Wednesday, January 27, 2016

More Uber & Lyft---The Story Has Only Become Stranger

Before I continue my examination of what King County and the City of Seattle is permitting the TNC (Uber and Lyft) industry to do, I first must greet you once again from the sunny environs that is San Miguel de Allende.  Today we ( I am here with "she-who-can't-be-named") walked alongside a desert river, napping on a sandbank on a 75 degree F. afternoon.  Prior to that we soaked in a thermal hot springs, the healing minerals telling me yet again that taxi driving is doing very little toward enhancing my physical health, hot water quickly addressing a sore and battered and fatigued body.

There are many Americans living here in San Miguel and area.  Last night dinner cost us $8.00 including tip.  There are many good reasons to make San Miguel and other parts of Mexico your permanent residence.  If circumstances allow I plan on living a least one full year in Mexico City.  I love that crazy, overcrowded city.  Very exciting place.  Saint Petersburg, Russia is another city I would enjoy living in.  Maybe someday I'll ask Putin for a personal invitation. I am sure he would be very accommodating. I believe he is still hosting the American gentleman who caused a small stir in that once secretive world of cyber-spying and listening in upon your neighbors.

In my last posting I said that Uber (and also Lyft) were paying for their driver's (theoretical independent contractors) for-hire licenses.  This point and others were confirmed by an email I received from King County's current Licensing Manager for KC's Records & Licensing Division, sum and part of King County's Department of Executive Services. If he doesn't know, no one does. The following quotes, I swear upon a stack of taxi regulations, are verbatim and completely accurate.

For those new to our local industry, King County serves as the City of Seattle's partner, jointly administrating licensing services for taxis, flat-rate for-hires; and now, the TNC (Uber and Lyft) companies.  Some of what he said explained why my friend has not received his required "for-hire" driving license even though many months have now passed since his first moment behind the Uber wheel.  What I found astonishing is that King County and the City of Seattle have, for unknown reasons, parcelled out some of their administrative duties to the TNC industry itself. This direct quote confirms this---"the burden of administrating the testing, training and background checking fall upon the TNC."

To me, and it might seem that way to you too, sounding like the proverbial "putting the fox in charge of the hen house."  Now I cannot say for sure that King County and the City of Seattle have totally abrogated their regulatory responsibilities to Uber and Lyft but given my friend's situation, there appears to be a suggestion of poor oversight. Just who is paying attention to all of the finer details?

And concerning for-hire fees, another quote addresses this issue---"To the driver, they are still subject to the same requirements as if they visit our office for licensing except for payment of the fees which are covered by the TNC they are on-board  with.  It is a different fee structure but fees are paid by the TNC."  One thing absent from this is any mention of driver reimbursement to Uber or Lyft.   Again I would suggest that this might put in question the separation that must exist in this type of vendor/independent operator arrangement.

What interests me, and I hope intrigues you, is just how did this kind of new and unique regulatory arrangement come into existence?  We in the taxi industry certainly do not hold this kind of freedom.  Also please understand that Uber and Lyft are new entrants into the transportation sector, with no previous operational track record proving they are capable and reliable partners.  Just how they earned this kind of trust is a mystery; and something worthy of an answer.

One question I have concerns TNC insurance coverage.  Is the TNC driver covered even though they do not have a legal for-hire license, all the while operating thousands of passenger-carrying miles without one?  If I was driving for either Uber or Lyft I would seek clarification ASAP.   There is also some question, due to classification, on who holds ultimate regulatory jurisdiction over TNC companies.  Is the responsibility local, or is it held by the State of Washington?

I predict that this potential bureaucratic "can of worms" will explode into a gigantic controversy if and when a serious accident occurs.  The lawyers might certainly have fun figuring this all out.  Could it even come to where we have the State Attorney General defending private companies in a court of law?   That is too bizarre of a situation to comprehend!  But given what I have been discovering, I am beginning to believe anything might be true.  Many politicians, City, County, State composed in part of what we now see manifested in front of us today.  You may have heard that "too many cooks spoil the broth."  Just who wrote this confounding recipe?

And again I wonder why the local media outlets haven't been more interested in this wild tale.  Just how did this all come about?   I know an answer exists.  The only question is, just who will answer it?   Again, is this only the beginning of the story, with many chapters yet to be reported?  Maybe.

Adios, amigos.  Stay dry!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Uber Expose! TNC Driver Reveals All to Taxi Reporter

Saturday night I talked with an old taxi colleague about his Uber experiences. Having left Yellow out of disgust after struggling to make a living, he is now driving under both Uber's and Lyft's transportation banners.   A faithful reader of this blog, he called me because he thought he could be helpful with both demystifying  and penetrating Uber's official opaque persona as only an insider could.  While it would be a journalistic stretch to say he presented unlocked secrets from Uber's hidden vaults, what he told me was clarifying, confirming much of what I suspected.  

