Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A New Era At Seattle Yellow Taxi & An Open Letter To The Port of Seattle

Last week I saw a letter taped to the wall next to the cashier's window asking Yellow's head of operations five questions.  Listening to various comments from the drivers in attendance I attempted to answer them. This then is a reprise, that if I can remember the questions.  After a 2 1/2 day single shift, it is doubtful I remember much other than I was tried, I am tired and tired I remain.  The best part of my upcoming six weeks wandering northeastern Europe, apart from unexpected adventures and occurrences, is the prospect of being thoroughly rested. Each year a large percentage of Yellow's immigrant drivers go back home for two months or more, leaving during our winter months and returning in the spring, revived and ready again to battle it out for yet another ten months.

But since so many cabbies remain puzzled concerning the immediate future, I will attempt to replace rumor with fact, at least to the limits to what I know.  It isn't that I have a personal pipeline to Yellow's leadership. It is more that I attempt to pay attention and read between the taxi lines.  Direct communication, as so many of us know too well, is often lacking.  Given that is our reality, here are the gaps more-or-less filled.

Yes, the co-op will no longer be operating as once known.  All insurance either will be going through single owners, or as in the case of drivers leasing the medallions, through them.  Drivers with poor driving records will be losing out, with many probably unable to find a car to drive.  It has been said that Yellow is currently paying the unsustainable insurance rates of 12-13 thousand dollars per car.  Multiply that by 150 and you can instantly understand why they are ready to rid themselves of  high operating costs.  That this situation was created in the first place makes little to no business sense.  Another important factor is the now $25,000 rent due monthly for the current lot.  Would you want to pay that much?   I personally find that unacceptable. Seattle rental costs are out-of-control.  There can be no argument concerning that.

Yes, the lot now located at 74 South Hudson will be shut down.  And yes, the shop will also close.  As far as I know, Puget Sound Dispatch, along with the business office, will be locating somewhere near the intersection of South 128th & Des Moines Memorial South.

But no, at least at this juncture, Yellow has not lost the Sea-Tac airport contract.  All evidence points to a year's extension, meaning they will have the contract officially until next Autumn.  Though saying that, it doesn't mean that the current arrangement is guaranteed past next October 2016  Uber and Lyft are applying pressure, along with that flat-rate for-hire industry group, Q.  The best way to counteract their tactics is to personally contact the Port of Seattle and tell them what you think is best for their customer base. Yellow has been doing an excellent job ensuring that the arriving airline passengers are picked up quickly and efficiently.  When contacting the Port of Seattle, please mention that it is essential that Uber and Lyft cars are readily identifiable, just as the taxis are.  Otherwise, the Port of Seattle is endangering passengers by not assuring that all TNC/Ride-share pickups are legal.  Decals broadcasting that the cars are working for Uber and Lyft and any other TNC company is immediately necessary, protecting both the rider public and the TNC independent operators.  What is occurring now, illegal TNC pickups on the arrival level, is not workable nor fair to all of the dedicated cabbies currently serving Sea-Tac.  Dishonesty should not be sanctioned.

Letter to the Port of Seattle

Dear Port of Seattle Commissioners,

Rumor upon wave of rumor is sweeping the taxi industry, whispering that the Port of Seattle is bowing to pressure to open up Sea-Tac Airport to the TNC/Ride-share and flat-rate for hire industry.  Before taking that giant step and changing what has worked efficiently for years, I first suggest you look closely at the industries that are knocking upon the Port's door, seeking permanent entry.  Please first consider who they are and their immediate past.  Would they prove to be the trustworthy partners like Yellow has proven to be? All recent evidence points to the contrary.

Until the Seattle City Council, and the Seattle Mayor, opened up the market to the TNC and flat-rate industries, all of them operated illegally upon Seattle's streets regardless of consequences.  They did not care who they harmed or what laws were broken.  Acting with impunity, and minus remorse, they thumbed their noses at everyone, saying all of you can "go to hell!,"  we will do anything we want.  Just try to stop us!

That both the City of Seattle and King County capitulated to this kind of behavior says nothing good about their decision-making capacities.  Kicking the compliant and regulated "down the street" is certainly no way to recognize 100 years of service to City and County.  They should have done better, and I am asking that the Port of Seattle take a different path.  Reward, not punishment I believe is merited in this case.

