Friday, June 30, 2017

Back In Tacoma---Thoughts About Recent Uber Developments And Revisiting Old History: How The Seattle City Council Opened The Door To Uber & Lyft

Before I comment upon Uber and its recent changes, I think everyone reading this blog might be interested in knowing more about where I have just been traveling, especially if you like waterfalls and roaring creeks, you too motivated in wandering south-bound down I-5. The biggest factor impacting my recent trip was the intense heat wave affecting northern California in and around Mount Shasta.  The best way to express it is that  average daytime temperatures at Lassen Volcanic National Park were in the low 60s degrees F. before exploding to the high 90s F., twice reaching 99 F. All this meant that we required shade to cover us and water to dip in, which thankfully were both in large supply southeast of looming Mount Shasta, a peak even higher than Mount Rainer in elevation.  If you find the heat too troublesome, you will experience some profound relief once the sun goes down, with early morning temperatures dropping down to the low 40s F., a more that 50 degree differential between day and night. Bring a warm sleeping bag.

My can't miss recommendations for this general area are Burney Falls located in Burney Falls State Park; and the three water falls--Lower, Middle and Upper found upon the McCloud River.  There is a wonderful 15 mile river trail bordering the McCloud which has easy and quick access points to the three falls.  The actual walking distance between the falls is less than two miles.  Do it, like we did, early in the morning and enjoy the scenery and wild flowers while avoiding the later afternoon hordes.

One tip for visiting Burney Falls, and thus avoiding the $8.00 day use fee, is to visit at early dawn and have these amazing falls both all to yourself and for free.  Some excellent camping choices are Butte Creek and Trout Creek camp grounds, both minus fees while providing large and fairly private sites.  At Butte Creek, located just east of the Lassen boundary, we had personal access to the creek, finding a good sitting place where we cooled off in the rushing water.  Due to the record snow falls, all the rivers and creeks and steams are bloated to near capacity.

If you have some spare time the next couple of weeks, it would a good time to visit this part of California for yourself.  You will be happy you did.  And if you do pass through Mount Shasta City, be sure to visit the Sacramento River Headwaters City Park located just about a mile north of the small downtown.  Bring a water jug and fill up at the spring.  The water is both plentiful and free.   Another interesting local phenomenon are groups of post, post, post 60s young hippies gathering in the park attempting to revive memories of mid-1960s summer days of love and marijuana and singing Dylan and Cohen to the heated air.  And HG Wells thought there was only one kind of time machine!

Current Uber & Revisiting City Council Decisions

While many will celebrate the ouster of Travis Kalanick as Uber's day-to-day manager, I advise that you don't cheer too loud because, as I said in last week's posting, you are only going to see a more streamlined and efficient company.  And if you think Kalanick influence will suddenly evaporate, think again as he owns millions? of Uber shares so in reality, he really hasn't gone anywhere other than one step to the right, or to the left if you prefer.   Will Uber suddenly become a more moral and kinder and caring company, more responsive to it's independent operators needs and wants?

It is highly doubtful, and if you need proof, I advise you read the Quartz Media online article, "Locked In---Inside Uber's Unsettling Alliance With Some of New York's Shadiest Car Dealers," a true exposure of how much Uber care about their operators.  In brief, you will find how Uber, in partnership with some very questionable car dealers, are preying upon immigrant populations who don't completely understand what they are doing when signing their signature upon the dotted line. Many Uber operators in NYC find themselves committed to weekly paying $500.00 or more back to the dealers, something that can span three years and more.  I also referred in my last posting to Uber as the "New Plantation."  Read the Quart article and see how I wasn't exaggerating.  If anything, I was understating the situation and just how bad it is for many of the Uber operators worldwide. Check out stories about Uber drivers in Kenya, who after working all day, and after paying all their Uber obligations, end up earning five dollars.  No fun I would say.  No fun whatsoever!

And who do we have to thank locally for inviting Uber (and Lyft) into our transportation world? None other than the good LIBERALS sitting a few years ago upon the City of Seattle's City Council, voting 8-1 to lift off their 250 car Uber & Lyft operator cap and provide unlimited (and mostly unregulated)  access to Seattle's and King County's streets and potential transportation ride customers. And again I want everyone to remember that City Council member, Kshama Sawant, that great self-proclaimed guardian of worker's rights voted to open the Uber Pandora Box.  You might also remember that it was Ed Murray, the now out-going mayor, who initiated the process to convince the City Council to toss away its own much discussed TNC operator cap.  It remains a mystery why they did it, as it was done minus plausible explanation.