When preparing (in my mind) to write this particular entry, I thought it would have been fun to have a sensational headline or heading, something akin to perhaps modern newspaper's most famous front page headline dating from April 15th, 1983, the New York Post's "Headless Body In Topless Bar," something that made copy editor Vincent Mussetto a celebrity, and worthy of of a New York Times obituary. Mussetto died this past June 2015. One heading I thought appropriate was "Naked Uber Operators Drive Uncovered," which, while somewhat accurate, is still misleading.  The National Enquirer I am not.  While there could be, or are nude TNC drivers, I have yet to personally see one, and if I did, I would quickly avert my eyes, having seen enough of life already, I don't want to see any more than I have to.

But yes, what I was told is truly both revelatory and alarming, especially when it seems that the City Of Seattle and King County are allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to pilot their vehicles minus for-hire licenses and inspected cars.  I say this because my colleague said his for-hire driving license had been expired for a month prior to signing up for Uber, and even now, months later, he has yet to receive either his new for-hire license or his vehicle certification. While this appears to be due to a Seattle/KC processing backlog, it seems that Uber and Lyft are letting their "independent business operators"  to drive before they are officially vetted and processed.  I believe this explains the various media reports as to why some current TNC drivers have later been found to have a criminal history that went unnoticed.  Part of  Seattle/King County's for-hire licensing process is a FBI background/personal history check. If you are forcing thousands of new TNC drivers into an already burdened system, you are going to have what is happening to my acquaintance, months' long delay confirming all personal details.  Can you imagine what will happen if any of these new TNC drivers have a serious accident before it is officially known they can legally operate?  At this point this can only seen as a mutual failure, a failed collaboration between private sector and local government.  It is impossible that Seattle/KC licensing doesn't know this is occurring.  They are the ones advancing the applications and paperwork forward, so if they don't know, then the question is, why not?  As usual, there appears to be a double-standard, one for taxis and one for everyone else.

When I took over YC 478, I had to confirm my transference of  ownership, insurance, etc before I could legally operate, placing it on the road under my possession.  In other words, common-sense safeguards were in place protecting the passenger public.  That this kind of public guarantee is even temporarily short- circuiting on Uber/Lyft's behalf, is scary.  Again, why do I have to certify everything is legal and proper before moving an inch down the roadway while TNC operators appear to be able to drive untold thousands of miles without official and known sanction?   If this is true, it is both dangerous and crazy.

As known previously, Uber does provide a million dollars in insurance coverage.  Both my colleague and a local insurance broker confirmed this, saying that the coverage kicks in only after accepting an app-generated (dispatched) call. In between, your car is only covered by your private carrier, which forbids commercial  activity.  Any operation by TNC drivers minus app-dispatched calls is strictly taboo, it just can't be done.  But clearly many TNC drivers have taken advantage of their new familiarity, with many potential customers completely unaware of the risk involved.  If Uber and Lyft haven't already instituted a policy instantly de-authorizing anyone operating independently of the app, it should be done immediately.  It also brings into question just what kind independent monitoring Uber and Lyft are doing.  Are they operating their multi-billion dollar operations solely on trust?  Difficult to believe that can be true

Interestingly, my colleague feels that Uber/Lyft are less moral than the taxi industry, which says much about a degeneration of trust between company and operator.  He said that they are definitely the "Evil Empire."  His comment backs up what another taxi buddy told me recently after I surprisingly found him back in an Orange Cab, this after seeing him six months ago driving his own Uber car.  When asking why he switched back to taxi, he said, "Uber are cheaters!"   As we were side by side at a traffic signal, our conversation was interrupted by the light changing, preventing any further elaboration.  I'll just take his word for it.  Just as my conversation Saturday night confirms, there is something "rotten in TNC Denmark."   I do wonder if the Port of Seattle commissioners fully understand this when considering all of Sea-Tac transportation options. I certainly hope so, is all I can say.

I end by sharing a poem by the British writer Robert Graves (1895-1985), which all writers, especially this one, me, can identify with.  And you might be interested in knowing that next week's entry will originate from San Miguel del Allende, Mexico.  Since I have been back, I have driving extra shifts, covering at times for Tom and Raymond when they call off 478.  It has been rough upon my 62 year old body.  I am more than ready to soak in San Miguel's local thermal mineral springs. My poor back!  Adios until next week.

