Tuesday, February 23, 2016

No Time---Rapid Fire Taxi News

 Only fellow cabbies will understand that adding a mere part of one additional shift is enough to upset your personal schedule, because that is what is happening to me since I took over YC 478.  Since my night driver calls off on Mondays, my brief insertion in the cab impacts my entire week, requiring more sleep, and most importantly for what you are reading, a day to two day delay in composition and publication.  I tell passengers and others that I don't have time to drive taxi, that I am too busy but since it is my sole income source for the moment, here I am, and continuing until I am somewhere else.  Of course that means the ending of this blog but I never meant it to be a personal version of an expanding universe.  I have had enough of the taxi world.  I am ready for another planet.

Uber Driver Report Continued

About 3 weeks ago my Uber friend called me back, again on a Saturday night.  While I find it all interesting, it is difficult to take down notes while negotiating a taxi and make money doing it.  He did want me to say that his inspection took place immediately, finding my report about delays erroneous. He did say that he remained without a valid for-hire license.  What is interesting about this is that I got my permanent renewal license last week, meaning it took about 3 weeks total to process all of the paperwork, check out my background and issuing my license.  Why then is it taking 5 or more months (if not an entire year)  for Uber and Lyft to finish their for-hire license processing?  I have alerted the City regulatory authorities.  We will see how they respond, or not.  My friend did report that his minimum Uber fare translates down to $2.45 per trip, which means if he gets 5 minimum fares in one hour he nets $12.25 cents.  Of course the usual Seattle taxi minimum is $5.00, equaling times five fares into $25.00, meaning Uber drivers are making half of what I do.

Another part of that slow Uber processing are the background checks.  Per the incident in Kalamazoo, Michigan, it means that even if  the guy's record had not been clean, how quickly would they have had known?  Months, years?  What clearly Uber and Lyft appears to be doing is putting drivers on the streets before they know they are qualified to be there.  Does this mean that every Uber and Lyft driver is an unanswered question?  I will let you answer that.

BYG No More

Yellow, once known as the BYG (Broadway-Yellow-Greytop) Co-op, is now known as Yellow Fleet.  This is a new legal definition.

To Tow or Not

When a friend's broken down Yellow Cab was left sitting at the train station, I discovered a new, unbeknown reality:  drivers must now pay for their own tow and deduct the cost from their lease.  Two potential problems with this, especially if you don't have a credit card.  One, you must have the cash on hand, and two, a simple tow within Seattle is okay but what happens if, after a long fare, say to Portland, Oregon, your taxi breaks down?  The driver would have to pay for a $500-1000. or more tow.  This arrangement has to be given more thought. At the very least everyone should be receiving a fleet-wide notification.

Also this sounds like a new contractual agreement.  Something needs to be put into writing.

Puget Sound Dispatching Direct Depositing

A new arrangement PSD is beginning March 1st is having our processed charges deposited directly into our back accounts.  Two important questions. Can a driver, uncomfortable with giving out personal info, opt out?  The other is what happens if PSD somehow loses your deposit, with your bank never receiving the transaction?  What is the PSD backup plan?  It would make sense to ensure that some safeguards are in place.

Last Tuesday Meeting With Teamsters 117

Last Tuesday I met with Teamsters officials about their opposition to HB 2733, a bill that might have lowered taxi insurance rates state-wide.  They said it it was a matter of not lessening local authority.

One area I think we have some disagreement is the Seattle mayor's recent Uber decisions.  Teamsters said Mayor Murray saved the local taxi industry by getting Uber to drop their state-wide referendum drive switching regulatory authority from the City of Seattle and King Country to the State of Washington.  It is difficult to see how what once was a limit of 250 Uber cars to what is now estimated to be 10-14 thousand Uber operators as a victory for local taxi?  If you needed to understand just why Yellow has dissolved into its present state, you have your answer.

