Monday, June 29, 2015

Everyone Is Cheering Uber's French Comeuppance

With Uber, at least for the moment, on the run in Paris and France, folks at the Yellow Cab lot this afternoon were cheerful, pleased that someone, anyone is standing up and resisting what, Bernard Cazenenue, the French Interior Minister, called "Uber's arrogance."  Today Uber's General Manager for Western Europe, Pierre-Dimtri Gore-Coty and Thibaud Simphal, Uber's General Manager for France, were both arrested and questioned by the Paris police.  Even the French President, Francois Hollande said that Uber must leave France.  Much of this response was generated by the cabby protests in Paris last week.  Amazingly, as opposed to here in Seattle and other American municipalities, they have sided with the taxi industry.  As I have always said, if Seattle's government had just followed the law and rules as written, we would not be in our current dire situation, having lost  nearly one-third of our total gross income in one short year.  While Seattle's current economy is booming, us cabby's are losing money.  How can that be?  When you are both marginalized and bullied by government administrators is, as I keep saying month after month, is how.  Hopefully the situation in France will spread across the world and in a few years Uber and its ilk will be muted.  Whether we specifically in Seattle will ever regain our previous status remains to be seen.  I do think it is possible but for that to happen, like in Paris, we must continue to resist.  Lying down and dying can never be, or should be a viable option.  Liberte', egalite, fraternite!  must forever be upon our lips!  What was true in 1790 remains true in 2015.  Know it and believe it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What The Bhramin Said To The Dalit, The Peer To The Precariat

In both the Indian Caste System and the British Class System, there are indisputable pinnacles, India having its god trinity occupied by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; and the United Kingdom with whatever current King or Queen currently drawing  their unearned and undeserved stipend. England's Anglican god is only an ersatz Catholic created by Henry VIII, so there isn't much to be said about the Church of England and cultural authority, William Gladstone dead now for nearly 115 years. 

In India, with a middle-class population larger than a total population of the United States; and England, along with the other autonomous kingdoms, old and well-established class orders or hierarchies have historically assigned individual societal position according to where you were born and your parent's financial situation, implying an inherent attitude admonishing anyone daring to cross invisible lines and barriers. Here in the United States, we see that blacks are still dealing with racism's long and sorry legacy.  As the American writer Kurt Vonnegut might have said, "So It goes."

In the Indian Caste System,the Bahamians are considered the upper crust, the cream of Indian society while the untouchables, or dalits, are the remnants of a charred pan. Traditional British society features the established upper middle classes as the elites, just one small step beneath princes and dukes, with the precariat making up a large economic underclass, living an existence not unlike described in the two Charles Dickens' novels "David Copperfield" and "Hard Times," whose characters lived unpredictable and insecure lives.

I can identify personally with the concept, having once been in a relationship with, for me, the infamous Carol Anne, she native to that "precariat" English village Bacup, situated and located in the South Pennines mountain range just north of Manchester. Carol Anne, talented, vivacious and very pretty, and unfortunately, also very crazy, managed to disguise her very humble beginning until I saw Bacup for myself, demystifying what was occurring between us, clearly explaining everything. 

Maybe that is why I am so drawn to Anita Brookner's novels, presenting the world of the British "pampered" classes, a world quite opposite of down and dirty Bacup.  Just a few weeks ago I finished her novel "Dolly" which was a terrific example of cream and crumpets at teatime served by the faithful housekeeper. Oh to suffer with an overflowing bank account!  I personally will take that kind of perceived misery any time of Empire day.  Let me cry and wail with a full stomach, please!

As I have mentioned many times, cabbies know all about the local American version of  societal apartheid, scorned and shunned, assigned to secondary categories in neglected corners. In fact it is probably the very worse part of the taxi experience, and of course explaining why municipalities across the country have failed to protect a regulated industry from a predatory Uber. Why assist the morally criminal?   Would you?

