Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Special Report: Kicking Taxi When It Is Down----Is The State of Washington, King County & The City Of Seattle Waging A Vendetta Against The Pierce & King County & Seattle Taxi Industry?

A Special Report: Are State & Local Government Agencies Targeting The Seattle, King County & Pierce County Taxi Industry?---An In-depth Look at Potential Bureaucratic Overreach 

As to anyone reasonably observant during the past few years, especially to consumers of transportation services, I am sure it has not gone unnoticed that the American taxi industry as a whole has been under unprecedented pressure and attack from new competitors (and their governmental supporters) like Uber and Lyft, pushing taxi companies both national and locally into the proverbial operational corner---the recently announced San Francisco Yellow Taxi bankruptcy filing only one good bad example of what is happening everywhere. When and how the story finally concludes is anyone's guess. But what is clear is that there are many more chapters to be written.

Outside of the United States it is a different tale, there being many examples of national and local government  (Paris, Spain, France, South Korea) legally challenging Uber & Lyft business practises; wherein American borders it is an entirely different counter-narrative---local authorities and administrators openly siding with app-based companies.  Why they are doing this is open to debate but that they are targeting taxi associations and companies is indisputable, the evidence conclusive: it is open hunting reason upon the taxi industry, local officials seeking new trophies for paneled offices.

Some elected and appointed administrators clearly feel they are operating for the public good, revealing rampant criminal malfeasance.  But as my following report clearly questions, there doesn't appear to be an overreaching conspiracy by the taxi industry to defraud the local taxpayer.  Instead I believe you will see the opposite to be true: that a compliant and cooperative taxi industry has been targeted simply for existing, and no other verifiable reason.

I am looking forward to later governmental explanation and justification to this report, especially when the evidence is clear: Uber and Lyft are not made respondent to same and equal requirements.  Ultimately it will be up to the "rider public" to tell local government that this contradictory policy is both unfair, and most importantly, unsafe and dangerous, regulatory authorities failing in their duty to protect consumers in that most lethal of work environments: the American roadway.

One self-editorial note is that in preparation I talked to only one of the officials concerned, that being Eddie Cantu of KC Licensing.  While wishing I had the time to request and conduct interviews of all important participants, time and monetary constraints remain limiting factors, prompting me, as usual to operate "by the seat of my taxi pants."  While some of the information contained came from one primary source, I use the filter of 29 plus years in the taxi business to ascertain true and false and everything falling in-between.   As I often tell my passengers, unlike too many cabbies who are new in the business, I have been doing this "way too long" for my own good and physical welfare.  Still, all these crazy years have provided what I find to be unusual insight and perspective into the taxi asylum.  Am I inmate or psychiatrist?  Both is the real and honest answer!

Story One:                        The Strange Case of Ahdi Ahmed Matan

Investigating Matan's battle with the City of Seattle and King County over a denial of renewal concerning his dual (Seattle & KC) for-hire license, I am unfortunately reminded of Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyell & Mr. Hyde," Matan insistent he is only "one person" when evidence points to potential other operational sides of concealed personality..  What I find more interesting than Matan's clear contradictions is the contradictory behavior displayed by the City of Seattle and King County in administrating his case and appeal, Matan being one solitary individual while, quite obviously, Seattle and KC being a huge governmental entity answerable to over 1.4 million residents; meaning, that more than just being necessary, it is legally essential that all pertinent rules and regulations are aligned in proper "apple-pie order", but in this situation pertaining to taxi , this doesn't appear to be at all true.

As I will attempt to show, what is happening is more like a yowling cat biting its tail in a frantic concentric circle, round and round the agencies go, digging an ever deeper hole.  But if my reading of the situation is correct, it appears that confusion, not malicious intent, is the prevailing problem---minor bureaucracy gone amok over the governmental edge.

