Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Local Taxi Update---The Unfortunate Demise Of Topnotch Insurance, City Of Seattle Free Rides, Yellow Dispatch News

                                Look into the depths of your soul and learn first to know yourself,
                                then you will understand why the illness was bound to come upon
                                you and perhaps you will thenceforth avoid falling ill.

                                                                Sigmund Freud, from "Collected Papers"

After a cool June spell, more usual summer weather is upon us but more importantly, is business heating up? Yes and no but how I didn't get one Gay Pride Parade related fare on Sunday remains a mystery.  I got a few on Saturday but zero on a Sunday when 3-4 hundred thousand people converged upon downtown, clogging the streets and making life miserable for the average cabby.  Maybe it was just my strategy of staying away from trouble because I got three Sea-Tac Airport runs in a row then a discounted run to Everett.  Odd day on what is normally a real "money-maker" but as I have said and will always say, a cabby's only guarantee is a kick in the behind, hopefully avoiding, if possible, frontal attacks injuring more than just the fragile psyche.  

Now that 478's insurance is coming up for renewal  I sent an email to my old taxi colleague, Robert Rashidi, owner of Topnotch Insurance, only to receive a referral to another insurance agency. "What the hell is going on?" was my first thought.  And the answer is something I forgot completely about, and that was a misguided legal action of about two years ago brought on by the Sea-Tac  Airport Yellow drivers and facilitated by Teamsters 117 against two local taxi insurance agencies, Key and Topnotch.  The driver's contention was that Key and Topnotch had secretly conspired to manipulate rates.  Why anyone would attempt something like that in such a small market, and thinking they could create a local monopoly, would have been my first question before getting lawyers involved.  But given that this was early in the Teamster/Sea-Tac cabby relationship, I think the Teamsters were overly eager to do the drivers' bidding, overreacting instead of applying due consideration.

Perhaps now the Teamsters know what I have known for a long time, that over emotional and wrong-headed assessments is the typical cabbie's first response.  Dawn Gearheart, the Teamsters taxi contact, has recently shown real knowledge and judgment concerning us _____ cabbies.  But two years ago it appears a combination of new driver cultural assimilation and taxi fatigue resulted in cloudy or just plainly paranoid judgment that at times was just plainly wrong and misplaced.  Having rubbed taxi shoulders with those guys when I was the nominal head of the fight against King County, I personally know how erroneous their judgments can sometimes be.  That they helped destroy our effort can't be denied.

It isn't that they are bad people.  Instead it is like I said, factors related to taxi and being in a new environment  affecting what they do and say.  Most importantly, listening carefully to these guys is utterly necessary when deciphering what is correct or real.   Again, it is not a matter of intelligence because the majority of this new wave of immigrant cabbies are very well educated,being doctors, lawyers etc in their home countries.  The overall prevailing factor is just how "the awful physical grind that is taxi" affects the body and mind, contorting reality into something that at times seems like hallucination, all of us cabbies residing in a not-so-pretty "Alice in Wonderland" world where anxiety and stress is our drug of first choice.

And the results of that is Key fought a legal battle before settling; and Topnotch's Robert Rashidi decided to "toss-in-the-towel," tired of dealing with never ending madness.  Knowing both Robert, and Manjit of Key (we served on the taxi advisory commission together) well, I understand their strengths and weaknesses but fairness has never been an issue. That they were subjected to legal harassment says much about our industry. Our real opponents and adversaries lie elsewhere.  Uber, Lyft, Mayor Ed Murray anyone?

Pride Parade Free Rides

Again the City of Seattle teamed up with a ride-share company to provide safe and free rides.  A contact tells me that the City of Seattle does want to unitize taxis but has been unable to reach anyone in the industry to make this happen.  I will avoid any commentary but I will say  I was able to post the collective bargaining workshop info because I received a detailed email from the City of Seattle.  I am told there is money available for taxi participation.  I am glad that's true and if anyone involved in this effort is having problems reaching anyone at Farwest, Orange, Yellow, Northend etc, I suggest they contact me.  I will make it happen.  No problem.