The attitude, as long as I can remember, is "you deserve what you get," along with the accompanying "and don't you forget it!"  As much behavior is imitative, it isn't surprising many feel naturally superior to the taxi driver, without any hesitation grinding the cabbie beneath their soiled heel.  One such incident occurring Saturday illustrates when hallucinatory superiority meets perceived inferiority.  I couldn't have been more surprised, and presented as a kind of modern parable or paint-by-number scenario posing as didactic morality, it is a shocking specimen of boorish and uncalled for behavior, caused simply by the tapping of a horn.

On my way to a call, Duke's Chowder House at Green Lake, I came up from Ballard, finding myself  at an east-bound intersection on Phinney Avenue & North 59th Street across from a local 7-11 store and adjacent to the Seattle Zoo.  A car was stopped directly in front of me minus any turn signals indicating where the driver was going which had to be either left or right because straight ahead translated into a collision with a very large and quite stationary sign.  Needing to know just where he was heading, I tapped lightly upon 478's horn in an attempt to get the driver's attention.  If he was turning to the right I would then quickly take my left turn and be on my way over Phinney and across Aurora North and to Duke's. 

What should have been simple suddenly escalated, with the driver getting out of his car and walking over to my cab, blocking my way.  Whenever I attempted to leave, he stepped in front of 478, incensed that I honked.  I asked why, telling him that he couldn't do what he was doing and wouldn't be doing it within view of the police.

Superior and justified, he made it clear I had no right or permission to comment in any way upon his conduct, that simply he could stay parked at Phinney and North 59th until our sun expired 4 billion years from now.  Committing multiple felonies was of no concern given who he was addressing.  Normally I would just call 911 but I had passengers to pickup, having no time for such silliness.  I was also taken aback by all of it, it being completely nonsensical.

Finally he relented, perhaps understanding he might soon find  himself arrested, allowing me to make my turn and get on to what I was doing.  Another aspect of this is that any gun-loving, gun-toting All-American could have justifiably shot the fool on the spot.  How stupid it would have been if he had been killed over nothing whatsoever.

As I said, this gentleman had the Brahman permission to to whatever was necessary to the taxi untouchable, scripture anointing his actions.  What is funny is that I am sure his performance was noted by the 7-11 surveillance cameras.  As is obvious during this paranoid era we are sharing, none of us are alone, someone or something publicly watching and noting our every move.  Thinking about it, this guy was, at least at that moment, diagnostically insane, needlessly endangering me and him and potentially others.  How did the honking of a horn injure him, especially since it was his inaction prompting my inquiry? 

Lately I have been saying that the average Seattle resident acts like an auto horn is some kind of new audible death ray.  Why?  What is going on?  It isn't like Seattle is a quiet environment and horns and other noises an insult upon a shared peace.  The man involved was upper-middle class.  Maybe that is the reason, that alone permission enough to destroy all rabble in his path.  It appears to be that way. 

Nationally everyone is pointing toward South Carolina as a source of unreasonable anger and hatred.  I suggest everyone instead begin at home.  Seattle is extremely angry culturally, road rage an everyday occurrence.  And this is one of America's most literate cities. Then why so dumb, Seattle, why so dumb? 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Calling Reykjavik?

The new computer dispatch system has been truly functional for a number of weeks now, showcasing everyones' initial expectations but still, situations too often occur puzzling and befuddling the taxi mind.  Yesterday the simple calling of a passenger's telephone number prompted this mysterious response," I didn't call a taxi.  I am in Iceland, I am in Iceland!" shouted the accented voice. 

How the local area code 206 connected me to that island nation in the north Atlantic Ocean I couldn't tell you.  But I am sure that there are some native Icelanders who require taxis unless they traverse that frozen and rugged landscape upon domesticated musk oxen on their way to a steaming mineral pool.  Regardless I did find my passenger waiting not in Reykjavik but just in Seattle's north end.  Saved me some gas money, that's for sure.

I ask, what would taxi be like without confounding and nutty scenarios?  Why have the mundane when instead your daily cab experience can be a nerve-racking emotional roller-coaster, with each call a surprise lurking behind that thick curtain?  Why the ordinary and expected would be too boring.