One strong positive was the reopening of lines of communication and cooperation.  This will be necessary if and when we, the drivers and single owners  of the Seattle and King County taxi industry form some version of taxi union/taxi trade association.  Teamsters support and backing and experience will be essential toward our ultimate success.

I Saw It

When coming back from Mexico, I saw the new Yellow taxi lot at 107th and Meyers Way South from the air as we made our final landing approach.  It was hard to miss, all those bright yellow cars.

New Call Center

They are getting better.  Yes, small mistakes at times do occur but they are eager to get it right.  Clearly they are taking a "crash-course" in everything taxi.  I can tell they are quickly learning both the taxi  good and the bad. Good luck and best wishes to them.


The older gentleman waved to me from his apartment building doorway.  "I am hungry," he said, wanting to go to a restaurant at 12th S. and S. Jackson.  He asked how much and I told him a million dollars but finally agreed to five dollars.  Arriving, he tightly gripped his 20 dollars bill, not letting it go until I gave him his fifteen dollars in change. I showed him my wallet and he made a snatching motion.  We both smiled.  Poverty! and the human condition.

Concerning Taxi, Is Everything Backward?

When I took over YC 478, I bought new set of snow tires for the winter season.  Instead of having them installed by the tire shop,  I had the Yellow shop put them on.  Well I am shocked to report that I was told, when taking 478 in to have the tires rotated and getting an alignment, that the tires were put on backward, causing some unnecessary tread wear.  I have yet to determine whether my warranty has been destroyed by the mistake. Why is always the question. Why did the simple become something far different?  Nothing like taxi is all I can say.

Tow Truck Sharks Swimming in Seattle 

Sunday I got this call to the 1400 block of Alaskan Way (the waterfront) and found these distressed folks (visiting from Moses Lake) who just had their car towed away.  Having parked in front of the Seattle Antique Market, they failed to heed the signs that Gary's Westside Towing would haul their car away.  An important note is that Seattle's Puget Sound waterfront is both a popular tourist destination and undergoing many construction projects thus limiting parking.  People like the country bumpkins I took to the tow yard have no idea about the predatory towing environment prevalent in Seattle over the past 30 years, shocked to discover that Westside Towing would, could and can charge them $435.00 for their errant parking violation. Listening to their pleading over the telephone, I was outraged by what I was hearing.  The towing dispatcher even told them, in a fit of anger, that fine, they could wait until Monday to pick up their car.  I called 911 and requested that the SPD meet us at the tow yard.  First told that this was a "civil matter," I was put on hold, then amazingly the police non-emergency officer hung up on me.  All this was complicated by the fact they didn't have a credit card with them to pay the outrageous fee, never thinking that something like this could happen to them.

Long and short of all this is that I had to take them to a Western Union office where they waited for the money to be wired.  Once they had the cash in hand they called me back and I took them back once again to the tow yard.  I told them to file a complaint with the City of Seattle.  What appears to be true is that multiple cars were towed at about the same time Sunday afternoon.  Something about this doesn't appear to be right.  Are they using spotters to call the towing company?  Are the signs not clearly displayed?  Is this tow truck ballet occurring every weekend?   I personally will contact the City of Seattle and tell them to check it out.  Somebody has to take some responsibility for this.  This is no way to treat Seattle visitors.  Even if the tourist dumbbells are parking in the wrong places, how is this response reasonable?  Is this how this so-called famously liberal city treats the innocent, because, believe me, if you had met the two sisters and their children, that is how you would have described them, as innocents.  Criminals?  The only thing criminal is how they were treated.  The tow truck dispatcher told me they were operating totally within legal parameters.  I believe him but that still doesn't make right and just and moral, taking advantage of simple mistakes. Where is the malice is all I can say?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Arriving In "Strangeville"----No Place I Want To Be

I always hate ending up in Strangeville" even though all the signs say I am actually somewhere in Seattle but I know that can't be true.  You won't find Strangeville on any map because its boundaries are mobile, ever moving yet omnipresent.  And what is frustrating is the complete lack of warning that you somehow made that fatal turn into unfriendly environs, instantaneously  finding myself in my own private and personal "Twilight Zone".  What isn't a mystery is not knowing that I am there, always too aware---the jangling keys to this invisible city rattling in my head, my cab having entered a web entangling body and mind.  "I am trapped, I am trapped," and do what I will, I can't get out.  Stepping on the accelerator and flying down Aurora not doing any good, the entire city transformed into a greater metropolitan Strangeville.  It is a helpless feeling.

