Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Refugees From The Sea-Tac Wars

Like any war, there are causalities.  The bruising fight for economic survival exemplified by the recent battle for Sea-Tac's outbound services have ripped a palpable bloody seam through the local transportation providers, a razor sharp knife severing head from metaphorical heart, irreparable wounds soaking red the airport tarmac, further damaging and weakening everyone.

What happened is not funny, as Bernard's Seattle Weekly article points out, Sea-Tac outbound service award to Eastside-for-Hire doubling Uber's advantage by expanding their customer base with the additional of 180 plus new service providers.  Yes, it is unfortunately true that all the former Yellow Taxi operators will be forced to provide service to the same company that is threatening their very existence, this due to Eastside's business and financial arrangements with Uber.

And adding  grave insult to the injury, they will pay Eastside a weekly $155.00 dispatch fee for the privilege. Of course this is not funny but nothing recently forced onto the Sea-Tac taxi fleet over the past year has been humorous, collectively backed into an operational corner by the Port of Seattle who keeps telling them everything is okay, just take your Uber aspirin and you will feel better in the morning.  Having met two Sea-Tac refugees over the weekend, clearly this is not true.

The two owner operators I talked to are part of a growing minority not interested in taking Sea-Tac's bad deal, instead returning to the taxi business operational world I share, one more traditional than the glorified shuttle service that is Sea-Tac's taxi service.  Both  drivers are experiencing problems acclimating to new taxi business realities, easy pickings off ripe taxi boughs long gone, hunt-and search the new  (and grim) business model.

One driver, lamenting the departure of all those "medical" HopeLink and other "fat & easy" account fares, fell back to yet another rumor, saying Eastside's connection with another Somali at HopeLink is the plausible explanation.  The other driver, a Punjabi operator, remembering me from the Seattle & King County Taxi Advisory Commission, said all of it---the loss of business and the Sea-Tac contract---was all my fault. While having difficulty understanding everything he was saying, it appears that, according to him, I am the one to blame.  I suppose this comes with being some version of "public figure" but if I truly had that kind of influence, everything today would be the reverse of what it is now, kissing Uber's unwashed foot.

What both of them are expressing is pain, the confusion and pain associated with ongoing conflicts ousting them from their preferred home, not unlike the millions of refugees fleeing war and devastation in Africa and the Middle East.  While not facing physical harm, they are dealing with economic death, their livelihood either taken away or altered to the point they were compelled elsewhere, certainly not liking what they see.

I know in the next few weeks and months I will be meeting more Sea-Tac refugees, hearing their anguish and despair.  What, for them, the loss of the Sea-Tac ultimately means for their future I cannot say.  Taxi, even in the best of times, is a struggle. Returning to the present tight business climate will not be easy, not in any way an easy transition but this is our shared reality, the situation facing us all.

Winter, I guarantee, will be harder this year, perhaps forcing many out of the business altogether.  But as usual, the administrators responsible will continue collecting their substantial salaries, giving little thought to the long hours all of us cab drivers will be facing, waiting 1-3 hours for the next fare.  I know I will not be enjoying myself, instead going slowly and progressively more insane, this prediction not only true for me but for all  my colleagues working beneath the Seattle top-light, no fun staring at the rain-splattered windshield, wishing that customers were in our cab instead passing us by in Uber cars, more than happy to be receiving a transportation bargain, oblivious to our suffering upon the roadside.  .  


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