And what did Murray dangle before the local taxi industry to go along with him and cut their own throats?  The tradeoff of all those leased medallions becoming real property was the bait, something that should had happened decades before, and something that should have never been part of some "devil's bargain."  As we in the industry know, what was once worth $250,000 is now down in value to something like to $18.000.  What a great deal it wasn't for us, along with all our lost business to 14,000 plus Uber and Lyft operators.

Briefly continuing upon that topic, I want to say to the reader who wrote that I am not fighting for driver's interests, is that at one point I was set to become then GM Tommy Key's assistant, something that was blocked by Yellow's managerial board.  Why wasn't I hired?   Because, in my presentation, I told them that we had to immediately file a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, clearly spelling out what I saw coming, which all unfortunately came to past.  That they made a huge mistake in going along with the City of Seattle's plans is shown in the their now very diminished company.  They were warned and they didn't listen.  It is that simple.  And of course, who paid the ultimate cost?  All the lease drivers and single owners.  What is new?  There is nothing new.

Mount Shasta City Taxi

Seeing a cab sitting in the shade, I walked up to the driver and inquired about the local business.  He said they have about a three-month long season, almost entirely dependent upon the flood of tourists pouring through.  How much are the insurance costs for this two cab company?  $300.00 per car per month.   I found that odd given that I pay $505.00 per month for me and two drivers on YC 1092 but that is the way it is, insurance companies pooling the nation's cabs into one pool, making this tiny cab company through the nose.  Oh well!  And by the way, their per mile rate is $2.50.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Greetings From Mount Shasta City, CA---I Have Already Used My 4 Yellow Hours

Greeting from northern California.  I am on the second day of 12 days upon on the road.  Meeting 'she-who-can't-be-named"here, last night we slept near towering Mount Shasta, the reputed home of aliens residing within the bowels of the great mountain.  The weather is clear and hot and in a few minutes we will be off to view some water falls.  No, no men or woman from Mars, just a bunch of local space cadets.

Locally the big news is that it is now difficult at the Yellow garage to just get your flat tire changed and repaired.  Saturday a friend found this out when he took his Yellow Fleet cab in to get another tire and was told by the new mechanic that "sorry, there was nothing he could do!" given that he had already given Yellow that days' quota of hours.  After pleading with him, he relented but that not really helping, as there were no spare tires on hand, and only after a search through the wrecked cabs did they find one.  I'll let you make your own assessment of the situation but I am certainly happy that I am no longer dependent upon them for a cab.  And in terms of where I am going to have 1092 maintained, it is certainly not their garage.  

Nationally the news is all about Uber's management implosion and how they have been insensitive to nearly everyone and every situation confronting them.  I don't know how this is news, since from the very beginning all they have been telling every one is "F_ _ k you," telling entire countries to just "go to hell!"  The real news is if local American municipal governments finally started telling Uber to "screw off!" and begin repairing their relationships with the taxi companies. 

Do I think that is ever going to happen?   No, I don't.  And you might again ask, what do I think is truly going to happen?  That all those folks who have invested 70 billion dollars in Uber are going take over, making Uber ever more efficient.  

And what will happen to the American taxi industry.  I see them limping along for the next 20-30 years, providing service to the poorer sectors of American society and all those completely disgusted with Uber, an entity I have ingloriously dubbed "the New Plantation," meaning pre-1861 American Southern plantation.  The idle rumor is that all Uber operators all now have a reproduction of Jefferson Davis upon their dashboards.  Now that just can't be true, can it? 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

From The Very Start Of My Cabbie Experience, Beginning In 1987 ,Taxi Has Always Been, And Remains, Like This

I know I have made comments similar to this in the past, but given that I appear to have stirred up a minor taxi "hornet's nest," by my revelation that late night WAT van service is spotty at best, I feel a reminder is necessary.  Back in 1987, and now thirty long years later, the making of money minus true and real customer interests, was, and are, is what the taxi industry is all about.  Why Uber and Lyft made such immediate headway is the confounding (and amazing) fact that transporting passengers safely and efficiently from point A to B remains secondary to every other taxi industry priority.  All the majority of people I have met in the industry want is MONEY, meaning as much MONEY as they can get minus doing MUCH of anything for it.  This assessment also includes the majority of my taxi friends and buddies.  Maybe it is the current societal sentiment that each individual deserves everything minus real and honest effort, calling it the new Facebook reality that everyone warrants the instant silver spoon, you and me and everyone, like the English Queen, deserving and getting by upon an annual 25 million dollar stipend.