It was Saturday afternoon, about 3:10 PM, and I was elated, coming back downtown after a fourth airport run of the day.  Knowing the Portland train was scheduled for sometime between 3:30-4:00 PM I was focused upon King Street Station when I was offered a Beacon Hill bell.  Accepting it, the 4100 block of 15th Avenue South, I noted the commentary that "their cellphone was dying and they would meet me in front."   This somewhat cryptic message alerted me to the possibility that this fare might turn out bad and it did, never finding anyone despite searching both the front and alley. And of course no one answered my telephone calls.  What bothered me was wasting time better used getting to the train.

After throwing away ten minutes I resolved to head for the train only to get another call, close by but  on a "confusing" part of 25th South that was just off Cheasty Blvd South, a lovely wood-lined street running behind the Jefferson Golf Course.  Upon my arrival  I found my passenger waiting, an older gentleman holding a walker on his way back home to the Center Park housing complex.. Heading south down S. Andover I ran directly into the street I needed but requiring an odd maneuver which, alerted to oncoming traffic, I quickly turned north, avoided all the raging cars but nearly damaging one of my new tires. This is when I knew beyond any doubt I was in Strangeville. And once getting him to his building it was confirmed because he had only $3.00 for a seven dollar fare.  "I had to give my doctor $200.00 today," he said in explanation.  His debit card declined.  Yes, yes, not-so-lovely Strangeville, blowing my entire hour for three bucks!

If needing further confirmation, I got it when the next call, a $57.00 HopeLink run, was a no-show.  Like too many of these, the client never showed up for their appointment , and of course the company (Yellow, etc.) are never told.

After that disappointment I decided to head up north and fill up 478 at the Arco AM-PM featuring $1.75.09 per gallon gasoline.  After that I languished for another hour, getting a nine dollar fare, all adding up to 12 dollars for three anguished hours.  What I have found is, is that no fun is allowed in Strangeville, a very Calvinist community, your head in some kind of mobile stockade.

And how did I finally escape?  Not sure other than I grimly proceeded forward, pushing against the invisible envelope until finally breaking free.  I knew I was back in Seattle after this happened while sitting second up on the Pier 69/Victoria Clipper stand.

A young woman comes out the door but instead of getting into the first taxi, she steps aside. Then an older woman comes out and asks the driver,"Can you take a card?" and jumps in his cab. Then the other passenger, someone I thought wasn't taking a cab that night, walks ups to me and asks me if I know where the Sea-Tac La Quinta is?  Answering in the affirmative, off we go, a pleasant conversation ensues, becoming one of those fares where, if wanting to take it further, the possibility appeared to be there.  Anyway, it was a good fare and a nice interaction, Strangeville now far behind in the rear view mirror.  But why did she not get into the first cab?  I think I know the answer.  Wherever that cabbie was heading, it was to Strangeville and no place else. God help him!

And that, my friends, is a destination I wouldn't wish upon anyone, even an Uber driver!   Who need the heartbreak and anguish?  Not anyone I know, that 's for sure!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Demise Of "Little Fish": Yellow Dispatch Changes Colors To A Desert Hue

As the old 74 South Hudson Street cab lot was dismantled, and ultimately, moving to both South 128th Street (Puget Sound Dispatch offices) and the new Yellow Co-op (BYG) lot at South 107th and South Meyers Way, the question upon everyone's lips was just when would PSD transfer its dispatch operations to its new location?  Upon my return from Mexico, I found out the answer.

