Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Connecting The Dots

When I was in my pre- and post kindergarten years I loved receiving the child's magazine, Humpty Dumpty, the first subscription I ever received, a rare parental gesture by my usually self-absorbed mother and father.  One feature I enjoyed were the drawings where "connecting the dots" revealed some creature or object concealed in the outline.  Taking my pencil I would obediently draw connecting lines from 1 to 2 to 3 and so on until a gaggle of ducks quacked at me.  Often I would already see what I was  creating but the fun was in the process, in the doing.  That I was not having any fun Sunday afternoon when 478's fuel pump failed on the west-bound 3600 hundred-block of 15th Avenue West is an understatement; a situation further compounded by waiting 3 hours for the tow truck.  And believe me, Seattle's drivers don't see an inch beyond their noses!  How did these people qualify for driving licenses when obviously they are not ready for the experience.

I utilize my Humpty Dumpty example from many years ago to illustrate something self-evident from Sunday's experience: connecting the dots bringing into view a series of events taking me to that moment where I was mere seconds away from breaking down in the middle of the Ballard Bridge, not something any cabby would want, the sheer danger scary to consider.  Though I could lay all the blame upon Yellow, it wouldn't be either fair or accurate, a history far more complicated than the mere pointing of fingers at convenient targets.

Following the dots brings you more correctly to the source and cause of Sunday's not-so-pleasant mechanical failure.  While Yellow and the other associations have a well-known history of poor decisions and chaotic organization, it's clear that at the same time you need money to operate and coordinate, and the current business pressures presented by Uber & friends, the flat-rate for-hires and the town-cars have had an ill and debilitating effect.  The inescapable reality for BYG/PSD (Yellow) is that it has less money than it needs for the moment to efficiently operate what is a multi-million dollar business.  So let's begin connecting the dots, revealing the true villains in this story.

I begin with King County's attitude eight years back or so when they decided to issue 50 King County licenses while completely disregarding their own RFP (Request for Proposal) requirements.  What they were really telling us was that we in the local Seattle and King County taxi industry held little or no standing with local regulators, neither liking or respecting us.  That was further clarified by allowing the eventual "Green Cab" operators to not follow the stated guidelines.  KC thumbed their nose, saying, "Screw you!"  I now have reports that those same "Green Cab" licensees, having never followed the mandated "employer/employee"dictate, have now transferred those "limited" licenses to other associations in clear violation of how and why they were granted.

Continue to the next dot when Seattle and King County finally filled the seats of the dormant Seattle & KC Taxi Advisory Commission, peopling it with unqualified candidates, setting it up for failure.  One appointee failed to show up even once for an entire year, and was never seen by the other commission members; while another only appeared twice before vanishing, never to be seen again.  Any attempt to remedy the sorry situation fell upon deaf bureaucratic ears.  The commission currently resides in governmental limbo, which is exactly where the City of Seattle and King County wants it to be, residing in an imaginary netherworld somewhere in the City Council's collective brain.

Take your pencil to the next dot which is the Seattle & KC decision to release over 200 Seattle flat-rate for-hire licenses and a County-wide unlimited licensing entry, meaning if you were dumb enough to put on a million flat-rate County cars, you could.  This decision was made despite the legal option and demand for over an additionally permitted 300 plus City taxi licenses.  All this was done knowing that the flat-rate for-hire licenses were released minus any immediately viable operational model.  After that, for the next three-plus years, the flat-rate licensees were allowed to essentially operate illegally upon Seattle's streets minus any viable enforcement.

Your next dot is the Seattle and King County decision not to immediately put a stop to the illegal incursion in a regulated market by Uber Lyft & Sidecar.   That they did nothing said everything about their attitude toward the local taxi industry.  While the taxi industry complained, Uber & friends soared unhindered over Seattle's roads and byways.  Adding insult to obvious injury, Uber wailed that they, not us, were the afflicted party.

