Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Testimony In Olympia & Cabbie Murdered In Mount Vernon, WA & Please, No More Early Full Moon!

This morning I somehow pulled myself out of bed and joined the taxi crew down in Olympia, Washington to attend Rep. Steve Kirby's House sub-committee  hearing on his "striker" amendment to Bill 5550.  What brought me and everyone else down to the state's capitol were the two provisions under discussion: insurance requirements for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar; and relating directly to taxi, a provision making the purchase of Washington State Labor & Industry insurance optional, meaning it would remove the current mandatory requirement we are all operating under.

By simple fate, the first four witnesses were all from Uber, including one poor soul admitting to being in the quasi-taxi business for two whole weeks.  Once my two minutes arrived, I JUST had to mention I have been driving for 28 years, and attempted make my brief testimony as nuanced as possible, mentioning that too many TNC (Uber, etc.) drivers were operating minus their official app and picking up passengers illegally, thus automatically driving without insurance coverage. 

My stance concerning L&I coverage was more neutral, stating the obvious that at least all of us in the local industry are now protected, stating that before mandatory insurance not one of the approximately three thousand plus cabbies had bothered with personal insurance.  What astounded me about the Uber folks is that they pleaded poverty, that having Proper and Legal insurance coverage would be an unjust and unaffordable burden.  This from a company valued at 40 billion dollars?  What are they talking about?

Unintended comedy came from the Lyft lobbyist who made reference to some new "insurance language" currently in negotiation between Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and a national insurance group.  When Kirby requested from the Lyft lobbyist that the "language" be provided to his ten-member committee, the lobbyist responded that "he too was trying to get the information," leaving the clear impression that, while presenting the ongoing national negotiation as an alternative, he himself  yet to read the very same information he was promoting.  If pomposity can be called a disease, its clearly epidemic amongst the Uber, Lyft and Sidecar folks.  Please, is there a vaccination available?  Stay tuned as all this progresses thought the various House and Senate committees. 

We can thank those wonderfully inefficient elected officials in Seattle for handing the problem of insurance requirements to their State colleagues.  After all that talk, talk talk it is amazing that the administrative "walk" remains hobbled and crippled.  Do you think the voters will hold them accountable? I for one don't believe they will, for all the reasons that one can think of, accountable democracy purely theoretical, and little else, the fate of the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and the Huskies far more important.  Why do people care about millionaires doing nothing that is conceivably productive unless I suppose you view them as some kind of cultural high priests performing metaphysical tasks?  That must be why.

Death in the Industry

Last night a female driver operating a Mert's Taxi taxi-cab in Mount Vernon, Washington, was murdered by a male passenger.  The suspect then carjacked a car and drove it to Lakewood, WA where this morning he was located and arrested.  An unintended advertisement for continued  mandatory L&I coverage was WA State Labor & Industry's official contact with the victim's family within hours of the crime.  Thankfully the family is guaranteed a settlement that otherwise might not exist.  The reality is is that L&I can be extremely beneficial if and when needed.  More on this tragedy as it becomes available.

Once Again, Early Full Moon Swoon

My intention this week, before the Mert's Taxi murder, was to be humorous, spotlighting all the stupid situations I encountered this past weekend but who can laugh when a taxi colleague has been senselessly killed?  All I can  say is that if one doubts full moon reality, you should have been behind the wheel of my taxi late Saturday night driving north on a darkened and unfamiliar Everett, Washington street when two teen aged skate-boarders suddenly appeared in front of me in the middle of the road, one of them swerving to the curb. It is fortunate I have good night vision.  My passenger complimented my driving skills.  Thank goodness I do know how to drive a car!  And those fools down at Seattle's City Hall think anyone can do this, expecting the average cabbie to achieve the near impossible.  Think again and again and again, ladies and gentlemen, think again!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Another Example Why "Not Thinking" Isn't Good Enough

What I was saying, implying in my last entry, was the failure of not thinking issues through, be it existence itself or driving mundane taxi down your local byway.  An example of such thinking occurred yesterday morning as I wandered around searching for my assigned taxi in the rain at the darkened cab lot.  A true part of the taxi experience is walking round and round in the night reading every cab's number hoping finally you have found your taxi. 

