Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Greetings From San Francisco's Glen Park/Silk Road Library: SB 5550 & Other Taxi Tidbits

A low airfare offer prompted me to detour south for a couple days to my favorite West Coast city and visit its wonderful de Young Art museum once again.  I will also be talking to an old friend about my political ad agency scheme.  Reading "This Town" by Mark Leibovich, a non-fictional examination of Washington DC's assorted political bigwigs and characters and "hanger-ons" tells me that my interest in getting more deeply involved is warranted.  I can't recommend the book more highly.  You may want to keep some smelling salts handy.  While entertaining, Leibovich's book is also simultaneously nauseating.  Ah yes, human behavior again at its worse. 

Glen Park is my old San Francisco neighborhood, having lived here when rent was cheap (our flat was $300.00 monthly) way back in 1979-82.  The Glen Park Library is also where the Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht conducted his illicit on-line drug business until the FBI took him away.  Who knows but I could be seated at the very desk that Ulbricht sat enabling the world at large to get high if not mighty.  Last week in Seattle I saw a young man wearing a Silk Road emblazoned jacket.  I wondered if he knew that his hero is now in a Federal jail?  Me, I could care less about such things, not having even a sip of alcohol for over a month, having more important matters on my mind, like good, old taxi and how it continues to be shafted.  Now that is important.

In yesterday's  (Monday 02/23/2015) edition, the Seattle Times editorial page featured an opinion entitled "State Should Regulate Ride Services," a pro TNC (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar) piece endorsing the Washington State Senate bill SB5550 sponsored by WA State Senator Cryus Habib, D-Kirkland.  What SB5550 proposes is a transfer of regulatory authority from the municipal to the State, giving them more freedom than they already enjoy.

What the Seattle Times editorial fails to say is that, 1) Habib's bill was DOA, and 2) the Seattle Times editorial is an attempt for a Lazarus-like resurrection and, 3) SB5550 has been rewritten by a taxi industry representative to make it more digestible, and that, 4)  the new rewrite was an attempt to once again  sidestep those somewhat questionable friends of the taxi industry, Teamsters 117.  Time will tell if the Seattle Times effort comes to fruition and propels SB5550 into becoming finished law. My opinion is that literally no one understands what trouble the administrators in Seattle caused for all concerned.  Heaven please save us from the blindly theoretical!

If I wasn't so thoroughly personally impacted by Uber and its ilk, I would find all this hoopla over a fairly minor technological application sadly amusing.  All Uber is is nothing but a disassociated dispatch service and little else.  Does it make the pubic safer? No.  Does it save the pubic money?  Only occasionally as its infamous price surges attest.  Does it improve customer response time?  Again, only occasionally, with many Uber customers calling Yellow instead.  And does it greatly benefit the individual attempting to make a full-time living from providing a taxi-like service?  Part-timers, yes, but only if you already have a new car.  A recent USA Today report gave annual Uber earnings at just under $17,000.  Uber slashed its San Francisco rates to $1.50 per mile.  Seattle's Uber rates are $1.35 per mile but I was given unconfirmed information that they have been further reduced  to $1.09 per mile.  Regardless our regulated Seattle/King County taxi rates are $2.70 per mile.  We can't lower them even if we want to.  Again, thank you very much Mister Mayor and those wonderful Seattle City Council members!  Soon, and possibly this week, look for a posting which will be addressed to Tom, Nick and Sally.  I am sure they can't wait to read more of my distorted wisdom.

Uber Related Website

Somebody sent me this link.  Check it out and be amazed or something like that.


I am beginning to receive the impression that there are some who are not particularly fond of Uber.  I don't understand why.  It is a mystery to me!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Too Usual Shenanigans Minus Serious Intent

Legislative maneuvering down in Olympia at the state capitol and positioning for the expiring Sea-Tac service contract tells me everything remains the same, meaning the well-being of the industry continues to be a secondary concern to everyone save folks like me searching for that ever elusive taxi dollar bill.   With the usual 12 hour shift now transformed into punishment and torture worthy of the CIA, local politicians, lobbyists, and monetized vested interests continue to treat the industry as its personal canvas, sketching and painting fanciful and surreal themes worthy of Dali and Tanguy. That Washington State Democratic senator from Medina, Senator Habib, keeps introducing bills that would free Uber and friends from local municipal authority and Labor & Industry insurance obligations, underlining the true and unfiltered reality that Uber's sole priority is profit driven, the financial enslavement of immigrant drivers and safety of passengers not upon its moral agenda.  In other words, the now old, repetitive and well-known narrative ad nausaum.

And not surprisingly, at least one well-funded group (the first of many?) has raised its opportunistic head for that greener pasture, the soon expired taxi contract providing taxis to Sea-Tac International Airport.  Again, the motive appears to be completely monetary as Yellow's (BYG) current service model is working well, providing timely and efficient service to airport-based customers.  The unfortunate incentive appears to be is to make all the single-owners pay yet again a $10,000 dollar entry fee for the privilege for continuing something they are already doing.  I can only hope that Port of Seattle officials resist the temptation of again gouging everyone by creating an artificial and unnecessary bidding war but who cares about idealism when money is involved?