In September I am leaving for various European destinations including Tallinn, Estonia. Maybe next weekend I will suddenly be connected to an Estonian citizen knowledgeable concerning the best local eateries.  That would be helpful even if I can't reach my next customer.  I think (sea) gull eggs are a local specially.  I take mine scrambled of course, matching my taxi brain.  Pass the ketchup.

Those Town-cars!

A couple from Florida called Yellow after a limo driver said it would be $50.00 to their University District hotel, this after their taxi downtown was $21.00.  Fortunately they had gotten the driver's business card otherwise they would not be able to tell the City of Seattle about their experience.  What is clear is that the driver's actions is not unusual.  What also isn't unusual is that nothing is ever done about this type of theft routinely occurring 24 hours a day throughout Seattle.  Again, town-cars and Uber, Lyft and Sidecar must have external markings and decals identifying them as commercial vehicles.  Until that happens, the drivers will continue to exploit their passengers and steal from them whenever the opportunity presents itself.  And tourists like the ones I met can only thank the mayor and the city council.  It is their responsibility and their fault.  Do they care?  Ask and see what they say, remaining polite despite their response.

Thanks Mom!

Last night I had an unusual situation where I was owed nearly $60.00 and the passenger had evidently left his wallet on Beacon Hill and we were then miles north of there in Shoreline, Washington.  Trying to figure out the situation, he had called his mother  on my telephone.  We were in now in Shoreline because he said his older brother Eric would help out with the situation.  Stopping at where he said his brother was, Josh suddenly disappeared into the night.

Knowing that his mother would be impressed, I called her and got the brother's address.  Upon opening his door I gave Eric the clothes Josh had left in the back seat, along with telling him that his brother had just committed a criminal misdemeanor. Josh called while Eric and I were talking, Eric telling him to get over to his house immediately.  Eric gave me $50.00 and apologized for his brother's behavior.  I told him it was nothing, just pleased to have been more or less paid. 

What I would love to hear is what his family said to the misguided drunk and stoned Josh.  I am sure it was entertaining.

Loss of Revenue

It appears that last week's posting has gotten some attention from the walking (or is it, driving) dead, all those taxi zombies waking up to the fact that we are truly in trouble.  Maybe they are ready to rally.  Maybe!

Less Than Literate Irish

Sunday I took a group of Irish kids (in their mid-20s) to a play field on Lake Washington.  Of course they knew about Yeats and Joyce but not one of Ireland's great poets, Louis MacNeice.  I get tired of knowing more about someone's native literature than they do. I am not amused because I know that they think they are informed and modern human beings.  Yeah right is my comment. A poem by MacNeice:

                                                          The Taxis

In the first taxi he was alone tra-la,
No extra on the clock.  He tipped ninepence
But the cabby, while he thanked him, looked askance
As though to suggest someone had bummed a ride.

In the second taxi he was alone tra-la
But the clock showed sixpence extra; he tipped according
And the cabby from his muffler said: Make sure
You have left nothing behind tra-la between you.

In the third taxi he was alone tra-la
But the tip-up seats were down and was an extra
Charge of one-and-sixpence and an odd
Scent that reminded him of a trip to Cannes.

As for the fourth taxi, he was alone
Tra-la when he hailed but the cabby looked
Through him and said: "I can't tra-la well take
So many people, not to speak of the dog."

                                                       L. MacNeice

The Cannes reference reminds me that my ex-wife studied dance with Roberta Tallchief in that French city many years ago.

And I must include a stanza from his "Bagpipe Music" which is one of my all-time favorite poems:

"It's no go the Yogi-Man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi."

Written in 1938.

Ah yes, a cabby's primary concern, money and sex!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Verification Of A New & Scary Reality: 2013-2014 City Of Seattle Official Taxi Industry Statistics

Statistics sometimes can and do tell an accurate story.  In this case the statistics scream out an contrary tune, not one us cabbies want to hear.   I will confine myself to three sets of statistics confirming that we in Seattle and King County are in big trouble, clearly explaining why all of us have found business the past year to be an ongoing struggle.  This is also what happens when you either do little to nothing to combat your business adversaries; or as illustrated by what happened in the mayoral negotiations, when the industry allows itself to be out maneuvered and pushed against  a wall.  It is a bad story but one nonetheless worth heeding. 

