting these calls and then kick you off the system for 15 minutes and this penalty ratio will increase if you reject additional calls.

    I mean talk a disconnect from the reality of how one is trying to make a living in this business!

    So, you can now be on 4th Avenue South in SODO and get a call to go to the Safeway on Rainier in Columbia City. You look on the system and supposedly there are others that are closer than you, but you still get the call. You Reject it because it will be a 20 minute drive from where you are to that Safeway during rush hour and worse, due to the travel time and nature of that call, well, THIS IS THE REASON WHY YOU ARE REJECTING IT!

    Of course, asking yourself why they are sending you a call like that is meaningless, because, after all, we must learn to live with it, even if you are making no money from it!

    And never mind the wrong addresses and never mind the wrong phone numbers. IF YOU REJECT IT, YOU ARE DOCKED!

    And, of course, even if this effects your ability to make a living (after all, who doesn't want to drive for more than 20 minutes in order to take a call that MAY yield a few dollars, assuming they will still be there when you arrive), you will be RATED on it either way and still docked for it!

    So dwelling on the legal status of you being an “independent contractor” is the least of your worries, because, in the final analysis, in their mind, this will make them more like Uber and Lyft, only without having the functionality and pre-billing capabilities of Uber and Lyft! For example, if a person books a trip from the Monaco and a driver is dispatched, within their system, it is much easier to cancel a trip, assuming the customer wants to cancel. Next, because everything is automated, the customer is billed once the driver arrives and this fare is billed to the driver's account.

    BUT, our system will work on a completely different metric for that very same hotel call. Since you are now going to be penalized for that rejection, you are now being FORCED to take it and since it is at the Monaco, a concierge is going to try and hail the first passing cab either way. You get there and wallah, NO CUSTOMER!

    Same thing with the ferry and same thing with the wrong addresses and phone numbers.

    You will be rated on calls you would logically reject because 99 times out of a 100, no one will be there when you arrive.

    No relationship to the time you have wasted. No relationship to the money you have just lost because you have wasted your time trying to preserve a rating!

    In other words, they are taking a very bad situation and making it worse, while disconnecting themselves from the damage it is doing to everyone's bottom line, including their own bottom line!

    Yes, there are drivers that are irresponsible and drivers that give us a bad name, BUT, this exists outside of this kind of metric and when you deploy a Ratings System like this, well, you tell me what they hope to achieve?

    Drivers and single owners that are operating outside the confines of the airport (especially those who are exclusively operating in the county) are asking themselves WHY?

    It is a fair question. WHY?????

    Maybe you have an answer Joe.