Yesterday morning, having decided to work, hopefully making some post-vacation money my first scheduled  cab of a two-taxi single shift was 378.  The reason why I didn't find 378 waiting for me at 4:00 in the morning was the day driver's failure to tell Abebe, upon calling off the shift, that he and  his night driver were operating the car from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM instead of Yellow's traditional 4-4 arrangement.  His inexcusable omission caused me a late start, a foray into a much maligned CNG (natural gas taxi) and driving not two but three separate cabs, the switching from vehicle from vehicle a true pain-in-the-taxi-ass which, on top of the incredible inconvenience, cost me money. 

All the driver needed to say was, "Abebe, we are driving the car 6 to 6." and simply the situation would have been prevented.  Now granted, that might have annoyed Abebe but at least by knowing what was going on, he would have asked me whether picking up the cab at six would be okay?  But by not telling anyone the day-driver created problems he himself could have predicted.  Why didn't he say anything? 

My assumption is that he has gotten into the bad and fatal habit of not thinking life though to logical conclusions and outcomes.  This, my taxi comrades, is essentially how we arrived to where we now find ourselves in the industry.  Thinking, problem solving is, and always will be, life's necessary response to every approaching conundrum.  Avoidance leads to your victim walking round in circles cursing beneath his breath, "Where is my damn car?"  At least I did make some money, an $80.00 Virgina Mason Hospital to Federal Way fare, including a $15.00 tip, helping repair an irritating day.

 Some Explanatory History Concerning WA ST Labor & Industry and the Taxi Industry

A few years back, hearing some disturbing rumors about what was the building momentum in negotiations between taxi and L&I, I attended a hearing in Renton.  Testifying there, I found there was another round of public testimony scheduled in Olympia.  Alarmed by the Renton testimony and response, I determined I had better plan on showing up in Olympia. 

Once there I was shocked to find I was the only taxi industry person there.  No one, not from Seattle nor any other locale had made the drive.  This is where we all got lucky.  After my testimony I was invited upstairs by a then L&I official, Bill Moomau, to talk with a group of interested L&I folks.  That one hour meeting brought great results because without it we in the Washington State taxi industry would probably now be paying double what we are now. 

A few weeks after this most opportune meeting I received a telephone call from the then director of L&I, Judy S, informing me," Joe, I wanted you to be the first one to know that we decided to request half of what we have been asking."  Despite everything, it was good news.

While I know the additional costs relating to L&I coverage are high, personally costing me an additional $160-200.00 each month, can you imagine if they had kept to their original estimate?  The pain, especially in the current business market, would have been unimaginable if I was now forking out nearly $400.00 each month.  Taxi, as all of us plying beneath the top light know, is damn hard work. 

Now knowing that all of us, despite the cost, are covered is comforting but there could have been other options taken toward the same goal.  What I saw in all of this was the Seattle taxi associations failure to understand the grave threat poised by L&I.  Why was I the only individual defending us that day in Olympia?  The answer, as I keeping saying, is obvious.  Sleeping is fine and necessary but not when slumbering upon a "bed of nails."  Anyone ever attempt to clean blood stained sheets?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The End Results Of Poor & Ineffective Comprehension

Last week, while lounging around San Miguel de Allende and mulling ideas about a series of short stories, I found myself focusing upon theoretical thematic scenarios and plots centered upon  the primary charaacters' puzzling failure to understand that most elementary human reality: that of formally and  mentally recognizing they  alive upon a rotating planet flying at 66,000 miles per hour thought a blackened expanding universe.  Yes, this is my unfortunate observation concerning too many of my fellow earth-dwelling residents: that the majority, despite eating, crying, laughing have remained disconnected to having been born, and then to their unimaginable chagrin, dying, all of us of course somehow mysteriously slated to breath this planet's oxygen mix for an  un-predetermined number of years.  By not understanding this most basic premise my conclusion is that too many individuals remain alienated and  incommunicado from life itself.  Not a particularly good situation when awakening upon a new morning, the birds singing, the sun shining.