Thank you.


One Cab Driver Who Understands The Taxi Road

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Covered In Doritos, Cheetos And BBQ Potato Chips

As I have said, and now repeat, there isn't a call I don't want to serve, regardless who the customer is or might be. Equal opportunity is my enduring taxi motto. While remaining my operational credo, there still remains basic standards all passengers must meet.  One, above any other, is that he/she is not manipulative on any level.  Manipulation translates into dishonesty which translates further into a real potentiality for trouble and danger. Past experience, some of it hard learned, has shown this to be true. It might seem surprising but that kind of passenger, the non-average customer, is rare simply for the reason that most folks call a taxi to get to where they need to go, minus any and all other potential agendas.

But when someone enters the taxi with other than pure motives, it instantly becomes clear because the usual taxi dynamic of "Hi, where are you going?" and the the meter "lighting up" is altered into the unexpected. One consistent alarm bell is "I want a flat rate." when one is not called for, always implying that they are not interested in conducting "business as usual," that something else is afoot.  While I could explain further the psychology behind the seemingly innocuous, this kind of request is an unnecessary nuisance and intrusion. Nobody has, and never will describe a taxi ride as some kind of cut-rate bargain. That is just basic reality. Taxis are expensive, explaining why most of my taxi rides have been in Mexico and South America and not in western Europe.

As I have said somewhere in the past, flat-rates are dictated either  by the City of Seattle or by negotiation between BYG/PSD and an individual or company.  Unless someone  is clearly poverty stricken, my passengers pay the going rate.  More than once I have bent to pressure only to have the fools pay the reduced fare with a hundred dollar bill.  That they don't notice the irony is something worth noting.

Manipulative people, I have discovered more than once, care little about consequences save what benefits them, depending upon accepted cultural norms and civility to circumvent all protest and hostility. In short, they expect capitulation, active resistance surprising them, nine out of ten times finding a compliant victim.. When told "No, I am not participating." they act shocked, pretending the "tables have been turned," the predator now the offended prey, you having done the harm, not them.  It is a predictable ploy.

The three young African-American women wanted to go to Everett from the Northgate & Aurora North Arco AM-PM gas station.  Depending on whether it is north or south Everett, the fare is usually a $50-60.00 dollar and sometimes a lot more.  And when you are tired, like I was at that moment, you truly want your pain and suffering and forced endurance to be worth the effort.

Getting into the cab, they first requested to smoke (against local and state ordinances) and wanted a flat-rate. Curious about what they were up to, I asked how much they wanted to pay?  Their $30.00 request told me everything I needed to know about them.

From my 28 plus years taxi experience I have found out that the majority of people requesting either a reduced fare or a fare estimate already know the answer, having traveled the route more than once in a taxi.  Asking for a 50 percent reduction is not reasonable, a kind of compliant robbery, asking that please, would you kindly pickpocket yourself?.  That they don't do this at the local grocery store says everything about them.  They are looking for a victim and you have just been nominated.  It is completely up to you to respond properly and decline their invitation.

Pausing for a few seconds, listening to the "resonance" of the situation, I reluctantly decided to terminate the ride before it began, understanding I was in trouble if the ride commenced northward. Upon telling them they had to leave he cab, they immediately began saying that "they would pay the entire fare, etc."

But what they didn't want to admit is that by requesting a flat-rate, asking for an indulgence not requested by my other 75 plus fares, they had "upset the taxi apple cart" and there could be no returning to an assumed normality.  I have tired that more than once, only to encounter a smoldering animosity making for an uncomfortable if not dangerous journey, with the passengers critiquing my driving and anything else they can come up with.  If  I want some version of Hell, let me deal directly with the Devil and no one else. It would be easier.

Not happy being told they had to leave, despite my offer to get them another cab, they refused to leave. That is when I called 911 and requested assistance.  One of the ladies got out to scream over the telephone at dispatch.  The other two, understanding I wasn't relenting, and that the police would eventually show up, got out, but not without a final protest, pouring bags of Doritos, spicy Cheetos and Barbecue Potato Chips all over the back seat and floorboard.  Even after a thorough vacuuming, I was still finding remnants of their attack upon 478's dignity.  Frankly I was just glad they were gone, their actions proving what I knew from the outset---they didn't have a lick of respect for me as a human being.  It was too obvious to miss.