Now turn your pencil to the Seattle City Council and their decision to pay $100,000 to an outside team of so-called transportation experts, Professors Cooper and Mundy, to conduct a "passenger demand" study.  That the City Council ignored our complaints that one, Cooper & Mundy knew nothing in real terms about taxi in general and our situation in Seattle in particular; and two, their ultimate conclusions were amateurish and inaccurate, setting us up for the Murray fiasco.  Cooper and Mundy continue to masquerade as "taxi experts," spreading havoc across the known taxi landscape.  While not quite "blood money," I wonder how Cooper and Mundy sleep at night?

You can now begin to see the ugly, snarling creature taking shape upon the page, further brought into focus by connecting to former Mayor McGinn's doomed decision to create his "after midnight" part-time taxi stands while completely ignoring industry's real needs, allowing the University of Washington to rebuild a new and giant college football stadium minus taxi stands and wheelchair and disabled access.  As the new Husky football season approaches (1st home game 09/12/15), not one solitary stand has been created.  How can that be in one of America's most well known "liberal" cities?  Composting is important but picking up the disabled after the game appears not to be a priority.  Who is being treated like garbage?

Continue connecting to the City Council's grand announcement that they had settled upon a 250 car cap for all TNC/Ride-share companies, where self-congratulation was the order of the day.  How proud they were, still hearing Sally Clark's pronouncements to this moment.

Next make a wiggly line to the next post-Mayoral election City Council announcement that they were cancelling their much debated ordinance in favor of a new one orchestrated by the new mayor, Ed Murray.  And they never gave a plausible reason as to why they were dumping their bill.  It was just something we in the taxi industry had to accept minus any options.  One single owner said it was the best deal they could get.  "Nothing whatsoever" was the best deal?  Unbelievable!

Connect to Murray's preordained negotiation hearings where Uber & friends were given unlimited entry while the taxis remained capped.  Anything major (like licenses changing to medallions) gained by the industry was already in the bureaucratic pipeline.

If you are still able to grip your pencil, connect to the City Council 8-1 vote disavowing all their hearings and meetings and hard work, giving Uber everything they wanted while Murray quickly set his signature to the deal.  Only Mike O'Brien voted in opposition to what was clearly a fatal stab in the taxi industry's back.  That ersatz socialist,  Kshama Sawant made a strange statement to the effect that "big money's" victory was inevitable, somehow explaining her vote for sinking the taxi industry.  Huh!?  To be further nauseated, check out that great liberal rag, "The Nation---150 years old and counting" and their feature about the heroic Sawant.  Whatever she might be, she ain't no dalit leading the caste-trodden masses.  Can anyone say "Brahman?"

Take that pencil and now connect to BYG/PSD's winter "mothballing" of a large percentage of its fleet and the laying off of invaluable shop mechanics along with the curtailing of cashier and driver superintendent hours.  The annual Thanksgiving Feast provided by BYG was cancelled for the first time in over 20 years.  The lesson here is you can't spend money you don't have.

Your pencil now moves to the second to last dot and Washington State Legislature's decision ending mandatory Labor & Industry insurance protection for owners and lease-drivers.  July 23rd is the new opt-in/opt-out date.  Another "great" liberal, Governor Jay Inslee, signed the bill.

For the final dot completing the monster's toothy, menacing grin, grab another pencil and  make a thick red line to new City of Seattle statistics stating that we in the local industry last year lost nearly one-third of our gross income while working harder for what we got.  Not funny which brings me to my original thought, that everything isn't what it seems upon first glance, a short story expanded to novella.

Now that money is in shorter supply, routine  maintenance has been downgraded.  Perhaps that faulty or failing fuel pump would have been caught before I was stranded way out there on 15th West.  And more tow trucks would have resulted, in the usual fashion, of getting the disabled cab back to the lot within a hour or so.  In 28 years, the 3 hours was my longest wait, 45-60 minutes being usual. 