I mention this in relation to taxi only to point out that the majority of my fellow taxi colleagues can be similarly categorized,because, though sitting in a taxi day after day after month after year they seem to continually display little understanding of the minute to minute reality screaming at them.  Why this is utterly important is simple.  People both in the local government  and taxi associations are making decisions that ultimately frame those daily 12 hour forays beneath the top-light, and if you sit there like a cow grazing in a field you will suddenly and unexpectedly be facing the total horror of the fatal slaughterhouse.  Dismembering surely is something best avoided though surely that is what has occurred to our local industry, a de-facto deregulation fragmenting us into so many disparate parts and pieces.  Clearly it is hard to function with your head in the Wallingford neighborhood while your feet reside somewhere on Capital Hill, with your hands shifting sand on Alki beach.

A colleague commented upon my last posting, saying I have been ignoring the problems and issues and poor decisions generated by BYG (Yellow Taxi); and that there are other concerned cabbies out there other than just me, phrasing his observation as "more than just you" which of course I agree with wholeheartedly. And please, keep those all those comments coming.  I appreciate the feedback and points of view regardless of attitude and opinion  one way or the other.  Doesn't NPR say something like that during their "letter" section?  God! I am becoming an Upper-Middle-Class American right before my very eyes!

In terms of Yellow, I suggest rereading sections of my last two entries to understand that I have been both hinting and placing blame upon Yellow and the other associations, because, for one, agreeing to renegotiate a finished plan previously approved by the City Council; two, accepting the clear deregulation of the local industry; and finally, three, having the temerity thinking they held the legal authority to represent over three thousand and counting independent owner operators.  If you don't remember being asked your permission it's because you were not asked.  And of course the City of Seattle and King County are also culpable because they too assumed a representative authority neither they nor the associations hold.  Written permission from all of us was and is required.  Obviously it was never given.   One could say that all of us witnessed a "governmental" amateur hour which means many holes remain, potentially allowing for various legal openings.  Is anyone out there ready to try again?

My response to the criticism that I am or have been operating in a personally created "self-appointed universe" is to point out my many efforts over the past 6-8 years to organize all the lease-drivers into a cohesive whole.  Each time the interest has been underwhelming.  As I keep saying, while one person can be at least temporarily effective, ie my successful L&I intervention, ultimately it is group
effort that not only just provokes the notion of change but actually achieves real and final resolution.  Too often typical governmental and cooperate response is to chop off the snake's head only to find themselves strangled by the remaining body. Check out one of my all time favorite movies, "The Battle of Algiers" to see how the colonial French failed in that particular effort.  I also refer you to to the late 1940s and early 1950s struggle the French had in Indochina against the Viet-Minh. While leaders are necessary, they can only point hopefully in the correct direction.  Numbers, and their full participation, is the ultimate route to victory.  More than Martin Luther King  Jr. had to be bitten by the Selma police dogs, the blood and final redemption shared.

Oh Yeah?

Sitting on the Crowne Plaza taxi stand I notice an "old hippie" looking fellow taking my picture.  When I roll down my window, he yells, "Go back to your own country, you f___king bastard!"   It is hard to return to where you already are but hey, it reminds me how so many of my fellow cabbies are treated.  Lately I have had a spate of passengers saying 'How glad they are!" to have either a white or American driver.  I have stopped commenting upon such racism and just take the fools where they need to go, which is certainly directly to hell!

Alexa the Ragdoll, Queen of San Miguel de Allende

I mention Alexa, a 14 year-old "ragdoll" cat I met ruling the San Miguel "no-kill" animal shelter because a local Seattle cabbie, along with his wife, raise that feline breed.  Twice after soaks we walked confined pooches and visited the cats.  Alexa was found in a local field. Go to the San Miguel SPCA website and see her picture.

"Third World" down at the Coleman Dock

If we needed more examples of the City of Seattle's failure to enforce anything concerning taxi I give you  as "prime specimen number one" what is occurring down at the Pier-52 Ferry Dock.  Due to construction, disembarking foot passengers are forced to run a gauntlet of town-car (Gypsy cab) drivers who harass and grab, especially anyone having the misfortune to be carrying a suitcase.  I suggest, if bored, go down there yourself and watch the fun and games.  And don't forget to bring your luggage!  What in the world is the collective City of Seattle thinking?