Seeing a passing Uber-X "Black Car,"  the troublesome trio flagged the driver down and off into the night they went, minus insurance coverage of course.  Soon thereafter two patrol cars arrived, the officers helpful and friendly, which is a dramatic change from the recent past.  Witnessing the scattered snacks, they understood that, whatever happened, it wasn't a pleasant experience.  For me, it was just another in a long litany of unwanted episodes. As long as I keep driving, there will be others.  Maybe next time though the potato chips will be organic.  I would appreciate that.  And sanity and maturity would also be helpful.  That would be wonderful.

PS 08/19

I know many of you are curious about just what is happening at Seattle Yellow Taxi, given all the rumors and misinformation swirling  round the lot.  Next week I will have a full and as accurate report as possible.  One indication that the co-op as we know it is ending is that I personally will be taking over 478, leasing the medallion and taking full responsibility for insurance, car replacement, etc.  That this is happening just 19 days before I leave for Europe is a pain in the you-know-what, but there is no getting around it.  Everything is changing and only a fool ignores the obvious.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Seattle Taxi Will Never Be The Same

What had been long  rumored has been confirmed---sometime within the next few months, the BYG/Yellow taxi co-op will no longer exist in its current form, replaced by a system where lease-drivers will be renting/leasing taxi medallions on a 3-5 year commitment.  Precipitating factors fueling this monumental change in how Seattle's largest taxi association does business is due to the following antecedents reshaping and configuring our local industry.

Regulatory adjustments transforming "rented" licenses into real, negotiable property, along with the desire to be rid of  debilitating and prohibitive financial commitments monetarily draining the co-op convinced BYG that, like Uber, a more hands-off operational business model made for a more survivable future.  Since the City of Seattle and King County created an uncapped TNC/Ride-share market, it was logical that adjustments had to be made.  Removing the cost and headache of car replacement along with maintenance and repair makes numeric sense, eliminating onerous salaries and overhead. One unfortunate consequence is that some drivers might end up without a taxi to drive.  I am sure the more experienced drivers will survive. More than likely it will be the newcomers who are destined to fall due to this new evolutionary shift, adaption the underlying imperative.  Of course taxi is a "dog eat dog" "cat eat cat" world.  Always has been and always will be, continuing into taxi eternity.

But I must point out that if the initial  municipal response to Uber. Lyft and Sidecar had been less welcoming, it is doubtful this transformation at Yellow would have occurred, at least this quickly.  This is what happens when a regulated industry's pleas fell upon deaf bureaucratic ears.  I am guessing that some city council members are pleased with the outcome, feeling that we in the taxi industry have gotten just what we deserved.  All I can say to that attitude is that bias and nonfactual mythology should never provide the foundation for broad changes in governmental policy. Just because you don't like someone shouldn't immediately translate into punishment, which is exactly what happened here in Seattle and King County.  As I've stated here before, Mayor Murray and the current Seattle City Council members, with the exception of Mike O'Brien, don't like us.  That fact is inescapable. And their recrimination has become our operational reality.  And what can we do about it?  That is a "good question" is my comment.

One Down, Four to Go

Last week's Seattle primary knocked three-term Council-member Jean Godden out of the race, Godden placing third.  As someone who once voted for her, I wish her well yet at the same time I remain unhappy she voted to uncap the TNC industry in Seattle.  Looking at the primary votes, it is unrealistic to think that the four remaining taxi offenders, Burgess, Bagwell, Harrell and Sawant will all lose out in November though Sawant in particular appears to be vulnerable.  I suggest it might be wise to actively support their opponents in the general election while asking for their support for our industry.  We require friends on the City Council, not vindictive enemies.

