Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Times And Travails Of A Sole Proprietor Taxi Operator & Taxi Industry Work List 2008

Last week all it would have taken was for someone to lift the caps off 478's battery to discover that two of the six holes were dry, missing the vital acid that filled the remaining receptacles.  Night driver Raymond had called me last Wednesday, complaining of poor starting.  Taking time out of his shift, he first went to the Yellow garage, then to the auto parts store where I have a full replacement warranty on the battery purchased only last February.

Instead of doing a full and thorough check, both my friend Taki (one of the world's great mechanics) and the O'Reilly's store manager said the battery was okay when it wasn't.  Having no problems this past weekend I stupidly decided it wasn't a serious problem until day driver Tom called me yesterday morning saying "he was dead in the water."  Directing him to yet another O'Reilly's, Tom again received the same verdict given to Raymond.

Telling Tom that "enough of all this," I threw on my clothes and drove down to Seattle (from Tacoma), taking 478 back to the garage where Randy ( working on cars since he could barely stand up) figured out what the issue was.  Taking the car back to the White Center O'Reilly's I showed them the problem, and instead of paying yet another $144.00 I got another warranty covered replacement battery.

Tom now reports that 478 is starting better than ever.  And tomorrow, after Tom's shift, I am taking the car back to the garage for front and rear brakes, a new radiator (Randy showed me the leak) and yet another oil change.  How long does it take to put 3000 miles on 478?  Two weeks more or less.  478 is a "real runner" and in appreciation I am attempting to "baby it" as much as I can.  With over 500,000 miles I know I will be replacing it sometime next year.  But for the moment it is our steady steed, truly a good taxi horse.  Can you love a car?  Yes I believe you can.

Taxi Work Sheet Circa 2008

Clearing out a storage room I came across a box containing reams of paperwork and documents from our (Seattle & King County taxi industry) legal disagreement with King County.  In that box I discovered a work sheet I had composed (when president of the "Alliance of Taxi Associations")  for goals spanning the years 2008-2010, outlining what I thought was and could be achievable.  What it tells me is that at least one cabbie eight years ago was attempting to be constructive.

For your interest, I present this walk down taxi memory lane, keeping my comments brief because as soon as I finish this week's blog posting I blast off to yet a another past-due project.  One humorous note was my conversation during the most recent TAG meeting with Eddie Cantu, the current KC Licensing Director.  When I said that the Green Cab licensing situation remained unresolved, he said that wasn't the case at all, given that Green Cab had successfully completed the "pilot program" and were issued permanent KC licenses.  How that occurred is a mystery, given that no "taxi driver employees" were ever hired per the KC agreement.  Oh well!  Last week I found out that the permanent Green Cab county licenses were issued in part of backroom "wheeling and dealing" during that Uber negotiation almost three years ago.  As usual, I don't know whether to laugh or cry, or making a bad rhyme, sigh?

Work Sheet

Of Immediate Concern

---Green Cab & King County

---Mayor's New Taxi Initiatives

---Viability of  the "Alliance of Taxi Associations"

---Schism between owner and driver groups

---L&I and other benefit issues

Longer Term Concerns

---Change license leasing model (City & KC) into actual property ownership (medallion model)

---Develop permanent lines of communication with the City of Seattle and KC

---Incorporate new driver training and preparation as functional and operational model

---All taxis City & County plates

---Recognition of taxis as transit (allowing HOV lane use, etc)

---Expansion of 24 hour taxi zones (City & County-wide)

---Maintenance of cars and equipment (MDTs, radios,etc)

---Development of mediation procedures between drivers and owners and company ( association) management

There you have it.  Yes, medallions are now real property but in exchange we now have 14,000 Uber cars.  This is a good trade off?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Waning Full Moon Tales & GoFundMe Info For Terminally Ill Cabbie

I will always refer to that troublesome and mischievous moon when the unexpected occurs, shifting not only the tides but also the water composed blood surging through our veins and arteries.  Yes, upon our internal physical seashores the moon's waves erode our fragile sanity, providing what I see and experience: a road-rage demented driver who actually stops and gets out on the Ballard Bridge and approaches my cab; to the woman who said she lives at 18th South and Yesler Way, and upon our arrival says she doesn't know where she is.  Though living at 221 18th South for a full year, it seems not taking her usual route (Boren to Yesler, take a left turn) disoriented her though how I cannot tell you.  "Why didn't you just give me your address?" I asked.  She didn't have an answer.