Yellow Zone Queues

I was under the mistaken impression that the "queuing system" would be turned on "zone-wide" but that isn't true.  Instead there are currently 6-7 outlying zones that are "turned-on" to the queue, allowing dispatch to make evaluations.  One approach being considered in having the queue on for all zones only during school-run hours.  One major factor concerning this is that many drivers are saying they want the "closest-car-to-the address" system to remain.  Again, your input is important.  Tell dispatch what you think, what you want. And do it sooner than later, not waiting until autumn comes along.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Road Rage But Why?---More Antics Beneath The Seattle Taxi Full Moon

                                                    "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten
                                                     that we belong to each other."

                                                     Mother Teresa (Anges Gonxha Bojaxhiu)

War is war regardless of the locale or participants or justification or size.  Declarations of war then, more than commonplace, they are ubiquitous and continuous, something never ending in our usual and daily experience.  Road rage, that singular modern expression, is extremely popular is Seattle and area, seemingly nothing at all providing permission to go berserk and do anything one wants to do minus civility and commonsense.  That I experience this kind of behavior is unfortunate but why, why does it happen and what are the long-term consequences being subjected to nonsensical violence?  What is achieved?  What is gained?

This past weekend I was perplexed concerning the insanity around me until the cloudy night sky cleared and there it was, a mischievous full moon smiling down upon its unknowing victims.  "So that's it," I said to myself, "it's you that causing all this nonsense."  As I have said before, the color Yellow incites the weak-minded, impulsive bulls attacking the taxi red cape.  But the reasons behind it are not simple unless you just say that violence, all kinds of violence---physical and verbal and all combinations therein, are inherent to the human psyche, knocks to the head and shouting matches entertaining, making it worthwhile to spend money and time upon the infliction of indiscriminate pain and suffering

While ultimately a promoter of peace, the late Muhammad Ali got his start punching opponents in the face, knocking people down, winning Olympic gold medals and World Heavyweight championships.  If instead Ali had become a doctor, volunteering to work in America's most segregated ghettos, his fame and fortune and influence would have been far less though his care and skill more directly beneficial.  Again, why cheer for the caregiver when instead, isn't it more exciting to see men beat each other mercilessly?  For the vast majority, it is not only their first choice, it is their solitary preference.

The sun was shining.  No, not hot but the cool blanket enveloping Seattle had lifted.  At that moment business was slow, and knowing that the Pier 69 Victoria Clipper was due in about 50 minutes I decided to methodically work myself down to the waterfront, hoping for a "flag" along the way.  Knowing that the tourist pedestrian traffic was heaviest nearest Pike Place Market, I drove that way full knowing well I would be encountering traffic.

Wanting to turn right (north-bound) from Stewart onto First Avenue, I got behind another vehicle turning right, its turn signals on.  Like so many other Seattle drivers, the driver did not take the free right turn available but not being in any hurry I remained patient.  As the signal turned green, the slug in front of me now waited for the many pedestrians now in the way  to clear the intersection before turning right.

When I too began my turn a car next to me suddenly turned into my lane, cutting me off, the male driver, mid-50s, white and upper-middle class, leaned across his poor wife to inform me I was, according to him, in the wrong lane.  Waiting for him to move, I finally took my turn, remaining a good 20 feet behind when the guy abruptly leaps out of his SUV, taking a few steps forward, yelling that he had had his turn signals on. Why he had to tell me this is anyone's guess.

All I can say it that this very threatening individual was lucky that no SPD  were to be seen because they might have drawn their guns.  The question is, how did taking a right-hand turn warrant this kind of response, potentially leading to a serious altercation?  It was so outrageous an escalation that my only response was to laugh, his response past rationality leading to the ludicrous.  Why would he risk getting out of his car over absolutely nothing?  Fortunate for him this isn't Chicago or Philadelphia or NYC, his fate potentially far different.

Earlier in the day  I was transitioning from Beacon Hill north-bound onto north-bound I-5 when a driver, again a white, 50s, upper-middle class man, rudely tired to fill the gap in the lane I was entering, honking loudly, shouting, then chasing me while the traffic was barely moving.  I didn't react and just continued on down I-5, exiting at James Street.  Thankfully he finally backed down and fell 20 cars lengths back.  I appreciated his deescalation.

Also that same Saturday I picked up at a couple at a tavern, both clearly drunk, the man immediately ordering me around in loud drunken, angry, authoritative tones.  Since they were barely going a mile I resolved to just get them there when his demeanor worsened, taking on an overtly aggressive air.