And the why of this, the explanation is simple as taxi pie: almost no one I have met either wants to drive a taxi or be involved in the industry.  All the taxi industry is for them is a means to make MONEY and little else.  Examining taxi through this prism you will find this to be true.  Often you hear that someone wants to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer but when can you remember someone saying that they want to solely be a cabbie minus any other profession?

Individually the reasons are many but the results are the same: the taxi industry is, at least by a 90 percent percentile, composed of people who don't want to be there, and in many cases, desperate to get out.  All of this adds up to what I have been observing: a lack of taxi wheelchair van services during late night and very early morning service hours.  When you really don't care, you don't care and that is the reality despite the monetary assistance provided to local taxi WAT providers by the City of Seattle and King County.   While some might call me harsh, I say, like playing a game of basketball HORSE, prove it by making the basket, from this point forward, minus all excuse, ensuring that when someone at 3:00 AM needs at WAT van ride to Harborview Hospital, they get one.  Don't carp, don't complain, don't point your finger at me.  Just prove it, making it happen in the middle of the night.

Last week I paid $528.29 to renew 1092's annual taxi medallion, $500.00 of which going directly to City and County coffers.  The remaining $28.29 went directly into the van operators pockets in recognition of their valuable service provided to our overall community.  And truly I personally don't mind supplementing them when they are doing what they are supposed to do but when they impact folks like the Canadian couple I met at King Street station, needing an unavailable van at 11:00 PM, then I become resentful when it is clear that WAT drivers are not keeping their commitment to the handicapped and disabled community.

As I just said, too many members of the taxi driver and owner community want it ALL minus doing anything for it, providing "lip service" and not much else.  It is true concerning what I just said: the majority of guys DO NOT want to drive a cab, only doing it minus other well-paying options. Throughput the the greater Seattle and Tacoma metro areas, you find scores of East Africans and East Indians working at gas stations and 7/11 stores, arduous positions paying very little but requesting a lot.  It is a bad situation.

Taxi instead pays much more, and for those in the know, proving an upper-middle class income of over $100.000.  Since that if true, I personally expect all cabbies of all stripes to do what is asked, what is required: pick up that waiting customer day and night regardless whether they are walking or occupying a wheelchair.  It is part and parcel of the taxi agreement we all signed up for.

So my final word is just shut up and do it! and be damn well happy you are making the good money you are.  Personally, this moment finds me exhausted because I just worked my "butt off" the past three days but I made some "good money, honey!" so I won't complain, taxi being just what it is and nothing else: HARD WORK!

Editorial Note & Correction From Last Week

In last week's post I reported that the current PSD general manager also heads the Seattle WAT van group.  I misspoke.  He hasn't had held that position for at least the last three years.

Postscript Wednesday 06/14/2017

This morning I talked with a taxi buddy who is also a WAT owner, someone I count on as a true and reliable friend in the industry.  While acknowledging that at times there isn't enough late night and early morning van coverage, he said the issue has its beginnings with Yellow's departure from providing Sea-Tac taxi services, those services now provided by Eastside for Hire and its cab affiliate, E-Cab.

The old arrangement was thus, with the Yellow WAT operators qualified to work Sea-Tac, it allowed for a far more functional 24/7 operation, meaning there was enough work available to adequately sustain the WAT night-shift drivers.  With Yellow's loss of the Sea-Tac provider contract, it translated into fewer available fares and into fewer drivers willing to work the later hours.  So while everyone acknowledges that later hour coverage could be better, they are having difficulty coming up with a permanent and viable solution.

My friend went on to say that WAT van operations are expensive, saying that he wouldn't be able to operate without City and County supplemental funds.  Recently someone driving for him crashed the van, meaning he immediately had to come up with a replacement, a van often costing between $20-25 thousand dollars. I remember him flying clear across the country to pick up his new van.  In the taxi business, if you are not working, you simply have no income.  It is that basic, and stark.