On top of all the crazy drivers and aggressive passengers the full moon truly howled when I was approached outside the ReBar by a young woman who was in a five-hour search for her parked car.  Having attended the Weekend Hemp Fest, she somehow forgot where she parked and had been walking in circles for hours. Listening intently to to her descriptions, off we went in search of the elusive parking lot.  That it was already One in the Monday morning meant I was exhausted, making the assignment all the more difficult as we circled the greater area near the Seattle Center, having told me she had "seen the Space Needle." from the lot.

45 minutes later I was done in physically, drained from checking out every damn parking lot in a about a 1 1/2 mile circumference. But would you believe it because I still can't, driving south on Elliott near Bell she suddenly shouts "That's it!" and it certainly was, amazingly locating her 1984 white Honda.  Getting $40.00 for the ordeal was great but achieving "Victory!" in the face of guaranteed defeat was amazing, making me happy for a few sleepy minutes, meaning she would make actually it home to Bremerton in time for her morning shift.  Thank you, full moon, I think!

Money Donations Needed for Dying Cabbie

A friend of a terminally ill Seattle Yellow taxi driver located me through my blog, telling me Robert Stansell (YC 867) is dying from irreversible colon cancer.  He can no longer work and is facing eviction from his Queen Anne apartment.  Any and all monetary donations are appreciated.  There is, as far as I know, a collection jar now sitting at the Yellow cashier's window.  A more direct way to help is his "gofundme" account.  Great thanks to Jenny to notifying me of Rob's dire situation.

California Uber Driver Settlement Tossed

Last week a judge tossed out the settlement negotiated between California Uber drivers and Uber, saying it was too small, representing less than .01 of Uber's net worth.  Stay tuned.  And I must add the warning to please avoid all lawyers who do not understand the independent operator experience.  The hotshot lawyer the drivers had hired clearly "sold them down the river!"  I had sent her a email months ago.  No response was what I got. Too typical, the Bhramin not touching the dalit, this bad story never ending.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Surreal (And That Is Putting It Mildly)

The definition of maelstrom is twofold at least, one being a violent or turbulent situation; or if upon the water, a whirlpool of the kind Jules Verne describes at the end of his novel, "Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers" (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).  That taxi driving meets that first definition was exemplified Saturday night by a drunk mother and daughter team going home to West Seattle's Admiral District from a White Center tavern.  The mother, in her mid-70's, was totally saturated while the dutiful daughter shifted from coherency to occasional mild incoherency.  Initially the daughter was able to keep Mom under control but toward the rides' end Mom was actively tugging upon my right shoulder while repeating I was a member of ISIS.

How all this got started I can't tell you other than I appeared to not have taken their expected route (longer and more expensive) than the one chosen, taking them directly to their destination, 3303 California SW, turning right off SW Hanford onto California.  Making this all the more surreal was simultaneously having dispatch (the Las Vegas Call Center) repeatedly calling me and asking about a very generic no-show occurring three or more hours previously.

Here is the chaotic scenario, the crazed mother assaulting me while screaming I am an Islamic terrorist  and dispatch haranguing me with "what are you talking about?"  I never did quite understand what dispatch was doing other than perhaps conducting some kind of daily no-show audit that is now somehow required.  I am only guessing because taxi no-shows are as common as rain in Seattle so why dispatch would be sorting through hundreds of daily no-shows is beyond me.  That they were checking up on me in the first place is insulting.  Why was any of this necessary?  Yes, I know some of our drivers are awful but making a blanket sweep just builds resentment, no one wanting or needing to be treated like some kind of "taxi child."  As an effective approach to a real problem it just isn't.

After getting the the drunk pair safely out of the cab I called dispatch back, trying to make sense of what they were requesting.  They had even sent me a message asking whether ______ ______ had been picked up.  Who? What? And all this happening in the middle of my personal maelstrom. Call it oddly hilarious.  Call it completely nuts.  But also always call it taxi as I know it, insanity rolling upon four hopefully inflated tires. Ain't it all fun?  Not really!

Quick Taxi News:

---Last week the US Chamber of Commerce's anti-union lawsuit against the City of Seattle was tossed out, the judge saying they had no standing and can not show how they have been harmed.