My ending comment is while it is true all of this is serious, with long-term implications, no one is truly seriously addressing core issues.  Why would anyone want to do that?   Clearly no one  is the obvious and sorry answer, no one having the motivation or will or interest to seriously tackle glaring wrongs and systemic errors, the operational attitude being why care when you don't have to.

Ah Yes, Love!

Saturday being Saint Valentines Day I was once again reminded of love's true cost when T_______ had to borrow 10 dollars to pay his fare from a workmate after dropping off his girlfriend.  "I wish she would stop taking my money!" this lament coming from a hard working dishwasher.  Wonderful!

Be Careful With Your Keys!

Sunday evening at Pier 69, while loading customers leaving the Victoria Clipper, a taxi driver locked both his keys and the couple's luggage inside his "running" taxi.  I tried 478's key but no such luck.  When I pulled away with passengers the couple were still patiently standing outside the idling cab.  Unfortunately the only solution was having someone drive round-trip to the lot for an extra key but even with that there wasn't any guarantee given that the only key available might have been behind the shop's locked door.  Now that would that been a crying shame, especially since I have been lobbying for a decade for driver superintendent after-hour access to the shop.  As I keep saying, not the best way to manage a multi-million dollar operation. Oh, and another possible scenario is that it was a single owner's car leased to the driver, with the owner, along with spare keys, on vacation in New Deli.  Isn't it funny that I am not making any of this up, that it all was  potentially true?  Scary, or something like that.


Monday, February 9, 2015

"Let There Be No Doubt In Your Mind, Nighttime Cab Driving Is Over."

The title comes from a text message sent to me Saturday night from a fellow suffering cabbie.  Even taking in the fact that winter in Seattle is traditionally slower business-wise, this season has been at times abysmally slow.  Minus all doubt, speaking of doubt, I too had little fun this past weekend, experiencing my smallest gross in a long while.  Thank the taxi gods for lower than usual gasoline, saving me over $200.00 the past two weekends.  The past two weeks I have gassed up from $1.89.9 to $2.39.9 per gallon, the price respite helping immensely. 

Like the message emanating from the taxi universe, the business downturn is upon every cabbie's tongue.  And interestingly to me, everyone accurately understands why, that being the over supply of guys hunting for fares in a limited market.  They also correctly know who is to blame, that being the dumbbell City of Seattle and King County administrators, regulators and elected officials who intentionally flooded our market with taxi-like service providers, along with of course the 1000 plus "gypsy-cab" town cars operating illegally.  Something has to "pop" because I don't see how this can continue, making little sense for all concerned.  My only question is when will the"powers-that-be" awaken to the seriousness of the situation created solely by them.  One typical cabbie opinion is that "no one is making money" meaning all of us, cabbies, flat-rate for hire, Uber drivers etc.  How is this good for anyone?  Clearly it isn't. 

And objectively, King County's administration of the taxi local industry itself is horrible.  How else can it be explained when a new driver pulls up to the Amtrak station thinking it is the "new" Greyhound bus station.  When I told him it was a few blocks south at the corner of 5th South and South Royal Brougham Way he asked, "Where's that?"  For all you non-Seattlites, South Royal BroughamWay prominently divides Seattle's NFL football and MLB American League stadiums so not knowing where Royal Brougham is essentially proves you know nothing whatsoever concerning local streets and venues, meaning you have no business sitting in a taxi until you do.  This would not be happening in London, England. 

Another sorry example this weekend was the forlorn NYC tourist I found standing early Sunday morning on the downtown Sheraton hotel stand.  Where he really wanted to go was the Sheraton Four Points motel located on Roy Street in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood but some idiot Yellow driver clearly didn't know the difference.  Who is to blame for this sorry situation, this litany of nonexistent business and drivers who don't know where they are going?  I just said it in the previous paragraphs.  Please, write to them and complain. Please!

I could add please do this before it is too late but the fact is it is already too late, time has expired and time past is now our future.  How wonderful it isn't and how long the prehistoric mimics the present is anyone's guess.  Maybe Las Vegas will take up your wager, waiting for the results a hundred years from now if even that soon.  As might be said in that Nevada desert town, "Suckers, don't hold your breath!" 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Swift-Albro, Swift-Albro!"---Always Different Even When I Don't Want It To Be

What is true is that I could drive taxi for a thousand years and still experience something unique and new though not necessarily anything I ever desired to see or know, taxi "force-feeding" you the world as it truly is minus scripting.  Go to the movies or the live theatre for fictional portrayals but drive a taxi to be tossed pell-mell into life's random and erratic milieu.  As I keep saying, I meet everybody and I mean everybody. 