In conclusion, what seems simple, isn't.  After hearing the tow truck driver's explanation, I even gave him my customary $5.00 tip.  He was a good guy, and I admired how he swung 478 around in a tight parking lot.  Let's lay the blame where it really belongs, and that is the City of Seattle and King County's treatment of our industry.  They have kicked us like a can down the street.  Clearly it is time for us to kick back.  Are you ready is all I can ask?  Are you ready to take your industry back from the hands of fools?  Are you tired of being stepped upon and ground into the dirt?  I am ready to hear your answer.  If losing your livelihood isn't enough, what will it take to get your attention?  Guns pointed at your heads and driven from your homes?  In short, guys and gals, this is serious business.  Understand it.  Comprehend.  Do something. Do something about it.


  1. Once again Joe, your inherent biases in relation to what happened has again lead you to tell only part of the story and because of these inherent biases, you have, once again, done both your fellow drivers and readers a huge disservice!

    While true that local government officials decision making may have been questionable at best and inherently prejudicial at its worst, you still do not want to grasp or even discuss the most critical issues that are now facing this industry and how these issues have very little to do with your local government and everything to do with how companies like yours have responded to this change.

    More importantly, if this issue was just a local one, then maybe your argument might have some merit, but this is not the case.

    The simple fact is that most, if not all localities are grappling with this and each were operating as a closed market.

    While true that there were reasons; such as an ability for those that are providing the service to make a living, which is why previous schemes of deregulation failed, in addition to a further degradation of service which was the initial reason for previous rounds of deregulation, as well as increase in cost for passengers as competitors fell by the wayside; the inherent design of selecting specific companies for the general purpose of creating a closed market ironically did not solve the aforementioned problems.

    There are reasons why the door was left open for both the For Hires and Rideshares (or TNCs) to operate in this city and unless you tackle this question on its own terms and stop railing about just the governmental apparatus, then neither you or companies like Yellow will be able to survive in this new marketplace.

    Furthermore, you are still lumping together your fate with that of your company and you still do not want to see that you have separate interests and means of making a living. Their interests are not YOUR interests and the roll out of your company's new dispatch system and how that cost everyone driving more business than either the rideshares or the For Hires did was a case in point.

    Let's take another example; Workman's Compensation and Liability Insurance.

    As of today, these policies are now canceled. They are now elective, BUT, have your lease rates been changed to reflect these changes in cost to you, the one who leases? Do you see any signs posted that reflect how your cost of doing business should have gone down?

    Of course not and this is why your inherent prejudices and mindset have prevented you from seeing the full picture.

    There services were allowed in because in many respects, the previous model was not serving the city and its residents at a level that was reflective of need.

    You can complain about not increasing the amount of cabs for close to 20 years to reflect a growing population, but fail to answer why these shortages were never fully addressed.

    For example, if too many cabs are allowed to enter a market, then it devalues the license or medallion of an owner.

    An excellent example of that kind of shortage and mindset in relation to need was the NYC market.

    For countless years, the auction price of a medallion went up and up because of the limitations of how many were auctioned off each year. This preservation and subsequent increase of value benefited both the city in terms of revenue from the auctions, as well as owners who won the medallions because they knew that a few additional medallions on the street were not reflective of the actual need in terms of service.

    In other words, the number of cabs on the road were kept artificially low for a reason and it served both interests regardless of need!

    Then there is the quality of service, an issue you refuse to discuss.

    To be continued...

  2. It is not just a matter of price, because there was a time when Uber's pricing was comparable to the city's established rate. While true that they were operating "under the radar" (and yes, this was still a matter of discretionary enforcement), they gained market share because ultimately they did provide better service!

    It is not just the hipsters who think it is cool to play with their smart phone Joe.

    It was their overall service which allowed them to gain greater market share and this market share is still growing.

    Or let's put it another way, in light of NYC's recent decision to not put limits on Uber in terms of their fleet and how taxi companies did the same thing there as they did here (as in standing pat and already watching their medallions value shrink), what do you think will happen in NYC?

    The same thing here, only WORSE because when their values shrink, we are talking about hundreds of millions of losses, which pales in comparison to the loss in value in the Seattle market.

    Taxi companies fought to preserve the existing system and while it made sense in some respects to hitch your wagon to what was happening to them, you still do not want to understand why these changes happened and you refuse to adjust to their impact.

    For example, if I was Yellow Cab, I would now be pressing an argument about unfair competition.