You Can Bet I Would Have

While driving an extra board cab last Wednesday afternoon, I was hit by a driver who ran a red light.  Minor damage and no injuries but if I had been hurt I would have filed my L&I claim with the State of Washington. One part of BYG's reorganization is that the L&I "over-payment" issue will be rendered moot.   L&I did send me an email.  When I have the time, I will tell you the substance of their reply but suffice to say, none of what is happening is their fault.  I think it is called, "passing the governmental buck" or something like that. The best part of the accident is that my passenger wasn't hurt.  Thankfully my quick foot translated into the front bumper taking the full impact.  Thank goodness for something!

File this into the "You Gotta Be Kiddin'" category!

No matter how long a cabbie has been driving, you will experience something new and different and usually, unwanted.  My last fare this weekend was this very silly woman who kept saying "how good she was looking tonight" and somehow, someway expecting me to respond favorably in a manner I don't want to even contemplate.  Talking over the loud rap music playing from her smart phone, she kept soliciting my attention.  The one thing I did say, as a joke, to her narcissistic self-commentary, was that "It was good that at least one person agreed with her."  meaning of course, her.  Leaving the taxi, she said, "I had been mean to her." for not taking her up on what she was offering.  Hey, she can keep it, thank you very much!  Good grief, Charlie Brown!

Another Example of Unexpected Consequences

The truth is, and it is the truth, is that the folks regulating the Seattle and King County taxi industry have been asleep at the regulatory wheel for a long time.  During the last TAG meeting, the current KC Department of Licensing director said to me that yes, he believes that fingerprints naturally alter yearly, when responding to my question as to "Why are the being drivers forced to have all ten fingers fingerprinted annually?"  He said that proof backing his assertion existed but I have yet to see it.  When I asked him whether he or anyone else at King County were required to have annual fingerprinting, he said, no, that it isn't required. I bring this up only to illustrate the kind of attitude and awareness prevalent with current administrators, having no idea concerning the world their policies create.  Too often the drivers who are licensed to drive taxis, flat-rate for-hire, and now Uber, are clueless to the environment they have entered.  For me, an incident Sunday night at Pier 69 (the Victoria Clipper) says it all, screaming it into the night.

Dispatch was slow in announcing that the "boat was in," leaving only me and the taxi supt in attendance.  A driver pulls up but acts confused because the door leading to US Customs remained closed. As he started to drive away, the Supt shouted "Where are you going?" and I told him, "The boat is here and the door is about to open." and as I was saying that, a Clipper employee unlocked and propped open the door.  Joking I told the driver, "But hey, if you want leave, go!" which prompted him  to take off.

As he was leaving the pier, a bunch of cabs came roaring up, thus signalling to him that indeed he needed to turn around.  Coming back around, he jumped out of his cab, yelling at me, telling his friends that I had told him to leave.  Huh? was the general response, because I am just another driver and anyway, I was just trying to get his attention.  What is troubling about this was his "in general" bewilderment, the gentleman seemingly incapable of interpreting a fairly straight-forward situation.  As I have said, and keep saying, this is what happens when perfectly nice people are put in a situation they are totally unprepared for.  But you can be sure that next year they will again take down his fingerprints, enabling to do what I have no idea.  Amazing, amazing, and I repeat, amazing!  And I'll say it again, "Good Grief!"

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Father William---Taxi's Upside Down Logic And Its Obtuse Abtractions Resulting In Minus Me, Minus You, What Can We Do?

Friday I wrote an email to Seattle's chief taxi, flat-rate for-hire, limo and TNC/Ride-share regulator, Mister Fred Podesta, telling him it didn't make any sense that all us lease-drivers were still paying for L&I coverage even though the State of Washington ended all mandatory coverage effective July 23, 2015, implementing an "opt-in" clause requiring independent payment.  For the moment the problem with this in Seattle and King County, and I am assuming the entire state, is that the State of Washington has failed to coordinate with applicable municipal regulators and the affected driver population. What the folks in Olympia don't realize is that they are requesting a double payment, asking everyone to pay twice.  Why would we object to that, given our booming business!?

But the primary reason for their inattention is simple, the State legislature's action  this past session having everything to do with political pressure emanating from Uber, and nothing to do whatsoever with the needs and concerns of the taxi industry.  With an estimated 5000 Uber drivers in Seattle/King County alone, Uber had no interest in complying with past L&I requirements.  When your sole focus is profit, why would you be interested in the well-being of your drivers?

