Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It's An Uber Sea-Tac Jamboree But How Can Regulatory Governance Be Just Another Rodeo?

 Being perhaps an utter simpleton, I'll answer my somewhat rhetorical question like this.  Why, when it comes to government and money, does ethics fly out the door, be it a municipal, county, state or federal portal?  Again, risking foolishness, once in a position of public trust and responsibility, why do elected and appointed officials suddenly develop a new body part, a very specialized third hand with elongated fingers especially useful for gripping money, a physical attribute similar to a monkey's prehensile tail?

I pose this conundrum after finding out that the Port (Sea-Tac) of Seattle has allowed Uber, upon its initial operational days, to give free rides from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle.  Uber is also offering future $15.00 discounts to anyone who signs up with their app service.  They are also using this occasion to promote their group-ride "carpooling" service, matching riders who are going to like destinations.

To the unfamiliar, all this might sound wonderful because you are blissfully ignorant of one very important and cogent point: Seattle Yellow Cab paid a bunch of money (in the millions) for the right to take over from STITA.  At least to dumbbell me it would seem only fair to treat your current service providers (now over five years) with deference and respect, and can I go so far as to say, protection.  Allowing Uber to blatantly undercut your current taxi contract providers makes little sense unless there is an accompanying logic.  And just what could that be?

One possible explanation is good old fashioned retribution.  While there is no indisputable legal evidence that Seattle Yellow did underpay the Port of Seattle up to five million dollars, there is certainly a lingering suspicion that is what actually occurred.  The fact that something did happen, whether intentional or not, has upset the operational apple cart.

I do know how the Port feels.  Despite my best efforts to communicate that someone is responsible for my ruined snow tires, all I receive is silence, and I am talking about $700.00, not millions of dollars. So while understanding the Port's frustration, it doesn't  seem reasonable to punish the innocent, hard working Yellow Sea-Tac drivers who have nothing to do with any possible malfeasance.

Another possible plausible answer is simply ( by their standards) going with the clear winner, which is where money comes in, influencing opinion and potential governmental action.  The ongoing rhetoric surrounding Uber is that it saves the urban environment as we know it. For further investigation, consult the current online edition of Sierra Club's Insider newsletter, and the Steven Green article, "Is The Sharing Economy Truly Green?"  Possible environmental and local economic benefits could provide cover for going with a rich, well-funded (61 billion dollars) company who takes care of its friends and supporters.  What obvious benefit comes from embracing the taxi industry?  That answer is clear.

Ethics then become very transferable, very little lost when choosing the trendy cultural front runner, it not mattering if Uber operators have current for-hire licenses or 24/7 viable insurance, especially if the public isn't paying attention.  City officials say that legally, there is supposed to be a two-day turn around concerning for-hire background checks. That this isn't happening says everything about about governmental oversight concerning TNC companies. Could the slogan be, "Why care when you don't have to?"

Many governments, especially authoritarian governments, act like this.  Is Seattle becoming some kind of odd combination of Turkmenistan, China, Russia, Egypt, Venezuela  and Morocco?  I hope not because that is a lot institutional obstruction for such a medium-sized city.  Even with the win blowing off Elliott Bay, how could we breath?  It would be difficult if not impossible, pollution obscuring vision, clogging the lungs.  Can this still be the Evergreen State, with all its free-flowing rivers and driving rain?

Let's hope not is my final thought, Seattle and King County somehow prepared to become a kind of business-oriented extremest stronghold. Seattle once was the home to the Wobblies labor movement but that was nearly 100 years ago.  Where have we all gone wrong, idealism not taking a left turn but a perpetual never ending circle, round and round in a country & western square dance, marking the beginning of the hoedown prancing over reason and goodness and morality, the rodeo just beginning in the cultural corral.  Yes, swing those partners round and round to the fiddle's sound, Agnes deMille and Arron Copeland and Martha Graham clapping hands, clapping hands, as round and round and falling down we go, where and how this all concludes I certainly don't know.

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