I then pulled over, telling him he would have to stop or he would be getting out of the taxi.  Grabbing his female companion arm he jumped out as I told him his "violence" wasn't acceptable.  Calling me a "hippie f_ _ k!" and making an incorrect reference to 1976 (should be 1967),  that era of peace & love, he stormed out, denying he was violent.

 Being a big guy, he was clearly accustomed to intimidating if not actually beating people up, not used to anyone telling him his rough behavior was inappropriate.  That I wasn't afraid of him told him  his best option was to leave.  I am certainly glad he did.  And why the Reservoir Tavern "over-served" this couple is something they don't want to answer for.  I called the bartender about their customers but I understood that she wasn't interested in the subject, quickly hanging up.

Some people, even some very smart writers have insulted Mother Teresa for doing what she did, intervening into the lives of the poorest of the poor.  What I am sure of is that she never engaged in road rage or drunkenly threatened people.  What her quote indicates, since we are all sharing this interesting reality called life on planet Earth, is that kindness and understanding should always be our first and only option.  I know it is hard to disagree but violence, being so much fun, what would our species do without it?   I think we all know the answer.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Reaching Critical Junctures: Port Of Seattle Sea-Tac Hearing & Seattle Yellow's Dispatch System & City Of Seattle Collective Bargaining Workshops

There is a very old adage or idiom that states "When the cat is away, the mice will play," but in this case, dealing with Seattle's taxi industry, it is inherently unclear who is cat, who is mouse?  Is the cat taxi association leadership; or is the cat actually all the independent operators (single owners and lease drivers) not chastising the mouse that is industry management?

I say this because it truly is unclear who is ultimately in charge because association power is truly illusory, because, without me and others paying our fees, there would be no industry.  So minus all doubt, someone (and something) is clearly absent from the "taxi wheel," meaning, like some wayward vessel, if we collectively strike against bureaucratic shoals and sink, who is the captain responsible, who was at the helm?

As I am inferring, it is very unclear concerning who just is in charge and ultimately responsible for what has happened and will occur to those us currently dependent upon taxi for our livelihoods. Who is the perpetrator, who is the victim?  Like some mystery novel, maybe we discover the truth at the story's end, too late for any true victory or resolution, taxi already dead and buried.

I pose these questions due to what occurred at yesterday's Port of Seattle commission hearing concerning the pending award of the next five-year Sea-Tac outward-bound service contract.  Even after knowing better, ( or perhaps they don't), taxi industry representatives outlined some details concerning their respective RFP proposals, this in direct violation of commission rules stating that the RFP must remain private.

In theory, their leaking RFP "secrets" essentially negates their effort, legally allowing the Port Commission, if they wish, to toss out the errant applicant's RFP.  And perhaps even worse, it opens any potential award of services to legal challenge.  Impressive it isn't which is why I say, who exactly is in charge here?

That this kind of mindless transgression could destroy the lives of hundreds of Sea-Tac based taxi operators is outrageous.  How could the industry, or better put, how could all of us be so dumb?  I find it a serious question shouting out to be addressed.

Can we, in the near future, trust association management to make correct and logical decisions and choices?  The resounding answer is obvious, isn't it.  And since it is obvious, what are we going to do about it.  Maybe it is time to stop thinking in terms of cat and mouse and instead decide who is going to be the "top dog" growling at all inept and incompetent decision making.  Maybe, more than barking, it is time to bite.

For anyone interested in seeing all this for yourselves, please google the following address to access the Port Commission site:

Positive Changes to Yellow's Computer Dispatch System

I doubt anyone is sad to see "the closest cab will be belled" system mothballed but that is exactly what is happening, June 24th, 2016, the date when the newly installed computer tablet will be completely operational, allowing a return to much appreciated queuing, the first cab getting the next call.  Antiquated perhaps but us cabbies are old fashioned, thinking it is only fair that a driver, having waiting an hour, should get the next fare available, not one who just arrived a minute earlier and happens to be five blocks closer. This new system will be in effect in all the zones except downtown and the airport.  To me it would make sense to keep the "closest cab" system in the bigger county zones but perhaps not, given what happened in Snoqualmie..

