Sunday, February 25, 2018

Taxi Doggerel---Swallowed Whole By Taxi

If anyone isn't getting the message concerning the taxi "death-style" or  "imitating life while you are dying" I give everyone an alternative venue, the doggerel poem that isn't meant to be serious yet is, sugarcoated medicine for those not adverse to poetical style gone amok, feathers flying from the mallard duck, where meaning is whimsical  so any and all comprehension is just "good luck!"

                                              Swallowed Whole By Taxi

                                      It's a python squeeze if you don't please

                                             going down the gullet

                                      and certainly you can't breath as you


                                               the toxic living hell

                             that is seven days a week living eating sleeping cab

                                        residing in a volatile experimental lab-

                                                  oratory minus all glory

                                                        and now worse

                                            not even making any money

                                                      Uber and Lyft

                                           those damn busy bees laughing

                                      living a life of passenger milk and honey

                                                  and no it ain't funny

                                       residing in the stomach of a cold, cold snake

                                                  digesting all us cabbies

                                                        bit by bit

                                                      bite by bite

                                                   that serpent's smile

                                                    a shining top-light

                                  this hungry reptile happy we've stopped struggling
                                                    giving up the fight

                                                 fading fading fading

                                                      into the night


                                                       out of mind

                                                       out of slight.                                                       


If you can understand it, it's all true, it's no fun, taxi on the run, and the City of Seattle, those regulatory jesters, wanting to weight us down further as we sink, sink deeper into taxi nothingness

where hope is loss, where fatigue and misery is boss, and the Bureaucratic Devil says buy that cab, go into debt and work, work till you want to die, then embrace that death and be happy for now you can rest even if your family can't.

More Plainly Speaking

Okay, minus the poetic fun and games is the unmistakable reality that during certain seasons, months and hours driving and owning a cab in Seattle and King County is not sustainable, it just isn't, and pretending otherwise is pure foolishness and little else.  To add fifty-five more cabs to an already meager work environment is nonsensical.  Yes, almost any lease driver will say they want to own a cab but the question arises do they truly understand what they are requesting?  I say they don't, and while respecting the desire to be free of an association or a single owner, few recognize the inherent bondage that comes with owning a small business.  Yes, Spring and especially Summer will bring millions of visitors to Seattle and the State of Washington, allowing for easier and more profitable days but now, in late February business remains as bare as the frozen branches shaking in the frigid wind.  Yes, just like the this month's early cherry blossoms, business does occasionally bloom but certainly not festooning everyone's pocketbooks, flowering the taxi day.

Standing around last night at Pier 69 waiting for the Victoria Clipper,  I gave a quick tutorial to how we got to where we have, this in response to a statement that the new medallions were inevitable because a ruling had been made and must be followed.  In response I said "that isn't at all true!" recounting how the Seattle City Council first proudly capped Uber and Lyft at 250 cars each but then, upon Mayor Murray's intervention, quickly threw out their law thus providing the reality we now all suffer under.  14,000 plus Uber and Lyft operators later, our City plates are now worth perhaps $10,000, down from a pre-Uber high of $250,000.

As I told my audience of two, the City has done, and will do whatever they want.  If they want to stop the release of the new medallions, they will, plain and simple.  As I keep saying, isn't it time for commonsense governance?  The answer is obvious, isn't it?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

I Want To Know Why Seattle's Department of Licensing Believes The Local Taxi Industry Requires 55 Additional Taxis

Within the next few weeks the City of Seattle will once again hold a medallion lottery for fifty-five City-only plates we do not need.  As I have mentioned in the past, when taxis were the only transportation option in Seattle and King County, did the Department of Licensing authorize more licenses when we truly needed them?  No, despite our constant urging  and nagging (and begging), the City of Seattle remained unmoved by our pleadings.  No, they they repeatedly said, we are not going to do it.

Finally, after much lobbying, the Seattle City Council expanded the number of potential licenses by, if I remember, two-three hundred but still that didn't mean they were released.  No, what happened instead was they waited until our market was saturated by 14-18 thousand Uber and Lyft operators, plus an additional 2-3 thousand other assorted quasi-taxis to begin adding to the local taxi fleet.  Why they did this, and continue along this track is anyone's guess.

Logic says this doesn't make any sense but after observing Seattle and King County taxi regulators over the past 30 years its clear logic is not their guiding beacon.  But just what is their primary motivation for doing what they do remains mysterious unless it is a kind of sadism because currently the majority of the taxi drivers are sitting in place doing nothing whatsoever save going crazy. As I keep repeating, we are not having any fun.

In a response to my email, John Megow, Regulatory Compliance and Consumer Protection Manager for Seattle's Department of Licensing said all they were doing was implementing a 2014 authorization releasing 200 medallions, and besides, he told me, he had feedback from many drivers eagerly awaiting their opportunity to become a taxicab owner.  In other words, the malnourished are starving and Seattle will mimic the Old Testament gods and provide licensing manna from taxi bureaucratic heavens.