The Reader Over My Shoulder

You, reading over my shoulder, peering beneath
My writing arm---I suddenly feel your breath
   Hot on my hand or my nape,
So interrupt my theme, scratching these few
Words on the margin for you, namely you,
    Too-human shape fixed in that shape:---

All the saying of things against myself
And for myself I have well done myself.
   What now, old enemy, shall you do
But quote and underline, thrusting yourself
Against me, as ambassador of myself,
   In damned confusion of myself and you?

For you in strutting, you in sycophancy,
Having played too long this other self of me,
   Doubling the part of judge and patron,
With that of creaking grind-stone to my wit.
Know me, have done: I am a proud spirit
   And you for ever clay.  Have done.

Friday, January 15, 2016

14 White Shirts

Doing the laundry this week I counted 14 white shirts, all of them a legacy from when Seattle/King County required all taxi drivers to emulate your favorite waiter by wearing black pants and white button down shirts. In fact my white shirt inventory probably numbers over 25 shirts, including many short sleeved shirts for Seattle's sunnier days.  But since the big compromise local industry made with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, we can now wear any shirt type or color we might desire, along with the slacks of your choice.  And what did Murray receive in trade for this stylistic compromise?

Why 14,000 Uber operators translating into a potential permanent crippling of the local taxi industry.  If it sounds like a pretty stupid trade-off, you are correct.  How dumb are all of us Seattle cabbies?  Look at that dog pacing down the street or the cat lounging on a porch---all much smarter than the average local cabbie.  The only thing we have common with these superior creatures is that they too don't need uniforms conducting their usual business.  So if you think not wearing a white shirt is a grand achievement, think again.  You are wrong!

White shirts, no shirts, it is all pathetic, our local industry caught with its black pants down!  If you don't believe it, you should have attended Tuesday's Port of Seattle Commission meeting where speaker after humbled speaker begged for forgiveness, seeking official clemency and relief.  Yes, yes they said, we know we have been bad, and are bad, but please, let us continue our airport tasks, we all promise to do better, so much better.

Mixed in with that was bleating from the opposition, "We are better than they are. Let us prove it, sharing in the riches! Please, please!"  Yes, it was quite a performance from the majority of participants.  If I had been sitting on the commissioner's side of the room, what would have been my honest assessment?  Heaven help us!  My God!  Heaven help us! Or something like that.

The history here is year after year I heard complaints concerning white shirts, resentful for being unfairly forced to wear obviously clean shirts; that it just wasn't reasonable or respectful the way we are treated by Seattle's regulators.  What this lament always communicated to me was the taxi industry's congenital inability to either focus upon or comprehend our real issues.  And look where that attitude has taken us.  Disaster!   Taking us to are own death and destruction and numbing paralysis.  Think this is hyperbole?  It isn't.

This morning I was greeted by a text stating that the deposed dispatch manager, the same individual rumored to have given his wife our package fares, is also responsible for the previous manager's death from a heroin overdose.  And that one of BYG's (Yellow Co-op) senior managers is in part responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  I must point out that the person in question is from Ethiopia. Another question about this is simple geography.  To get to Rwanda, depending on routes taken, you have  to cross over countries as various as South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. I remember Bill Clinton once taking responsibility for the Rwanda mass murder but he is not a taxi driver though he has certainly at times acted like one.  Hey brother Bill, ready to jump in the back seat?

In short I have had enough of the kind of nonsense passing as "business-as-usual" in the taxi industry.  This upcoming weekend I will again witness too many driver's simple inability to move cars forward at the train or boat.  It never ends but look at the bright side, everyone!  This weekend you can wear your replica Seahawk jersey and cheer on your football heroes.  Rah Rah! Go team Go! Watch all those cabbies fumble the taxi ball!  Hurrah! Hurrah!  Oh hell! we just scored a touchdown for the other team!  How in the world did we manage that!?  Yes that's right, just how did we do it?  Utter madness, my taxi friends, utter madness!  That is the explanation.  

Two haiku regarding "white."

The winter leeks
have been washed white---
how cold it is!

Basho (1644-1694)

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

Buson  (1716-1783)

I love the inherent silence contained in these poems.  No noise.  Only beauty in the stilled moment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pleading At The Podium---Seattle Port Commission 01-12-2016

Yesterday's Port of Seattle meeting/hearing was as close as one could imagine to a regulatory overview suddenly transformed into religious experience, with mostly taxi adherents pleading to those operational deities masquerading as Port commissioners to please anoint and bless a particular course to Sea-Tac nirvana and celestial transportation bliss. That the 1:00 PM start time kept morphing into official "swearing in" ceremonies and refreshment breaks, an already passionate fervor grew over what is normally usual and mundane---the day to day operations of Port of Seattle facilities.  That the five sitting commissioners hold the "car keys" was blatantly obvious. Maybe that is why so many were howling to "high heaven."  Makes sense to me.  Maybe.