Book List

As part of my working up to forming a political ad agency I have been reading various books.  I highly recommend all of these:

Washington by Meg Greenfield

This Town by Mark Leibovich

Heist, Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington by Peter Stone

Putin's Kelptocracy by Karen Dawisha

Friday, March 20, 2015

No Fun: A Current Seattle Taxi Industry Assessment

                                   For us like any other fugitive,
                                   Like the numberless flowers that cannot number
                                   And all the beasts that need not remember,
                                   It is to-day in which we live.

                                                      WH Auden, from "Another Time"

Yes, we Seattle taxi drivers are alive today and now, needing to make a living today and not in some kind of theoretical tomorrow or another year to come.  What has happened is fairly simple as it is stark: the choices and decisions made by the City of Seattle, along with the unwitting acquiescence of members of the local industry itself have created an unworkable business environment that brings in question our future survival and viability. 

We, the regulated and administratively frozen industry, have been told by the City of Seattle and King County that we must helplessly stand by and watch, while Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are allowed to do essentially anything they want, setting new rates at will, disciplining independent owner operator without independent monitoring, and adding as many cars as they wish regardless of oversight or need.  How anyone with any interest in our industry agreed to this is beyond my comprehension. 

What Seattle and KC did was hand a gun to the taxi industry, tell them to position it against their heads, and fire!  Unbelievable, isn't it, what people will do voluntarily, when instead, all the associations, Yellow, Orange, Farwest, and Northend had to do was not cooperate, telling Mayor Murray that the City Council's compromise ordinance was good enough, and if he decided to force the issue, they would see him in court.  Orange, toward the end, did walk out, and as reported in these pages, attempted to gain support for a law suit.  I too, along with others, also attempted to move in that direction but simple insanity derailed that effort.  I do believe our opponents depend upon our inherent dysfunction as their best and most reliable ally.

Unfortunately, the time to have said no should have come in the beginning of the entire process, not  miles down the flowing "negotiation" river.  As it has been said a million or more times, it is extremely difficult "paddling upstream."  While it can be done, be forewarned of precarious rapids and waterfalls "water logging" your best efforts. You might remember that the celebrated 19th Century explorers Lewis and Clark had the good luck of navigating waters heading downstream along with having a beautiful Native American guide telling when to safely pull ashore. 

So minus all other supposition, my current, simple assessment is that those of us operating taxis in Seattle and King County are hamstrung while helplessly watching the folks who once rode in our cabs ride away in Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and flat-rate for-hire cars. And of course, as I always must add, not to mention the 1000 plus illegally operating town cars (limos).  Along with this grim assessment is that we will not receive any assistance from local government.  It appears that the City of Seattle and King County has every intention to let us slowly suffocate and die.  The adding of new taxi licenses is akin to putting more pressure upon the pillow, quickening the job.  It's laughable.  What should be our response?  Well, just standing there "withering upon the vine" can't be the answer.  The answer, and proper response, is, as I keep saying, more than obvious.

I leave today with a quote from Jean-Paul Sartre.  I am currently reading his novel from 1947, "The Age of Reason."  Instead of Man," insert "The cabbie" and you have a sense of what I am getting at.

"Man is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets for himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth."
Sounds like cab driving to me.  I ain't looking forward to this upcoming weekend, though we do have the Men's Basketball NCAA 1st round playoffs in town.  It should help a bit business wise.  We need all the assistance we can get.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Greetings From San Miguel de Allende

Ola from not so sunny Mexico.  The temperatures were in the 80s F. when I arrived but suddenly San Miguel became winter, with torrential rains and lows in the 40s F.  I can only guess that those snowy weather patterns plaguing New England and the Northeast decided to take, like me, a Mexican vacation.  Normally the hottest and driest part of the year in this, Mexico's Colonial Heartland, the desert instead will soon be unexpectedly  smiling with yellow and pink cactus blooms.