---Yellow Cab has reduced its monthly medallion lease rate to $425.00, that from an initial one thousand per month.  Good for people like me but indicative of something bad afflicting Yellow.

----NPR local radio station KUOW reported last week of more Sea-Tac cabbie grumbling at a Port Commission meeting, operators voicing further unhappiness with the Eastside-for-Hire outbound service award. Clearly the Port never considered that they are asking current Yellow operators to enter a system that does not have a clearly established "taxi" dispatch, meaning their money-making options are further diminished. I believe the Sea-Tac cabbies are being requested to pay up to $10,000 dollars each to just stay where they are while accepting a less-than-positive business environment, including competing directly with Uber at the airport.  Eastside has reportedly told the cabbies that they can take Uber calls to make up for the missing dispatch. Isn't that  funny?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Finally, A Major Seattle Media Outlet Writes About The Sea-Tac Outbound Service Award

It was long in coming but last Wednesday, August 3rd, the local weekly newspaper, The Seattle Weekly, featured an article written by Sara Bernard entitled "A New Airport Contract Puts Taxi Drivers in a Tough Spot."  Overall it is good but it appears working from both old and erroneous information.  The old (and it might be the correct) reporting works from the premise that Eastside-for-Hire's winning of the Sea-Tac service contract is confirmed but as I reported last week, that might not be true.  As the saying goes, silence from the Port "is deafening;" and quoting from Bob Dylan, "No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden." And for me, that is the best part of Bernard's piece, splicing out a Port of Seattle regal in its pretentions, in its royal decrees.

Evidence for this is the article's comparison of outbound fees between Sea-Tac and three other airports: Phoenix, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.  Currently Yellow Sea-Tac taxi drivers are paying $5.70 per outbound trip.  Based on Eastside-for Hire's 22.5 million dollar winning bid, in the beginning each outbound trip will cost $7.00, ending with $9.00 per trip regardless of fare length, meaning a ride to Olympia costing the same as driving across the street to the Double Tree.

The three cities mentioned have outbound rates that are considerably less.  Phoenix charges $1.00. Philadelphia charges $1.50.  Washington DC, our center for all things democratic, charges $2.55 per outbound fare.  One must ask why there is such a huge difference between Sea-Tac and the other airport's outbound rates? And when Sea-Tac's rates are compared to Seattle Yellow Taxi's weekly $180.00 dispatch fee, one might again ask just how and why is Sea-Tac getting away with charging so much money?  Given that, I decided to use my own experience as a best case example.

My following example is based upon me driving a seven-day work week while averaging 20 fares per shift, something I have been doing for years, even in these down times, equaling in 140 fares total.  Divide 140 into my weekly $180.00 fee and you come up with a individual fare cost of about $1.30.  Now if I add just 10 fares per my night driver's shift over a five-day period and the total comes down to about 95 cents per trip. And since I know I make a lot more than the average Sea-Tac-based cabbie, why are they paying so much for a lesser return?  Another question is why don"t they understand this discrepancy?  Does any of this make any sense?  From my point-of-view, clearly it does not follow any reasonable logic.

Maybe all of this is because both the cabbies and the Port of Seattle share a mythology, a misconception that Sea-Tac represents the "pot-of-gold" at the end of the taxi rainbow.  That it doesn't, and never has, should have been acknowledged fact a long time ago but it seems it is to Sea-Tac's economic benefit to perpetuate a self-serving myth.  And perhaps it can also be said that Sea-Tac is literally banking on the hope that the cabbies will never figure out the true financial story.

Yes, one cabbie might, meaning me in all my exhausted glory, understand the real story and its distorted monetary figures but one individual will never stop an advancing tide, taking all of us to tell the Port of Seattle that their game is up, wanting a fairer rate for outbound fares or simply we will boycott Sea-Tac until you do. I know this approach might work because I believe they know what I know: taxis are the best transportation alternative for their airport customers.  It was true before Uber and it remains true.  Taxi remains "king," or if you prefer, "queen" of the passenger  transporting services.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that there was some misinformation in the article; and that being the quote of how much one cabbie was making, stating he is subsisting on $11.00 per hour.  It reminds me of another quote a few years back when the reporter actually believed a cabbie when he said he was making only $8000. a year, the writer not understanding the cabbie was speaking to the IRS and no one else.  This is what happens when well meaning and innocent reporters jump unknowingly into the taxi whirlpool, their reporting becoming a trifle dizzy.  Not a criticism as much as fact.  How can you know when you don't?   But the truth is, I know, and look at me, I am standing upon my head spinning in place!  Wonderful!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Surviving Only 2 Months San Francisco Taxi & What Is Happening With The Sea-Tac Out-Bound Bid?