Total Odometer Miles

2012-2013---65,797,520          2013-2014---67,366,394   

What you see is the difference of 1,568,874 miles, or in percentage, an increase of 2.33 percent which is this case is not positive when put in perspective with the figures representing total revenue miles and total fare revenues.  What the figure of over 67 million miles tells us is that Seattle and King County taxis drove more miles while making less money.  This cannot be called neither a good nor sustainable situation.

Total Revenue Miles

2012-2013---$30,063,313.00         2013-2014---$21,942,013.00

What we are looking at is a total industry revenue lost per mile of $8,121,300.00 or a loss of just over 27 percent.

Total Fare Revenue

2012-2013---$99,965,384.00        2013-2014---$71,580,226.00

These are the figures that should "take you breath away."  What we see is a decline of nearly 28 1/2 million dollars over a one year period, or a drop of 28.39 percent or nearly one-third of last year's total revenue.  If you didn't understand it before, this helps explains the impact of the City of Seattle and King County's policy changes regarding TNC/Rideshare companies (Uber,Lyft,Sidecar) and the flat-rate for-hire companies.  Where has all the money gone?  Into their pockets, not ours.  This is not funny on any level.


We are operating in a saturated market.  In a conversation with Craig Leisy from Seattle's Office of  Financial Affairs, he estimated that there are 5000 TNC/Rideshare drivers.   While that is difficult to comprehend, if true it means that if we as an industry don't actively respond in a number of areas  comprising both legal and overall service and quality, we will only experience a continued diminishing of total income.  Many locally also don't understand this but we also nearing a situation that, minus aggressive intervention, Sea-Tac will soon be opened up to both the TNC/Rideshare and flat-rate for-hire industries.  This would mean yet another disastrous reduction in overall taxi revenue. 

All I can say, gentlemen and ladies, is that we are in real peril.  Over the next few weeks I will be offering potential responses.  I suggest you take this crisis seriously before all of us are just sitting hour after hour staring at the computer wondering just how are we going to pay our bills. 

And I must add that driving for Uber is not the answer.  Ask your friends currently driving for them and they will tell you what they already know: they have become a new version of indentured servant minus any legal protections or redress.  Capitulation is not, and never will be the answer. 

Farwest Taxi Driver Caught in Crossfire

I don't have many details but sometime Monday, June 8th, a Farwest taxi driver was wounded in the stomach by an errant bullet in Des Moines, Washington, a community south of Sea-Tac Airport.  The driver is expected to recover.  As I always say about this business, you can't be careful enough, too many miles on the road adding up to countless potential situations both good and bad.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My First Offical Seattle Taxi Complaint

Through the years I have gotten more "off-of-the-wall" complaints than I can possibly remember.  Sometimes weekly I am relayed an allegation about my "driving behavior" or some other violation of civilized and cultured society.  Complaints have, and will continue to be part of the usual taxi landscape. For many the color yellow is red to the bull, an excuse to say anything about a subject  "deserving some important dialogue."  Whether valid or not is certainly not the point, more important to "inform the world" of a mutant under-class. I am guessing all the callers expect themselves to be believed given the prevalent mythology, cabbie and social deviant one and the same.

One memorable complainant was the drunk woman who jumped out of my cab while it was still moving, saying I beat her up, this after she weaved through traffic before darting off the street directly into a brick wall.  Another unforgettable situation was my first interaction years ago with the then new Yellow GM, the late Frank Dogwilla, Frank closing the door to his office and slyly asking why I had stolen the passenger's down jacket?  "You mean that hooker I had dropped off........?" I exclaimed.  Suffice to say there was no jacket, only another deranged passenger making yet another false statement, for some distorted reason attempting to have me punished for what real crime I never knew.  