While what Mr. Megow said is true, it doesn't mean that the decision shouldn't be revisited because our business model is broken and when will it ever be mended and repaired?  The sorry answer is never, never will the taxi business in Seattle and the United States in general return to its previous profitability.  In Europe, and in cities like Reykjavik and Paris, their taxi industry is striving but in the good old USA the reverse is true.  So why add more misery to an already horrible situation, 55 new cabs meaning one thing only, that being a further dilution of a meager market, making it even harder for everyone to make a living.

Certainly statistically there's no justification for medallion expansion, as our local industry profitability three years ago was reduced by over 30 percent, and now I am guessing it is now down to 50 % or less.  Last week a New York City livery cabbie killed himself in front of New York's  City Hall but not before he had written an eloquent suicide note explaining he had been working 100 hours a week to make what once took 40 hours to earn.

This is our situation here and elsewhere nationwide.  All of us our working harder for less money.  And believe me, we are not enjoying ourselves.  Taxi driving has become a living hell.  In a response to John Megow I used one word to describe my experience as a lottery medallion winner: brutal--- meaning I am not having any fun working myself to down to the taxi bone.

The irony concerning ownership is that while business sucks our overhead remains high, the only recent relief coming with a reduction in insurance rates but collision coverage remains prohibitive, so if you have an accident more than likely it means the cab owner will be solely responsible for all related replacement costs.  If you own a Prius that could mean somehow you are going to have to suddenly come up with 14-20 thousand dollars.  Most owners do not have that kind of money in savings so it all translates into further debt.  It is not a pretty picture.

If you win a medallion, this is what you are facing in terms of initial costs.  If you buy, like I did a 2011 Ford Crown Victoria you are going to pay anywhere from 2-6 thousand dollars for the car.  A Prius will cost you anywhere from 14-20 thousand or more.  Painting the car is $500-1000.00.  Initial upfront insurance costs are about $1500.00.  Meter and computer will set you back $500.00.  The annual City of Seattle medallion fee is about $600.00.  Your business license is $110.00  I think the State of Washington business license is another $100.00.  After all this you soon will find that your car now needs tires and brakes and a new battery, translating into yet another $1000.00.

I promise you this is not an exaggeration.  This is my reality, and unless the City of Seattle relents, 55 more innocent taxi souls will be thrown into the fray.  And do I need to remind everyone that it was none other than Seattle and King County who created all this by tossing out their 250 car Uber cap and allowing Uber and others to expand and take over our market?

Is this some kind of cruel joke?  Yes it is, and of course none of us cabbies are in a good mood.  As I pointed out last week, it appears my friend Ali literally worked himself to death.  No, none of this is funny.  When the City of Seattle goes ahead regardless of my warning that it is a fatal idea, let me be clear, there will be no humor in Seattle Cab-land, mirth being our last emotion concerning the subject.

Postscript 02/17/2018

There is an ongoing local myth that the reason we have no business is because we don't have enough cabs to serve the business as opposed to my contention we have too many taxis at the moment and certainly don't need anymore, making a bad situation worse.  What this argument misses is that if we had customers calling none of us would be sitting hours at a time going completely out of our minds.

And as I have said, the costs associated with taxi ownership is high which means the new owners will be forced to work long hours just to cover their overhead in additional to bringing the bread home to the family table.  If anyone thinks working seven days a week while averaging 12-15 hours a days is okay then you are insane because it isn't anything anyone should be doing.  To make a rhyme out of it, you have no life and will never see your kids nor the wife.

So my suggestion is to embrace reality over mythology, recognizing that we as an industry are in deep trouble, a trouble threatening our very existence.  A recent study revealed the amazing fact that even during Uber's "surge" periods, when Uber sometimes charges up to four times or more than standard taxi rates, 6 out of 10 Uber customers still decide to ride with Uber though it is now costing them "a pretty penny!"

Scary, which is why the City of Seattle should cancel the upcoming medallion lottery.  Unless of course you believe in fairy tales like so many of my fellow drivers, that somehow God and the City of Seattle are watching over them, blessing their every move.  Ha Ha Ha! is all I can say to that!  But of course I am not laughing, delirium my current state of mind.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ali---RIP! & Two Passenger Profiles & Coming In March, A Taxi Driver Correspondence Course---You Too Can Learn The Craft In Just a Few Easy Lessons!

Saturday I was totally shocked to find that my longtime taxi colleague and friend, Tesfaye (Ali) Mekonene, had died a few days previously.  Ali and I shared YC 478 for years and always found time to chat when we saw each other.  If I remember correctly, his big house in Burien was fully paid and his children had either graduated from college or were nearing graduation.  In any true sense, Ali's life symbolized the ultimate "American Dream," emigrating from  a famine ravaged Ethiopia and creating a good and sustainable future for his family.

From what I heard, sometime last week Ali drove his car into a water-filled ditch which resulted in him being taken to the local regional trauma center, Harborview Hospital, whereupon a large benign tumor was discovered pressing against his brain.  Requiring immediate surgery, Ali unfortunately failed to recover and passed away at Harborview.