Just my luck, on the day I am leaving, this upcoming Wednesday, the good weather will be  returning.  Still I have been enjoying my days here. Daily we take a local bus to the natural mineral springs that is La Gruta.  For just over nine dollars you can soak all day in wonderfully hot water.  If you are a rookie Mexico traveller, San Miguel is great for beginners.  The place is filled, for better or worse, with gringo Americans.

My intention today was to write a defining report concerning the current state of Seattle's taxi industry but a difficult computer means it will have to wait for another day.  One thing I can assure you is that we are in serious trouble, just as I of course predicted months ago.  All the so called trade- offs theoretically gained during the Mayor Murray negotiations were ultimately suicidal, giving us nothing worth noting other than the leased licenses becoming permanent medallions but any fool should have realized that the change to actual legal property was in the near future, preordained regardless of anything else.  Sell your soul for the inevitable?  How is that sensible?  In a "taxi nutshell" it says exactly what has been occurring here in Seattle, namely, the nonsensical, and should I say it, complete idiocy?

One year ago drivers at Yellow were fighting for available taxis.  Now the situation is so bad that Yellow is actually mothballing part of its fleet to save money.  I knew we had no alternative but to legally fight what the City was cramming down our throats.  I have unhappily been proved correct.  Another question I have, and its a serious one, was why didn't "the powers that be" listen to me when I spelled out the crisis for them?  They knew what I had gained with L&I, saving the industry millions of dollars.  Why, and I repeat, why weren't my warnings deemed sane and reasonable?   Given the outcome, does anyone wonder why I am frustrated?  It drives me crazy though I am sitting over two thousand miles away.

Tomorrow we are visiting the archaeological site known as Canada da la Virgen.  A few days ago we visited the church in the village of Atotonilco.  It is a world heritage site.  The walls and ceilings are covered with painted figures.  It rivals Saint Mark's in Venice, Italy.  If you are ever in this area, you must go and find yourself both astounded and amazed.  And if you are a devout Roman Catholic, like Saint Peter's in Rome, the Santuario de Jesus Nazareno de Atotonilco should be on your list of must-sees.

Monday, March 9, 2015

In Plain Sight

Last week the Federal Department of Justice issued a thorough report describing Ferguson, Missouri's municipal and police policies and how they violated not only constitutional guarantees but also simple commonsense, unfortunately reminding me of what the City of Seattle and King County did to the local taxi industry, again in clear view.  While in the Ferguson case, strong intervention is on the way, here in Seattle the only folks being punished are the cabbies.  After suffering through another miserable weekend money-wise, witnessing multiple Uber pick-ups, I know, even if no one else understands, that it is time we forcibly legally respond to what is happening.  We have a number of factors in our favor, given as I have said, all that has occurred is of public record, and most importantly, clearly within the usual statue of limitations.  In other words, the law is on our side and I believe the time is ripe for moving forward, telling the City of Seattle that what they did was not only immoral, it was illegal.

Everyone involved, including everyone governing Seattle and King County, know, that before they enacted recent Uber legislation, they allowed both the flat-rate for-hire and TNC (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar) industries to operate illegally on Seattle's streets for over three years.  Numerous requests for enforcement went unheeded while our business was stolen.  Understand that Seattle's and King County's Uber ordinance never mentioned anything concerning amnesty for those thousands of criminal misdemeanors and other violations occurring over a 36-month span.  The only interpretation, as I see it, is that they are still "outstanding" violations and warrant prosecution.  Like all those "rape kits" sitting in police departments around our country, all these violations are just waiting for collective legal evaluation. 

While one might say that the legal implication  of Mayor Murray's ordinance is a collective forgiveness, that has never been stated.  As I said last week, we in the local taxi industry have been subjected to discriminatory business practices.  It is time the City of Seattle and King County are held accountable.  What can they really say in their defense in a court of law?  I would enjoy hearing their tangled justifications.