In the "almost funny but not" category is what occurred with the Snoqualmie School District and a long $140.00 daily school run.  It turns out up to seven Yellow cabs would turn up, all trying to be the closest to the door in hope of being that day's very lucky cabby.  These dumbbells in general caused their own personal traffic jam, clogging the driveway and just making a nuisance of themselves.  It was this kind of nonsense that finally persuaded Yellow to revert back to our original queuing system.  Whoever thinks "total idiots" can't be helpful, are wrong, at least in this instance. Again, thank you guys, for your stupidity.  This is one time it is appreciated. Just try not make it a habit, difficult as that notion might seem to be.

In tandem with this change has been the "Union" generated review of various computer dispatch operating systems, with presentations made over the past four weeks at their Tukwila Teamsters Building.  This fact too might have accelerated Yellow's decision to alter what it was doing.  What is now more than likely to happen now is the proverbial period of "wait and see," assessing just how successful the new tablet is. Personally I don't care what system we have.  I just want it to work 24/7.  That can't be too much to ask.

There have been other problems associated with Yellow's system, especially an almost weekly shutdown of the entire operation on Monday mornings.  While they attributed this to faulty ATT relay towers, a remedy had to be found, and hopefully that galling issue has been fully resolved.  We can only hope, all of us disliking inherent dysfunction screwing up our day.

City of Seattle Collective Bargaining Workshops Are Now Scheduled

Most everyone probably knows that the Seattle City Council passed a bill allowing taxi/Uber/flat-rate driver Union formation.  That Mayor Murray remains non-supportive is another issue, something that might derail the entire effort.  Nonetheless, the City (or least one governmental part of it) is proceeding forward with the council's wishes.  Listed below are the times and locations for what are called the "For Hire Driver Representation/Collective Bargaining" workshops.  If time permits, given my curiosity, I will try to attend one of the workshops.

Saturday 6/25/2016  9:30-11:30 AM  North Seattle Community College, Center Room 1456,
9600 College Way North, Seattle

Thursday 7/07/2016  1:30-3:30 PM  New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave. South, Seattle

Friday 7/08/2016  1:30-3:30 PM  Miller Community Center, 330 19th Ave. East, Seattle

Call Julie Moore/Cyndi Wilder at 206-684-0909 for further info and details.

More Real Taxi As It Truly Is:

Near Accident

Saturday midnight I am proceeding west-bound on Denny with four passengers aboard when a driver in a big VW turns straight into me, providing me the quick option of either the hospital and wrecking yard or driving directly into the curb,the latter becoming my first choice.  Surprised that the right front tire stayed inflated I continued on to Ballard.  Funny part is that three of the four passengers were so stoned on some unknown substance that they barely recognized what had just occurred.  Unfortunately, the tire was, after closer inspection, found to be deeply cut, meaning $150.00 later I again had a new tire, curb damage not covered under my new tire warranty.  Oh well, least we and 478 remained intact.  Thank goodness for that.

Departing Rich Chinese Student Largess

Since it is semester's end and UW graduation days I decided to check out some apartment building dumpsters for items better left for the thrift store than the garbage.  Striking it rich, I found many wonderful items including a very expensive black wool jacket; and a beautiful rice bowl intended for that troublesome person, "she-who-can't-be-named."

As I was gathering my new found bounty, I was belled into the UW ER.  Picking my passenger up, I saw that the coat might be a perfect fit.  Dropping her off nearby, I asked if she might be interested in the garment.  Upon trying it on, I exclaimed, "It's you!" and it truly was, fitting her like a  thoughtful birthday present.  And also upon this imaginary birthday my lucky passenger received four beautiful large dinner plates and a glass bowl.  She was happy and I was pleased to find a proper home for the tossed treasures.  For myself I retained some plastic "camping" bowls plus a like-new rubber trash bin.  Thank you, taxi universe, is all I can say.  Thank you!

I will end with a stanza taken from Keats:

So, ye three ghosts, adieu! Ye cannot raise
    My head cool-bedded in the flowery grass;
For I would not be dieted with praise,
   A pet lamb in a sentimental farce!
Fade softly from my eyes, and be once more
   In masque-like figures on the dreamy urn;
      Farewell! I yet have visions there for the night,
And for the day faint visions there is store;
   Vanish, ye Phantoms! from my idle spright,
Into the clouds, and nevermore return!

taken from the poem---

Ode On Indolence

"They toil not, neither do they spin."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What People Recognize, What They See

Why wouldn't I dislike marathons occupying, disrupting Seattle's streets regardless of purpose or cause?   Sunday, during one such staged event, the main north-bound DT arterial, 4th Avenue, was closed off all the way to the Seattle Center, literally splitting the DT core into two, making the simple difficult.