Instead of course you would lobby to change the rules, and that is what happened.  That it affects others not involved in their operations is not their concern.  Money and money only their priority, something further reflected by Microsoft's recent  $100 million dollar Uber investment.  Just like Starbucks parallel financial arrangement with Uber rival Lyft, the big financial players know where the action is.  And it isn't with a bunch of taxi paupers.  Why care about chump-change when millions of dollars reside elsewhere?

Though for us sitting in Seattle, this is all very, very personal.  Twice since July 23rd I have paid through my lease for L&I coverage that, officially, is cancelled.  So nonsensically, very "Lewis Carroll-like," we are in a governmental dilemma where we are simultaneously being told we must sign up for L&I coverage even though all of us are still paying  for L&I coverage they say we no longer have.

The question then is simple and basic and obvious.  If we don't have it anymore, then why are we continuing to pay for it?  And even today, a colleague advised me not to bring it up, leaving well enough alone because of a dual connection not immediately obvious to the uninitiated.  Why understanding his request not to stir the pot, I must take offense when I am personally part of the cooking ingredients. Hey, I don't want to be part of  a confusing stew!  What to do they think I am, some kind of vegetable?

When L&I coverage was mandated, Seattle upped the lease-cap and meter rates to cover both required sales-tax and L&I costs.  The theory now goes that if the now non-existent L&I costs are subtracted from lease rates, a corresponding meter rate reduction must also follow.  While that may concern many, let me remind everyone that one of reasons many in the local taxi industry feared an increase in new City taxi licenses is that it would result in a reduction in artificially induced high license evaluations.  And guess what all those fools got instead?  Two hundred-plus flat-rate for-hire City licenses and 5000-7000 and still counting TNC cars taking a huge percentage of our customer-base.

And what do you think the average license is now worth?  Anywhere from 200-250 thousand less than just two years ago.  Pretty astounding, along with the City of Seattle's past position of not adding taxi licenses because average response times hadn't deteriorated.  All of this is funny but it is not humorous.

Who in their right "taxi mind" would risk buying a Seattle taxi license in this current business climate?  Not me, and doubtfully, not  anyone else who would willingly pay for a sinking ship. Why move closer to the edge when the folks in Olympia and Seattle have their sweaty hands pushing against your back?   If you fall and tumble over into the abyss, you can be sure they won't be catching you once you meet the bottom, the funeral costs all yours.

Mister Carroll, I am confident, would be proud, recognizing in the 21st century what was operational in mid-19th century England---bloated bureaucracies trampling basic citizen rights while kowtowing to local royalty.  Charles Dickens, along with America's Mark Twain, also had some commentary upon the situation.  Near as I can tell, Father William knows all about it:

Father William

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
     "And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head---
     Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
   "I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
   Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
    And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door---
   Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
   "I kept all my limps very supple
By the use of this ointment---one shilling the box---
   Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too
   For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak---
    Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
  And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
  Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
   That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose---
   What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
  Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
  Be off, or I'll kick you downstairs."

                              Lewis Carroll  (1832-98)

Nonsense perhaps but nonsense wise in the disguise of doggerel telling you a story of what is true, and remains, regardless if it drives you insane!  Fun stuff, Carroll's poetry even if what we have in the taxi industry, isn't. On page one of the two sided letter sent to everyone by L&I, it says that if you want to continue your coverage after July 23rd, you should fill out the enclosed form.  The only problem is simple, I didn't get one which is classic government incompetence from folks who really don't care about your well-being.  Of course they pretend to, will swear upon a stack of Bibles, Torahs,  Qur'ans, Tripitakas, Bhagavad-Gitas and Tao-te-Chings that they have your best interests at political heart but the proof, folks is in the the bureaucratic pudding but everyone, please beware because this dessert is curdled, sour to the stomach and poisonous to the mind.

If you are interested on any level contacting L&I and telling them anything you choose, here are a few contacts to assist you on you way.  As always, best wishes and good luck, you faithful taxi comrade, "Father Joseph."



joel.sacks@lni.wa.gov   (Mr.Sacks is current WA ST L&I Director)

Good luck, brothers and sisters because, as it is always said, you are going to need it!