    Their segment of the industry is still far more regulated than Uber, especially in relation to price point.

    I would make an argument about converting myself to a TNC so I could create more flexibility in terms of a business model. If the city said no, THEN THEY HAVE A CASE THAT IS WORTH FIGHTING!

    Instead, Yellow made an argument about creating a plate leasing scenario, whereby they pass the cost of operation onto YOU and all these costs will include the costs Yellow used to absorb as part of their operational overhead (insurance, car repairs and so on) and while you will be allowed to lease the shift you do not drive, well, good luck in terms of finding someone!

    There are rumors that the city has finally agreed to this scenario, but at a lower rate than Yellow wanted to initially charge, which again comes back to a disjointed regulatory scheme.

    In other words, if Uber wanted to make a change in their business model, then they do not have to ask for permission, they can just do it, whereas Yellow still has to get permission. This does not mean that I agree with this change, but I respect their right to run their business as they see fit even if I disagree.

    Furthermore, it appears that they want to change their business model in such a way that they will eliminate garage services, as well as close down the lot and just move Puget Sound Dispatch to a new location. The garage has become a huge money loser for Yellow (mostly due to the CNGs), but if they eliminate it, along with its below market repair pricing, well, try to envision how much a transmission will now cost to replace if you have to absorb the cost.

    Many will lose their jobs in this kind of change and that is assuming they will find enough takers and from what I hear, the one year contract in terms of leasing the plate will be guaranteed. In other words, lets say you have an at fault accident and do not have the capital to replace the vehicle. You will still be responsible for the full amount due over the course of that year.

    To be continued...

  3. Or, to put it another way, all the responsibilities of ownership without real ownership and yes, you will still be tied to PSD and their fees as well.

    This is my way of saying that Yellow has not adapted to the changes in the market.

    They lost drivers because their lease rates were still too high relative to the rate of return and then they experienced an even bigger exodus of drivers after that disastrous system roll out.

    They did nothing to create a better fleet and did nothing in terms of pushing the city to create a more competitive business model and now, they are looking for ways to ditch operational expenses onto YOU, while not changing their means of operation.

    Which brings me to those who lease.

    Ask yourself a question Joe, would you accept a deal like this in light of what happened?

    Even here, you do not tell the full story and this relates to the employee lawsuit and decision against Uber.

    When there were discussions of organizing drivers, part of the discussions revolved around an employee lawsuit.

    In other words, changing our designation from an “independent contractor” to “employee” and there were multiple reasons for this change. One, if the city wanted greater competition, then initially, those who lease initially bore the greatest burden of that competition, BUT, it was also the single argument the city might have listened to from the point of view of the driver, other than the usual broken record of how the governmental apparatus did not do this or that. This was especially true in light of the $15NOW movement and how that legislation ultimately passed.

    The impact of that kind of argument from a driver's point of view would have been huge and created a bargaining chip we did not have.

    Also keep in mind that this is the first of many lawsuits that are looking to change that designation and this includes lawsuits against the more traditional parts of this industry. I am not saying that the designation should be changed, because there are arguments for and against, but it would have gotten you or some other representative a place at the bargaining table!

    Even that report you complain about over and over again; in order to challenge the nature of that report and its findings, you cannot just call it bogus. YOU MUST PROVIDE EVIDENCE OF WHY IT IS BOGUS AND THAT MEANS COMMISSIONING ANOTHER STUDY AND FINDING THE MEANS TO PAY FOR IT! Then, the city will listen because you have provided the grounds to force them to listen!

    And what was the one factor left out in that report?

    The rapidly increase in the cost of living in this city and how that would impact ridership!

    Higher cost does equal to less disposable income, but you first have to prove that link and how it will effect ridership!

    Ironically, Uber came up with an answer that benefited their business, a far lower rate than ours, thus increasing their ridership, while ours went down even further.

    In conclusion, you Joe MUST learn to be more honest with yourself and, by extension, your readers.

    YOU HAVE NOT CONNECTED THE DOTS JOE and by leaving out this part of the story, you have left out the part that has ultimately impacted both you and all of your fellow drivers the most!

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