Picking up the couple at King Street station bound for the Mayflower Hotel at Fourth & Olive, I instantly understood a detour was in order.  Having done this more times than I have ever wanted, I knew that either 6th or 8th would do the trick.  Also knowing that all traffic was being routed east onto Spring Street, it was obvious avoiding that morass was necessary, Seattle driver simpletons proceeding directly into the "jaws of death," or more prosaically, a hot and tedious and irritating "Manhatten-style" traffic jam.  Who needs that on a record 93 degree F. Saturday?  Not me, not that day, not ever.

My goal was to get them at the bottom of the hotel, on Fifth, allowing them a relatively easy haul of too much luggage up the short hill.  And thankfully everything went as taxi formulated, getting them there from Sixth minus much fuss or trouble.  Only cabby's know the minor miracles we produce daily, and this my friends was one of them, getting them there for just over nine dollars through the potentially insane.  While having few expectations, I do wish for basic recognition of the readily apparent despite it being their first time in Seattle.

As they got out of 478, a nearly blind woman, white cane in hand, approached, needing a ride. Sure, I said, allowing her to enter when suddenly the less observant of the pair from Florida nearly knocked the woman over, thinking she had left something in the cab.  She hadn't, plus also failing to apologize for her stupidity.  She then offered me a ten for the $9.20 fare---"Is that okay?"---and in a rare response, I said, "No, it wasn't," adding that I had just achieved something special, which I had.  She gave me twelve.

Who is blind?  Who is awake?  Or was her mind "just on vacation?"  One can only hope, knowing that in America, paying attention is optional.  Why understand what is going on around you when instead oblivion is better in any city or state, making it convenient upon your  personal demise not noticing your surrounding temperature, heaven and hell the same even when Beelzebub polks you in the buttock with a pointy pitchfork. Will she exclaim "Ouch!" with a puzzled smile?  My guess is yes.  What do you think is her response?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sand Tiger Sharks And Uber---Embryonic Siblings

On the Seattle Times' Saturday May 28th's front page was Evan Bush's featured article about Uber drivers working Sea-Tac International airport and its personal consequences.  From his various interviews, it appears all is not well, Uber drivers expressing dissatisfaction with 1 1/2 hour waits and fares to downtown averaging between $25-30.00 before gasoline and Uber's 20 percent cost, translating, if you count driving time, into about a $10.00 per hour profit (my estimation).  Making it worse for them were many "holding area" flat tires caused by numerous nails somehow mysteriously scattered in and around the parking lot. Suspects, including taxi drivers and nearby careless construction workers, were mentioned but no one truly knows the source and cause.

Given all these drawbacks, the biggest issue might be Uber itself and its internal competition, UberPool, with the drivers forced to transport passengers for as little as one dollar, meaning less than half of local  Metro bus fare.  But why would Uber care when they just received 3.5 billion in investment dollars from Saudi Arabia, further bolstering their $62.5 billion evaluation?

What Uber drivers have failed to understand is that Uber business practices emulate that feared and mighty sea-going predator, the Sand Tiger Shark (carcharias taurus) and its singular reproduction system.  You don't want to be reincarnated as a Sand Tiger shark because very likely you won't even make it out of your mother shark's womb.  Not a good way to get started because your end is already foreseen.

What it is called is intrauterine cannibalism or embryophagy, where one baby sand shark consumes its siblings while still in an internal state.  Pretty amazing, I would say, something also referred to as adelphophagy, literally meaning the eating of your own brother.  It is interesting that modern corporate capitalism mimics the ancient shark but capitalism has always been closely connected to our species more primitive instincts, from the caveman clubbing a rival to early industial England employing hungry youths in dank factories 16 hours a day.

So is there anything new to being eaten alive?  It appears not but I sure the hungry baby shark makes a swift meal while Uber slowly consumes its drivers bite by bite, first a hand, then a forearm until nothing is left but a brief newspaper mention stating that once again an Uber driver has utterly disappeared, nothing remaining but an unoccupied car at the side of road.  There is not even an official obituary, only another unsolved mystery, the Sand Tiger Shark swimming swiftly and rapidly away, having left Austin, Texas, to newer feeding grounds. Burp!