A good current example is "Joni" who just called me a few minutes ago for a ride.  Joni defies accurate definition, a young man presenting himself as an "Ethiopian Jew" and having 2 undergraduate degrees and scheduled this upcoming fall to study law at the University of Chicago. Given his descriptions, clearly he has hiked and climbed in California's mountainous terrain and yet, from where I first encountered him at an East Marginal Way South AM-PM store, he  currently resides in a cheap motel, buys and consumes street drugs, and is at this moment, obviously "half mad." 

And this is only the beginning of his description and who he potentially and actually is, fully knowing I will never know his real story and don't want to, having no ability to positively affect his situation other than providing a reasonable and honest cab ride.  Saturday night he called me from the Wedgwood district QFC, right arm in a sling, wanting a ride somewhere which finally turned out to be the NE corner of North 123rd and Aurora (Highway 99) Avenue North, Joni quickly slipping into the shadows, again where or why I don't want to know. 

The Confounding Mr. Swift-Albro

Mister "Swift-Albro" himself was a very interesting gentleman who clearly had some cognitive difficulties, making communication an ongoing, up and down adventure.  Picking him up at the Pyramid Brewery just after the Seattle Seahawk's failed attempt at a second consecutive "Super Bowl" victory, he addressed his desired destination as the repeatedly announced, "Swift-Albro, Swift-Albro, Swift-Albro!' meaning a major intersection and I-5 exit ramp on the western side of south Beacon Hill known as South Swift Way & Albro Place South.  Any questions requesting more specificity were met with the splendidly redundant reply,"Swift-Albro, Swift-Albro!" 

With everything seemingly normal other than this linguistic peculiarity  I continued on, exiting off of south-bound I-5  and asking, "Left or Right?" only to discover that his "turn right," instead meant "turn left." or some other interpretive response.  Initially thinking he lived somewhere near the intersection it was quickly apparent that wherever we were going I wasn't going to know until we arrived, first directing us onto Martin Luther King Way South as we proceeded together all the way down into Renton, Washington.

Believe me, only my 25-plus years experiencing the odd and unusual kept me on track, tempted of course to make sense of this seemingly nonsensical jaunt but having personally worked in the past with many individuals suffering various types of neurological and cognitive disorders I remained cool, calm and collected believing correctly that this circuitous and impromptu tour would somehow  successfully end, and it did, soon concluding about a mile north of the Renton airport, having taken us in half circle and back pointed toward Seattle.

During our over 30 minute long ride I had "trained" him to give more or less coherent directions resulting in him correctly saying "turn right," taking us to a gated complex on the south shore of Lake Washington.  Paying cash, my final assignment was getting the correct payment, pointing out the two $20.00 dollar bills  bunched in his hand, pulling up and away a $5.00 dollar bill much to his "wide-eyed" astonishment, taking full care of the $44.30 fare. 

Thoughtout the entire journey this puzzling gentleman remained cheerful and pleasant.  Thank goodness it was this cabbie who picked him up because any rookie probably would have ended up in a confounding battle, more than likely over reacting to the inexplicable and indecipherable that was the goodly gentleman, the amazing Mister "Swift-Albro."

And yes, this is the same job that the misguided folks down at Seattle and King County consider to be entry level and easy, something anyone can do.  All I know is that few if any of the current folks governing Seattle and King County could have successfully negotiated this confusing "mine field" of a ride.  It takes a professional psychologist, which I  more or less am, to understand that a passenger like Mister "Swift-Albro" must be professionally assessed otherwise all "hell breaks out" and what could be successful instead instantly transforming into unmitigated disaster, not to mention an unnecessary fistfight. 

If only he could have told me where he was going perhaps I would have saved him maybe ten dollars.  To say I was relieved to have finally safely delivered him home is the greatest understatement, glad to have the conundrum he presented solved.  There would soon be other stories to respond to that evening, including a SPD call taking a drunk upper-middle class woman  home from a confrontation in West Seattle to her Bridal Trails neighborhood house in north Bellevue.  The cops were relieved when I told them I had been driving over 25 years.  They were worried but I wasn't.  Hadn't I just navigated Mister "Swift-Albro's" hazardous waters?   No one and nothing, not even Moby Dick could sink this taxi vessel, the roughest seas now smooth sailing!


This afternoon, over the telephone, I talked with Eddie Cantu, the recently appointed head of King County Licensing.  After meeting him at a TAG meeting a few months back, I knew him to be reasonable and friendly.  Talking about the fingerprinting and my concerns about ticket and accident records, he promised to look into these very important issues.  I also expressed my oft mentioned concern that the current crop of taxi drivers are not close to being prepared for the task ahead of them.  While all these issues might be beyond his operational authority, at least they will receive some examination.  If not change, the minimum I ask for is awareness of our taxi reality.  I told Eddie that if he got his for-hire and drove for a week his "eyes would be opened."  Taxi is scary, every day each driver experiencing their own, very personal Halloween, witches, goblins, vampires, ghouls and ghosts entering the interior of your cab.  Required reading for every driver should be Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House." I guarantee you that will put you in the correct mood for something few of us have ever wanted to do.