Two agenda items stood out above everything else--the deciding of Puget Sound Dispatch's fate over "out-bound trip" reporting; and Sea-Tac's RFP (Request For Proposal) for a new five-year passenger transportation contract beginning July 2016.  Lending to my personal tension was the unexplained shuffling of the public testimony sign-up sheets, somehow the first sheet becoming the second which meant I was about to be late getting 478 back to my night-shift driver.  All this personal anxiety was created by my day-driver awakening me at 3:00 AM and calling off, meaning that if I was going to recoup my $65.00 it was up to me to make my way into the cab.  The proverbial "long story short" is my driving of 478 met delay after unexpected  bureaucratic delay.  One and one $40.00 fare only kept the day from being a complete disaster. And perhaps even better, the passenger might be taking a "taxi tour" of Seattle come Saturday, wanting to visit Bruce Lee's grave site.  

Finally getting my speaking opportunity, my addled two minutes emphasized that my favorite nemesis, the City of Seattle as represented by the Mayor and City Council created this untenable working environment (14,000 Uber operators) by still unknown political maneuvering and machinations. I suggested that there was still much left to learn and that it would benefit all concerned if the current Port Commission took the time to investigate why the Seattle City Council threw their bill away, thus uncapping Uber and providing us with our current scenario. After that I rushed out of the door, missing all of the important deliberations.  

One conspiracy theory is that all those delays were intentional, the Port Commission very aware of the Four O'clock shift change, knowing that all those taxi troublemakers would flee, allowing them to proceed ahead peacefully.  If that was the case, they succeeded in approving PSD's $880.000 repayment along with granting Yellow's operational contract through June minus any argument.  They also anointed the RFP request, meaning applications can now be made and submitted.  If you want to operate a fleet of vehicles at Sea-Tac, your opportunity has arrived.  

Now for other taxi items for the hip and hip-less and taxi hippos too, having all escaped from confinement in their local zoo, and now I get to communicate their relatively benign insanity to you!  Boo Hoo Hoo!

I Like This Rumor

No, it was not the dispatch debacle that booted the last dispatch manager out-of-the-door.  No, instead it was the "feeding" to his wife while driving her private car with $400.00 package runs.  That there would be a paper trail doesn't mean anything to all those "firm believers" in this nonsensical theory.  Nearly destroying Yellow isn't enough to get yourself fired.  According to these guys, there was another more important reason. Amazing!  If they really believe this they should put in a telephone call to the local District Attorney.  Why just spread idle rumors when you can put the sucker away into the slammer?

More "Molest" Plus a Slam in the Chest

After searching and searching for a Saturday "bar-break" fare I am flagged down by a man on Capital Hill.  First thing he says to me is "I am drunk and horny!"  which meant for the four-block long ride I was the object of his ardent attentions, even grabbing my arm.  When I said what I really preferred were poodles, he found that as evidence I was indeed a fellow "same-gender" type.  All that for five dollars!

And on Sunday, a giddy and somewhat bewildering female passenger slammed me in the chest while I opened the door for her.  Again, amazing!

This Is "Uber" Crazy

I am not making this up.  How could I?  What is true is that I can register my car with Uber and then go down to the King County Licensing office and get my Uber version of the for-hire which allows me to drive for Uber, flat-rate and taxi.  Having no intention of ever driving for Uber I then have a completely free for-hire license and King County receives nothing whatsoever.  How can that be?  Nuts, isn't it!?  What is the explanation? Is anyone curious?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Old & New Year Taxi Tidbits For Your Reading Pleasure

I never seem to have enough time to finish the basics, often requiring that I just leave the country to get anything done.  I am leaving for Mexico January 25th and this time I am taking the laptop I am currently working on.  I may be dumb but I am capable of learning my lesson. So given time constraints, here in rapid-fire time are some important taxi bulletins for your examination and consideration.  More background could occur later, all depending on time and space.

BYG Taxi Medallion Lease Reduced

In a meeting yesterday, BYG agreed to reduce the medallion lease rate by $400.00, a 40 % subtraction from the initially agreed upon $1000.00 per month for City-only cabs; and from the initial $1200.00 for Dual-plated (City & County) cabs.  All in attendance agreed this was a fair and equitable adjustment. Also agreed upon was the need for improved dispatch and driver professionalism.  Efforts in those areas will be made in the next ensuing months.

