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.



  1. Joe, those who work in this industry do not appreciate what you define as a one man crusade.

    We all understand what happened, but the failures of this industry have as much to do with the companies did as it did with the city.

    Regulation is a two edged sword.

    It allowed private companies to monopolize a local industry and while we used to make a decent living, it was linked to vehicle quotas and yet these quotas had nothing to do with onerous contracts, a lack of benefits, or having no legal recourse if your vehicle caused an accident due to equipment failure.

    It also left your clientele with no other recourse but to use your services, which, more often than not, was not in their best interest!

    A city also has a right to use its resources as it sees fit, including enforcement or lack thereof and you have no legal standing to challenge that kind of discretion.

    Deregulation is also a two edged sword, though, what the city did is not REAL deregulation, most especially in relation to how fares are priced.

    Furthermore, how a fight against the city was laid out, along with whom and what it might benefit, in addition to the cost, was not in OUR interest!

    When you pay for a fight that was going to protect a monopolistic structure, based on a questionable line of defense, why would those who lease pay for it?

    You are not even being honest about why Yellow mothballed part of its fleet.

    They are mothballed because Yellow is still charging a high price for leasing. The system rollout also alienated whatever remained of their dispatched based ridership and last, it costs them less to keep them mothballed.

    But, what is Yellow doing NOW?

    Instead of looking for ways to create a better product (thus justifying their lease rate), it is still arguing with the city to create their plate leasing scenario.

    They are looking for ways to offload as many expenses as possible onto you Joe, while making a minimal investment into improving service and creating a more competitive product!

    So lets be honest here Joe.

    In one breath, you are saying the city screwed you, while not being honest about Yellow’s intent?

    Joe, you live in a culture of capitalism and yet all your arguments do not reflect that.

    For example, do you want the city to put arbitrary limits on the number of Chinese restaurants and if they did, who would benefit from it and what if that quota was reached and they all sucked, while they were also charging high prices for bad food?

    Nor do you talk about why drivers left Yellow and migrated to the TNCs and the reasons why they left.

    The taxi industry WAS heavily regulated, but it also existed in a netherworld of being a quasi-public utility. You wanted regulation to protect your income, but say nothing about the abuses that existed due to that regulation.

    You cannot have it both ways.

    We, as drivers, always had just three recourses when the TNCs came to town:
    - Become part of a lawsuit that challenges your independent contractor status
    - Change professions, and/or
    - Become your own illegal TNC, while trying the draw the city into a fight that we, as drivers, could have won!

    Yellow’s fight was never YOUR fight Joe.

    They were looking for ways to protect their monopoly.

    It had nothing to do with YOU!

    So is it not time for you to be more honest with yourself and those who read your blog and start looking for ways to protect both yourself and your fellow drivers and stop blaming the city for all your ills?

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