Unfortunately this kind of dishonesty is too often commonplace, the taxi industry a convenient punching bag for everyone, not just mayors and city council members.  This is especially true since there are no personal consequences or dire repercussions for the commenter.  Say anything you want and keep saying it, it somehow not mattering whether these behavior patterns make sense or carry real justifications.  Somehow it seems there is an underlying sentiment that cabbies, being inherently criminal, deserve such treatment, the commentators viewing themselves as helpful vigilantes protecting society at large.  This most recent Saturday morning I was greeted with this kind of complaint, casting a pall over an already unpleasant task called driving a stupid cab.  Thanks for painting me as the usual congenital miscreant.  I certainly appreciate it!

The complaint stated, made by a "disabled veteran" minus any information concerning time or place, that I had honked at him while he waited for pedestrians in a crosswalk.  After that I followed him for a 1/2 mile in the cab before recklessly cutting him off.  The only problem with this scenario is that I have no memory of if occurring whatsoever.  Honking at various folks stopped at green lights I have done but chasing down and endangering both of us I haven't.  In my BYG incident report I wrote I had no memory of any incident of this kind, stating it appeared to simply be a lie.  My only plausible guess as to why someone would do this is because I or some other driver irritated the person and decided to exact revenge.  If the incident did actually occur, it was with someone else, not me. 

In an email yesterday to Craig Leisy, head of the Consumer Division of the Financial Affairs Office, I more or less said the same, wondering "out loud" why these kinds of unsubstantiated allegations are ever passed on.  As Mr. Leisy has repeatedly said when queried about lack of enforcement on the streets, requirements concerning burdens of proof necessitated undercover contacts, of course explaining why only a mere handful of violations have been issued---which is why I told him it is contradictory to forward the kind of allegation I am now dealing with.  Why make sense when you don't have to is my comment upon all this. 

An irony attached to this was Leisy's email announcing a date change for TAG (Taxi Advisory Group) which I have of course been a part of for years.  If I do attend the June 30th meeting, what should I say to him and everyone else about this complaint process?  That I find it fair and equable and just?   My opinion at the present is one of victimization and little else.  Having done nothing I still must stand trial in whatever fashion.  Franz Kafka, Grorge Orwell, Aruther Koseler, Miroslav Krleza, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury would certainly have all understood.  All one needs to do is examine the 2-inch long printed meter receipts for verification, tiny print on each and everyone giving out the official taxi complaint hot-line number. What I ask is plain. What does the complaint number have to do with providing customers with a record of their cash or credit card transaction?  What is the City of Seattle and King County implying; what are they saying to the taxi passenger?   Are they inferring that innate distrust is part and parcel of your just completed taxi ride?  If it isn't that, then what is it they are telling you and me and everyone else?  That there can't be anything good about  all of this should be obvious.

Another bad part of all this is that the Uber, Lyft and Sidecar vehicles have no apparent external identification telling the public who they are despite, at least in Seattle and King County, the drivers hold the same for-hire driver license that cabbie's do.  So while all the taxi drivers can be subjected to any and all idle or not commentary, the TNC drivers are completely immune and essentially invisible to the public eye.  As I told Leisy, how can this be fair? 

I do think it is a reasonable question asking whether anyone governing the Seattle and King County taxi industry truly have our best interests in mind.  If someone as responsible as me can be treated like this, then maybe a thorough examination of the entire system is called for.  Or maybe one can say that one solitary official complaint over a 28 year span is nothing but clearly I don't feel that way.  Percentage wise, yes, that is true but still, isn't there a better way to do things?  There has to be, as how can it be much worse?  I hate to contemplate.

A post-script is to why am I so sensitive about false accusations.  It goes way back to 1959 and the Ravine Park Village housing projects in Toledo, Ohio when, upon entering our yard, my father picks me up and starts hitting, shouting that the police were there saying I had broken a plate glass window. Shouting back in protest I yelled I hadn't done anything, which was completely true.  I describe this in detail in my new youthful  memoir I am shopping, "To Age 13," where I go on to say that I hunted down the kid who in truth was responsible and had lied to the police.  My resentment around this then goes back a very long time. 

Given the current situation, if you asked me the time and location of the incident and the driver's gender I couldn't tell you because I know nothing about it.  Funny how little life can change over a span of 56 years, what happens to you at age 5 and 61 one and the same.  Amazing!