Las Vegas, Nevada is the new location, meaning ninety percent of dispatch personnel was layed-off, dispatch in total minus Hopelink and school-run operations shifted to a Las Vegas call-center that has been dispatching for San Francisco Yellow for the past eight months.  Ostensibly the justification for this shocking development (months in the planning) was the failure of dispatch call takers to properly do their job despite a recent two dollar per hour pay raise.  While there can be no argument that dispatch held some serious problems, I never saw it as something completely broken, efficient management and communication correcting very resolvable issues.

Do I think it was necessary to do something as dramatic as what was decided upon?  No, but it speaks to me what I see as a pervasive panic overtaking both Yellow and the American taxi industry on the whole. Having slept-walked for decades, the taxi industry has suddenly awakened to a newer and scarier reality.  Like the sleepy-heads they are, instead of giving themselves time to fully awaken they are walking into walls and bruising their noses. Ouch!

But if you are puzzled by the posting title I will explain, which might also add credence to the PSD position that it was necessary to toss the louts out on their heads.  The weekend prior to my Mexico trip I was belled-in to an early morning fare at 2401 2nd Avenue, which is a sushi restaurant.  The passenger name provided  to me was "Little Fish."  When I got there a big, burly gentleman conducting some kind of "street business" took offense when I called out for Mister Little Fish.  "Rufus," he growled, "my name is Rufus!" Calling  dispatch, the then night supervisor told me the name change had been put out as a kind of joke.  That I didn't find this funny goes, as is said, without saying, and neither did Rufus.  In short, too many of the now dismissed call takers were simply incorrigible, doing anything they wanted.  While missing friends like Jeffery and Fred, all I can say is that collectively, what happened to them is their own fault.  Little fish indeed!  Stupid!  Working along that line of thinking, they must have thought they were "big fish" in their small dispatcher sea.  Now, surprise, surprise to have suddenly found themselves flopping helplessly upon a wooden pier, waiting to be filleted.  Such is reality when you think a professional task is some kind of game. It just isn't and never will be.

And what about the new Las Vegas crew?  Well, the jury is definitely out.  Already we are seeing omitted telephone numbers and short tempers.  Why?   Two plausible reasons could be, one, knowing nothing about the city of Seattle and King county and its streets, addresses, etc. And two, none of them have ever driven a cab, meaning they have no conception of who they are talking to and our inherent reality.  As I always say, it takes five years for someone to become an actual cabbie and not just some mystified person driving with a meter and top-light.  I think it will ultimately work out for the best but by nature I am inherently optimistic. Or again, maybe I am just delusional, just like every other garden variety cabbie.  Funny I never noticed that my bedroom walls are padded.  Gonna have to think about just why that is!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Carelessness Or Simple Lack Of Comprehension?---Analysis February 2016

As many of you know, I began my taxi journey way back in the autumn of 1987, and if I had to use one word to describe what I have seen overall, it is "mess," as "in a mess" or "it's a complete mess," the kind of mess you would see splattered upon your kitchen floor if you tripped while taking the freshly baked lasagna from the oven to the dining room table. Splat! your nice shiny linoleum floor now covered with red sauce and creamy ricotta. "Oh my god!" your waiting family would exclaim, "What a mess you've made of our dinner! Which of course pretty sums up what I have witnessed from everyone involved all these too many years, creating an untenable mess and expecting someone else to clean it up.

Another way of portraying our shared dilemma, and how we got there, is I think best represented by Pieter Bruegel's great painting from the year 1568, "The Blind Leading the Blind."  Based upon Biblical New Testament book passages from Luke 6:39-42 and Matthew 15:10-20,  it is a very moving picture of six blind men stumbling over each other, the lead walker having fallen over a small wall.  Not knowing it was part of the permanent collection in the Mueso Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples, I too had  stumbled upon it in November 2002, happy to have encountered such a terrific painting.