So yes, why it is true coverage could be better, WAT operators are seeking resolution.  From my personal experience, taxi can be a very lonely world, with all the accompanying burdens falling directly upon your poor head.  As I have repeatedly said, no one (in their right mind) would call taxi fun.  It isn't unless pain and suffering are provided new definitions.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Yes, Yes---Crazy Crazy Taxi And Its Nutso World Presented Just For Your Reading Displeasure

I am getting the hint that some of my long term taxi industry readers are more interested in the sometimes "down and dirty" details of good, old insane taxi, and not at all interested in wayward Eskimos or Rosa Parks' ghost hitching a ride down her namesake street.  Given that, at least for this week, I will focus on industry interests and occurrences. I am sure many of you can relate that I might have tired of repeating, ad nauseam, items and issues that never resolve but fester into the infection that is known as taxi.  "Why embrace illness?" is my general feeling upon the subject, more interested in recovery than remaining a steady bedside attendant.

Back in the years 1982-1984 I did many "suicide watch" shifts at local psychiatric units.  All this taxi stuff  seems all to similar, remaining alert less dumbbell taxi again does something both stupid and fatal.  A good/bad example was finding out last night that Seattle Yellow taxi DOES NOT have 24/7 wheelchair van coverage for those who might require it.  The situation was twofold last night and early this morning when two requests for WAT vans were left unfilled. The first situation was by far the worse, as a couple was stranded at the train station at 11:00 PM waiting for the nonexistent van. Calling Farwest and Orange was no better, Farwest too having no vans available and Orange Taxi simply not answering their telephone.  This is "big city" taxi at it's best?  Give me a god damn break!

The wife was in a motorized scooter, and these were the final results, given there was no van and no real alternative to what turned out to be a bad solution.  I took the wife and their luggage to the Hotel Five at 5th & Blanchard while the husband maneuvered the scooter down Seattle's unknown streets to the hotel.

Another Yellow cabbie, a real nice guy from South Sudan, walked along side the guy for a couple blocks while providing precise instructions. It was the Williams' 50th Wedding Anniversary but unfortunately receiving a not-so-nice present from Seattle's combined taxi industry.  Making it even more egregious for them was that their travel agency had booked then into the "Pineapple Hotel."  That there no such named hotel, except perhaps in Hawaii, was obvious.  They had no address and no telephone number.  It was the great South Sudanese cabbie who figured it out, calling Hotel Five to confirm their reservation.

The other WAT request was a 2:00 AM request in the Rainier Valley.  The reason I knew about it was due to dispatch error, dispatching a regular cab instead of the requested van.  Earlier, dispatch got me screamed at over the telephone by a panicked brother trying to get a cab for his endangered sister, dispatch providing me an address on the 7500 thousand block of 21st Avenue SW when all along she was at 24th Avenue SW.  Turns out dispatch was training a new employee and he was making multiple errors that were only known of course when somebody like me called to mention that, once again, "things weren't right."

And perhaps making this lack of WAT 24/7coverage even more dubious is that the current leader of the WAT group is none other than the current Puget Sound Dispatch general manager.  One defense could be is that all of us, both owners and drivers, are independent contractors, meaning we all decide our own hours, when we work or not.

While yes, that all being true being true, it just can't mean that WAT service is not there when someone needs it.  The solution I think is fairly simple, asking for WAT driver volunteers to cover those late potential service hours.  It reminds me when I was a lease driver and complaining about not having spare tires available 24/7. The response was, "you will never have 2 flat tires on one day." When it happened I was faulted for calling the tow truck.  Amazing, isn't it?

Other Funnies:

--- I was almost killed 2 weeks ago when a driver ran a red light at about 60 mph.

--- This past weekend my taxi computer broke off its mount/base and I drove for two days with it cradled in a web of rubber bands.

---  2nd weekend in a row I nearly created a riot, this last time due to a driver thinking I was taking his passengers at the train station.  What is true is the majority of the immigrant drivers remain so culturally befuddled that "misinterpretation" is commonplace.

--- Rookie Yellow cabbie loss $400.00 when the junkie in the backseat noticed that the idiot drivers had his wallet laying on the front seat.

--- Dispatch was looking for a Yellow driver who drove away from an accident near Sea-Tac.

--- In the realm of taxi comedy, a computer-generated message kept telling us in no-uncertain terms can we give someone a blank receipt.  Only problem is is that it is the only means we have of giving out our dispatch number 206-622-6500.  I guess some drivers were selling blank receipts which must mean ALL OF US are doing that.  Oh so much for the life of a petty criminal!

--- A taxi buddy apt rent went up $200.00 this month.  He doesn't know what to do.  The entire State of WA doesn't have rent controls laws due to state-mandated laws.  Nice, huh?

So everyone, are you now sated, having gotten a generous portion of taxi as it really is?  Yeah, who wants to write about this nonsense?  Not me I assure you!