According to King County Licensing ,Uber & Lyft Pays for Driver's For-hire Licensing

Further clarification allows me to tell you that TNC companies pay 10 cents per City-based trip and 35 cents per County-based trip for their driver's licensing fees.  What I do not know is whether Uber and Lyft are paid back by the drivers.  So then, for Uber and Lyft drivers, their for-hire license appear to be free, not costing them anything.  If Uber and Lyft are paying these fees without re-compensation  then it appears there could be an employer/employee conflict contradicting driver independent contractor status.  How this was negotiated into law is certainly a mystery to me.  If I am wrong, I wish someone would tell me otherwise.

Renewal Fingerprinting No Longer Required

Very good news indeed is that we are no longer required to be fingerprinted yearly.  This policy change shows that KC is responsive to comments.  It is good to see a responsive agency working for all concerned, for the public good.

Sea-Tac Audit Out

This news requires more time than I can give it today but here are the basic facts.  PSD was found to have erred in reporting out-bound trips but in conclusion Sea-Tac admitted to its own accounting deficiencies.  PSD will have to pay approximately $900.000 in unreported income while admitting no wrong or intent. Yellow Cab contract will continue through June 2016. A new RFP will be issued.  As I said, this is a very "bare-bones" report to something requiring more examination and reporting.  In the meanwhile, check out the articles concerning this on the web at seattle, and geekwire.  All three sources help fill in the gaps.

PSD/BYG Still Charging for Taxi Training

It doesn't appear to make sense, given that Yellow needs drivers, for them to continue charging for training that was once free.  You would think, as I have said more than once, that Yellow would have learned its lesson by now  but evidently not. My only comment is, "Com'on guys, wake up, will ya!?"  Enough said!

I will end with a kind of New Year poem written by Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) in 1830.  Enjoy the muse and its various poetic views!

A Spirit Haunts The Year's Last Hours

A spirit haunts the year's last hours
Dwelling amid these yellowing bowers:
       To himself he talks:
For at eventide, listening earnestly,
At his work you may hear him sob and sigh
       In the walks;
       Earthward he boweth the heavy stalks
Of the mouldering flowers:
    Heavily hangs the broad sunflower
        Over the grave i' the earth so chilly;
    Heavily hangs the hollyhock,
        Heavily hangs the tiger-lily.

The air is damp, and hushed, and close,
As a sick man's room where he taketh repose
        An hour before death;
My very heart faints and my whole soul grieves
At the moist rich smell of the rotting leaves,
       And the breath
       Of the fading edges of box beneath,
And the year's last rose.
   Heavily hangs the broad sunflower
      Over the grave i 'the earth so chilly;
   Heavily hangs the hollyhock,
      Heavily hangs the tiger-lily.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Molest In The New Year---Running Her Fingers Through My Hair

A young woman driving an Uber  car had her drunk passenger arrested when he reached over the seat, grabbing and kissing her before passing out.  The news report seemed to express her surprise concerning just how something like this could have happened.  She shouldn't have been shocked, and it isn't in any manner a behavioral aberration. It is something to be expected even when you aren't expecting it.

Case in taxi point was my very first fare of the New Year. A stripper from a local club, within minutes of entering my cab ran her fingers through my hair--someone completely sober, totally minus all celebratory beverages..  All during this $82.00 fare taking us south of Auburn she continually dropped veiled hints suggesting possibilities that might or might not have existed but $2.70 a mile just isn't enough for extra curricular activities landing us both upon the back seat.  Should I say that if you want me to get serious I better see some serious money?  No, I shouldn't say that!

What was somewhat amusing is that I never even looked at her once until arriving at her apartment complex, it now being time to pay the cabbie.. Turning around I found she had her miniskirt exposed thighs perfectly placed for my view and enjoyment, all the while talking to her husband on the telephone.  Wonderful I know to be chosen for her momentary attention, and can I say, attraction, the stripper just another confused human animal lost upon the surface of our shared planet.  Earlier she had told me she grossed $350.00 in only 41 minutes before having to return home, having failed to renew her 2016 business license.  Want to guess how she achieved such an amount  in record time?  Think about it and understand there is only one reason and one reason only why all those dumbbell men enter these so-called gentleman clubs.  Sex and sex only.  Are you surprised?  You shouldn't be.  Am I surprised?  No, just exhausted and little else, the New Year telling me there is nothing new nor fun under the taxi moon and sun, the same old, same old mundane circumstances and experiences ringing in 2016.  No it is not a surprise. How could it be?