Back in August 1995 an agreement--necessitated by duel yet separate licensing agencies---between Seattle's Dept of Finance and Administrative Services and King County's Dept of Licensing stated that each department would administer each other's appeals, thus avoiding obvious conflicts of interest, notably Seattle's responsibility for vehicle licensing and King Cunty's responsibility for operational (for-hire) driving licenses. While regulatorily clear, with rules and directed practises written down, the actual appeals procedure has become implicitly confusing, with both departments, in Maten's case, ignoring their own procedural guidelines, with KC conducting Matan's appeal.

Instead, his appeal should have been done by the City of Seattle per the 1995 protocol. But making the entire process even more problematic, given that Matan held a dual (Seattle/King County) for-hire license, FAS deciding to conduct its own appeal of dismissal process.  Why either department acted as they did, as I said, is anyone's guess, thus mystifying Matan and his supporters. Possibly the only plausible explanation is that both Seattle and King  County didn't know how to proceed. Given the confusion, that makes perfect sense.

On top of all this was Matan's, in his initial reapplication process, failure to list all of his dismissed moving violations, something stated as just cause for denial.  What KC discovered was a multitude of dismissed violations over a three-year period, plus a previously un-revealed domestic violence charge. In hindsight, it would have been wiser to list everything as was required.

Instead of passing judgment I will reiterate a well-known taxi credo: whatever you do, do not operate your cab when upset or in an emotional state of mind.  As Matan's recent driving record attests, bad things happen when you do.  From all reports, he was going through versions of matrimonial turmoil resulting in distracted behavior.  Owing my own taxi career to a divorce, I can relate to the trauma involved when a marriage is crumbling away, falling apart.  Unfortunately there is little to no support for cabbies when things are going wrong.  Like the solitary satellites we are, we remain lost in space, disconnected from our home planets.

So while Matan does hold responsibility for his actions, so does King County for taking on an appeals process that is exclusively Seattle's alone, and not theirs. Currently the entire process remains under review, meaning the verdict is out whether Matan will ultimately retain his right to drive a taxi in Seattle and King County.

But let this situation serve as a warning to everyone, who like me, are making a living driving a cab or flat-rate for-hire car or even Uber and Lyft: keep your driving record clean or you too will  end up on the outside looking in.  Depending on government to make the correct decision concerning your particular situation might be a fool's errand, bureaucracy well-known for stumbling over its own procedures, rules and regulations. While stubbing their own toes they might unintentionally kick you in the knee, incapacitating your ability to walk.

To believe otherwise is to be blind.  Put on some realistic spectacles then, and see what is not just in front of your big nose but also looming upon the horizon.  Otherwise you might be bumping headlong into an immovable wall.  That is just how it can be, and is.  After reading this, never say that you weren't forewarned, because you have.  No one has ever said you must remain a big dummy.  You don't need to be, a dummy that is, and you can quote me upon that.

Story Two:                  Elephantine Thinking at WA ST Dept of Labor & Industry

While we all know that our favorite tusked animal, the elephant, never forgets anything, how is it that the Washington State Department of Labor & Industry, through the personage of L&I Litigation Specialist Jerry Billings, continues to remember that now tiny (and barely existent) Pierce County taxi company, Tacoma Yellow and its alleged past indiscretion dating from the year 2008-09?  Oddly, the reasoning might be that when L&I coverage was required, a rule now legislated out of existence, Tacoma Yellow was the most cooperative and compliant of perhaps any other taxi association or company in the entire state of Washington, negotiating a separate agreement.

Or the other reason could be because Yellow's Chief Financial Officer at the time, Garreth Elisk, told L&I that the ownership group (now past) underpaid what was owed, even though it was Elisk himself who had signed the annual statement, signifying that it was a true and accurate document.  And perhaps the most important reason for  L&I's continued interest was the 4 million dollar payout to a Tacoma Yellow cabby seriously disabled in a shooting, meaning that L&I wants its money back.