And that is essentially what I have witnessed since 1987--- a succession of City, County, Port, State officials and elected representatives bumping and colliding into all and anyone concerned with taxi and the various motorized passenger transportation companies in Seattle and the state of Washington.  While Bruegel's painting is beautiful, what has been happening is anything but, a confused feral menagerie kicking and biting and shouting and screaming down the bureaucratic aisles.  That anything has been gained and achieved in any direction is a major miracle.  Functional?  What could that mean?   Functional in this context simply does not exist.  Using my favorite term again, it is a mess!

Just how did this dysfunctional tradition begin?  What are its roots?  If it is carelessness, then why are the people entrusted with the public good irresponsible, not interested in carrying out assigned tasks?  If that has occurred, which I believe I have seen in action, for instance the blotched creation of the Seattle & King County Taxi Advisory Commission, it appears to be a matter of having little to no respect for the individuals served.

But for the most part, what I see is, not carelessness as the primary cause but instead, more precisely, a complete lack of real and cognitive comprehension regarding what they are doing, and why they are supposed to be doing it.  As many who have read my blog over the past five years, examples of incompetence from both the regulators and the business operators is seemingly endless, the mistakes an unabated river flowing and flooding over commonsense. Originally my intention with this essay was to list yet another series of stupid and destructive issues and decisions plaguing us, but really, what is the point, with one crisis being replaced by yet another blunder.

Again, most importantly, why can't the parties involved see that they have failed to functionally operate in their appointed sphere of operation?   Do they have invisible blind folds preventing them from moving forward, bias, not reason dictating and controlling their internal decision making processes?  Whatever it is,  the cat or dog (or whatever animal you choose) is biting its own tail and going round and round and round the governmental and taxi (or flat-rate & TNC) tree.  What has been passing as functional and operational is obviously not working. How can we make the people involved think and see?

 If I had Darwin's ghost standing next to me, I would ask him why is it taking so long for the human animal to understand what is directly in front of its nose?  I am afraid he would respond that it is all a matter of evolution, that we simply must wait for this animal to evolve, to develop more completely another part of the brain.  Unfortunately, we who are alive now, in real time, don't have the luxury to watch the decades and centuries slowly past.  By that juncture we will have all reached our natural ends.  While death is a kind of final summation, it is not the required answer.  We need a better response, and quickly, before our expiration is untimely and unnecessary, beyond and past all resolutions; true comprehension required now, and forever.

Adios from San Miguel de Allende

Sad to say that in less than 48 hours I will be leaving what has been a pleasant stay.  Yesterday the temperature was nearly 80 degrees F., and today's early morning heat suggests that it will be even hotter. Again, especially for those unfamiliar with Mexico, or are just inexperienced travelers, San Miguel and area is an excellent place to begin.  Sunday we embarked on a two bus journey  to view the "pena de Bernal (rock of Bernal)" located in the small town of San Sebastain Bernal.  The monolith, 65 million years old and 1, 421 feet high, is the largest freestanding rock in the world.  This natural tower is just one of many good reasons to come here.

Another reason of course are the area thermal springs.  Each morning we board a local bus (fare about 75 cents) and travel early to the La Gruta spa, a very non-pretentious hot springs where paying a mere $7.00 (120 pesos) at today's exchange rates allows one to soak the entire day (7:00 AM-5:00 PM).  Check out the cave or grotto and splash around in the misty pool.  I guarantee you will love it!

After the baths, take the about one kilometer walk to the village of Atotonilco and visit the most amazing Sanctuary (church) of Atotoncilco.  The interior wall and ceiling paintings are unmatched anywhere.  Art lovers will be pleased.  And now, since you are hungry, eat some delicious tacos made with freshly made tortillas from the local stalls. They will cost you between 10-15 pesos.  Viva Mexico!

Again, adios, amigos!