Saturday morning a passenger told me he was twice robbed at gunpoint while navigating a two-month long taxi stint in San Francisco sometime in 1971.  Both times he was surprised, not understanding he was being set up by willingly taking passengers to "unsafe" addresses.  Having lived in San Francisco 1979-82, it was clear even then there were parts of the city you just didn't enter unless protected by armed escorts. Asking if anyone warned him about taxi's inherent dangers, he said the cabbie initially training him barely said two words, making no attempt tutoring the raw rookie.  The guy is just lucky he wasn't murdered because it was an era when too many cabbies were killed and left bleeding upon the side of the road. At one point, on the opposite side of the country, NYC was averaging 50 cabbie murder deaths a year.

What this guy's story spotlights is one of the taxi industry's few consistencies: collectively a lack of concern for its drivers and ultimate consequences for everyone concerned.  A taxi buddy on Monday told me one Yellow cab's insurance rates had doubled due to a combined four at-fault accidents in one twelve-month period.  The cab is now sitting uninsured, with the single owner losing his financial butt.  This is what happens when the inexperienced, minus all support, get in beneath the top-light.  My night driver first started in 1973, once owning a cab in Los Angeles. He knows the taxi ropes, being the kind of driver we need out here 24/7.

One question might be, how are taxi robberies and taxi accidents related; what are their associated factors pointing to a shared source?  Simply, when rookie drivers are not prepared, with no one---not companies, associations or government regulators preparing them in any meaningful way for the insane experience that is taxi--bad things happen.  It is obvious then, clearly preordained, that when an occupation as unusual as taxi is treated as something mundane and commonplace, you get nationally what we have seen over the years: poor suckers who have no real clue about what they are getting themselves involved in. And I am talking about everyone, including my lifelong friend Marty, a University of Chicago graduate who was robbed by a gun wielding thug when driving a cab back in 1968.   He is smart but clearly at that particular moment the assailant was wiser.

And what, you may ask, keeps a driver safe while plying taxi's mean streets in Chicago, Seattle and elsewhere?  Well, being a human wolverine assists, which helps explain why potential criminals are uniformly scared of me, politely paying their fare and getting out, understanding making a mistake with me could be their very last bad decision, me and other professional cabbies having no time whatsoever for games and nonsense.  They even say thank you upon exiting the cab, perhaps thankful for getting out alive, cultured civility wonderful, making for an orderly and peaceful society.

How could any potential ruffian disagree, knowing full well when they are being measured for a casket. Crooks may be dumb but they not that dumb, desiring, like all of us, the easy over the impossible.  Every cabbies' personal credo then should be the same: my poison more lethal that yours, his/her determination the fatal hemlock, ancient Socrates, on some level, once knowing all about it.  

Rumor and Otherwise Concerning Sea-Tac Service Award

At this point, I am finding it very difficult to sort out the various facts, fictions and rumors currently circulating over the taxi airwaves concerning Sea-Tac's outbound service award but if, as the old saying goes, where there is smoke there's fire, Eastside's hope of ultimately taking over for Yellow could be engulfed in flames. One source pulled me aside on the Victoria Clipper line Sunday, describing in detail what he knew.

One major development is that two Port Commissioners have balked at signing the new contract, possibly meaning the entire issue will remain deferred to at least March 2017, with Yellow continuing on as the month-to-month de-facto service provider.  A major problem it seems, as I reported last week, is that Eastside bid too high, that generous bid having ripple effects across the Sea-Tac landscape.  While much of this was confirmed by another source, all that I have just written should be treated as mere speculation until confirmed by official announcements.  If all is true, it seems Teamsters 117 also made some valuable contributions to the taxi-operator side of the argument.  As normal, stay tuned, and if breaking news develops, I will try to be your reliable source for all Sea-Tac related information.