All of this might sound fine and reasonable until you know that Tacoma Yellow has undergone ownership change and bankruptcy, and if it loses the case, has little to give the State of Washington save 18 very tired Ford Crown Victorias, worth at best maybe 20 thousand dollars in total.  That the State of Washington knows all this beforehand; and that approval for this misguided effort must come from both the Democratic State Attorney General and the Democratic Governor, makes the whole affair very questionable when the final outcome is predictable; or as the idiom and Old English proverb tells us: you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip; or bringing it up to date:you can't get money from a taxi company that no longer exists, meaning the 2008 version is long defunct---yellowing paper tucked away in shoe boxes in dusty closets.

Maybe it all comes down to Billings' reputation as L&I's most persistent departmental bloodhound, never giving up until his quarry is held fiscally responsible.  Interestingly, it seems that Billings himself knows there is nothing financially to be gained but nonetheless continues his quixotic pursuit.  An appeal hearing is scheduled for February 2017.

If anyone out there thinks L&I's position is completely farcical, you might contact the current L& I Chief, Vicki Smith, and tell her to call off the barking dogs.  Surely Labor and Industry must have more pressing cases than assuaging old grudges.  Logically that must be true but in so many of life's varied occurrences, logic becoming secondary to misplaced emotion, anger and mistrust ruling the day.

Story Three:            The Port of Seattle Requirement for For-Hire Vehicle Certificates: Why?

This particular story of applied double standards is a winding tale taking us from the Seattle mayoral office to the Seattle City Council chambers to the Port of Seattle Commission to somewhere hidden deeply within the governmental bowels in. Olympia, and just where that is I have no idea.  The current issue is that the Port of Seattle, namely Sea-Tac International Airport, wants all taxis and flat-rate for-hire vehicles to have a State of Washington "for-hire vehicle certificate," something relating to the DOR (Dept of Revenue) UBI (Unified Business Identifier) registration number.

The only problem with this is that the Port of Seattle is NOT asking Uber or Lyft to to do the same.  This all gets back to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray saying, as a favor to Uber, that the City of Seattle will no longer require this kind of certificate with cars operating in Seattle.  But, as far as I know, the complicating issue is that neither the City of Seattle nor King County bothered to officially change the requirement.  Further aggravating all this is that the State of Washington still requires cars operating as for-hire vehicle (taxis, Uber etc) to have for-hire vehicle certificates.

So what is going on here?  Is there a failure of communication between the various city, county, port and state governments?   And as I said, is there a double standard in operation, requiring one thing of taxis but not of TNC companies?  For me this is too typical when it comes to taxi, nobody, and I mean nobody truly paying attention or heed.  Why be attentive when it is more fun mimicking the ostrich.

And perhaps making the matter worse, I have been told that all those feral Uber drivers are hogging the 3rd floor pickup area, thus preventing any other operators from entering.  Rumor or fact, it appears that there are some interesting things going on at Sea-Tac.  What will the final conclusion be?  As usual, stay tuned and I will. attempt to keep all and everyone informed.

Update on Rob Stansell

Again, thanks to everyone who donated and supported Rob during his last days.  Rob died last week and yesterday, his remains were cremated.  Per his wishes his ashes will be scattered into the Puget Sound.  Also great thanks to Jenny Lachuta, Rob's landlord and friend who was instrumental in assuring Rob's last weeks on this planet were dignified and blessed.  Thank you Jenny for the compassion shown.  Good work!

And on a lighter note

CJ actually came through, that Fred Myers gift card holding a $64.23 value, not the $24.00 she told me it had.  It does confirm to me that she is indeed a thief but she is kind to cabbies, at least this time around.

Editorial Note 12/02/2016

When I mention those of us being big dummies, I must include myself because, though knowing better I still published my blog yesterday instead of waiting a day and further sleep.  Anyone who read the former version will notice the "tidying up" that was necessary and essential.  Do I like being an idiot?  The unfortunate conclusion is that yes, I do enjoy wearing that label, a sorry placard round my neck.