Tonight I am flying to Mexico to join "she-who-can't-be named."  Adios!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fractured But No Fairy Tales

Though I haven't watched much television for nearly 30 years, like so many other American children born in the 1950s ( my birth December, 1953) I was glued to the flickering tube for more hours than were beneficial but luckily I was blessed with some great and original programming like the Twilight Zone and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and perhaps my whimsical favorite, The Rocky & Bullwinkle animated cartoon show.  Which university did I graduate from?  Why no other than "WhatsamattaU" which was the perfect preparation for that more than fictional occupation called cab driving.

Last night some deranged passenger could not stop himself from repeatedly saying how "hot" he found me while making reference to the size of a particular anatomical part. Where was Dudley Do Right when I needed him? 

And yes, where did I do my post-graduate work?  Cataleptic State conveniently located adjacent to the beautiful but depressed Phenethylamine River.   Don't drink that water!  Straight-jacket, anyone?  Our team name was the "Shockers" and our chant "ECT, ECT, Set us free!" rallied our patients, I mean, players against all comers.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, not cattle prods nor Hadol-laden syringes kept us from ultimate victory.  Another favorite cheer leader song was "Freud! Freud! All your theories are devoid!"  We found that more the obtuse we were the more confusion ruled amongst our opponents.  Us Cataleptic State students knew all about disorientation across our inter-personal nation.

Fractured certainly is Seattle's current transportation business model.  While we in the taxi industry remain shackled and limited by outmoded regulatory rules, our competition run wild, setting any rates they wish minus any real scrutiny. Tourists are particularly alarmed by the flat-rate for-hire drivers whose theoretical zip-code to zip-code generated rates allows for outlandish fares.  Who the hell came up with that anyway?  Again, no fairy tales here, only unblemished, bureaucratic, botched reality. 

Clear to me that it is time for a serious law suit against the City of Seattle and King County and the TNCs (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar)  that questions their business practices, in other words a suit based upon unfair business practices.  Over the next few months I will be attempting to again rally the taxi troops.  One wonders what CAN get the taxi industry's attention?  Hopefully starvation and the rumbling of their children's hungry stomachs will do the trick.

Taxi For-Hire In The Mail

My new for-hire license arrived while I was in San Francisco, displaying one grim looking cabbie.  It's no wonder passengers find me scary.  I can barely look at my own photograph!  One big change is the "Licensed to Operate: Taxi & For-Hire Only."   Yes, to drive Uber in Seattle you must have one.  Makes sense since nearly all the TNC drivers are taxi drivers, not the house wife out there part-time working for a new kitchen.  My last taxi for-hire?  I can only hope.  Suddenly religious, pray for me!

Nobody Wants To Be Uber

Featured in last Wednesday's (02/25/2015)  San Francisco Chronicle Business Report section was an article by reporter Kristen V. Brown (kbrown@sfchronicle.com) under the heading "A little advice to help Uber polish its rep."  Beneath that was a drawing by Chronicle artist T Fong of three stacked books, the top book entitled "Brand Image for Dummies---How to stop looking like a company that hates everything but money!"  Yes of course very funny, and Fong's second book in the pile was called "Public Relations 101."  Brown's article begins with the following two sentences:

"Uber seems to enjoy ruffling feathers.  In France, a company promotion practically equated female drivers with prostitutes, offering to pair riders with paid "hot chick" Uber drivers."  The article goes on to feature advice from six PR pros.  Adam Selwyn, from Olson Public Relations, offers the following wisdom:

"Uber has to rely on their thousands of drivers to represent their brand to the public, most of whom don't care about their company or their passengers---therein lies their challenge.  Do customers care?  As long as they are not being assaulted, overcharged and might get an ice cream or a kitten once in a while, methinks not!  But they aren't built to survive many more hits."

In its own box is "Nobody wants to be Uber"

"It may seem like every new company is pitching itself as the "Uber for X," but it turns out not many companies actually want to be known as the Uber of its industry.

In a survey of 500 small businesses by online accounting software company Xero, only 1.6 percent of respondents said they aspired to be like Uber, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's was the clear favorite, beating out not just Uber but also tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft."

For the full article, go to SF Chronicle.com.  Thanks, Ms Brown!

That is an amazing statistic, 98.4 of the companies not wanting to be seen like Uber.  Wow!