Opinion has it that his then unknown condition caused the accident.  A Yellow superintendent told me that a couple weeks ago he received an odd complaint concerning Ali for not proceeding forward after a signal turned green, the passenger having to alert him they were not moving, prompting the theory that the tumor was already clearly having a neurological impact.

Regardless of all conjecture, dying like this is a huge tragedy, something that might suggest just how hard taxi driving is upon body and soul.  Unfortunately, given the timing I missed two memorials held for Ali but was able to contribute to the funding effort toward sending him back home.  As said, Rest in Peace, Ali, your gentle spirit will be missed.

Two Passenger Profiles

Sylvia---"that coffee sure smells good!"

Sylvia is a three-time-a week kidney dialysis patient who also suffers from long-term schizophrenia, a double whammy no one should have to bear.  Residing in an Wallingford-area psychiatric halfway house, I have been transporting the diminutive Sylvia to the Scribner Kidney Center off and on for years, always very careful not to rush her as she has a personal checklist to address before we take off, first asking if the ride is paid for, which it is something she is cautious  about.  How old she is I don't know but I would say remaining very old fashioned in her style, especially when it comes to fragrance, something usually overwhelming the cab's interior, making me nauseous if I don't open a window.

Thankfully this past Saturday she had neglected to douse herself which probably allowed her to smell the latte I had just purchased.  For a moment I thought of buying her a coffee but knowing how unsettling any alternatives are to her regarding both route and routine I decided against it.

But what it did do was inspire me to talk to her normally, and picking a very safe subject, the local car traffic, and I then proceeded to explain as to why it has become so congested.  She in turn, for perhaps the first time in many rides, responded rationally, bringing up something from Seattle's past, which seemed to be calming, causing some reflection.

Yes it was a simple moment yet very satisfying, when for just a few flickering seconds the real core Sylvia revealed itself which is why I am writing about it, a remarkable instance in an otherwise mundane taxi morning.

Shirley---"My husband is dead!"

Sure, I remembered her now late  husband, having taken them both home shortly before I left for Europe.  Now picking her up at the same White Center bar, I find that her husband is now mysteriously dead, having gone out for a walk only to to be found two hours later dead beneath the South Park Bridge from as of yet unknown causes.  Shirley was both frantic and anguished, still processing what had happened which was made worse by not knowing, and conceivably never knowing all the details leading to his death.  Was he murdered?  Did he die from an overdose?  Perhaps the autopsy will tell but still she awaits the results.

Shirley, already drunk, and never these current days very steady due to a serious stroke paralyzing her right side, was accomplished that moment by her even drunker daughter, both having been over served at what is rapidly becoming White Center's most notorious drinking establishment. Listening to Shirley's lament as we drove to buy her even more beer, it was clear this death would never leave her.

And further heightening her plight, the house she shares, Shirley residing in the basement, is with a man with a truly frightening demeanor, anger and disdain evidently his favorite emotions, the owner the epitome of what might be truly wrong with America---a self-absorbed selfishness gone berserk.

Pulling away from the driveway, I had to purposely maneuver to avoid the landlord's car, simultaneously driving off in a kind of demented competitive race.  As for Shirley I fear what will ultimately befall her.  She tells me me the man who was their roommate is now in jail for violating a non-contact order.  What that truly means I don't know but her life now is now crisis after crisis somehow muted by an alcoholic haze.  Yes, this is Shirley.  This is her life!

Paperless Taxi School

Though still working through the details, coming sometime in March will be the first installments of of what I am calling a cab driver (or Uber driver) correspondence course, the subjects ranging from how to learn a city's roadways to proper conduct during a police stop.  The goal is simple.  Read the lessons, study them, take them to "heart" and voila! you will be on your way to learning the true craft of transporting your fellow humans from point A to B.  I envision a minimum of 6-8 blog installments and perhaps more.  Tests will also be included, with answers appearing in the next blog.  I have always thought that we need is a taxi university and now, more or less, we will have one, and even better, tuition free.  And of course you will be rewarded but how will be solely determined by you.  I am only the instructor and a tired one at that!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Again, Back In Seattle---Reminded Once Again Why I Don't Want To Be Here

Before I go into what fun it hasn't been being back in the taxi, the big local cab news is the sudden closure of that Snohomish County and deep north King County fixture, Northend Taxi, a company that has been around the taxi scene much longer than I have.  What I have been told is that Northend's owner, Linda Hawley, called it quits because she tried of the struggle to keep the company going.

Having never personally met her, legend and rumor paints her as an unpredictable figure prone to emotional outbursts.  But what is true is that her entire operation is up for sell, including what I am told is some very valuable property adjacent to I-5.  So while all her drivers and dispatchers might suffer, she will end up okay despite her uncertain decades running Northend.

Today a friend told me that a few years ago she declined an offer of $160,000 per car for her roughly 15 car fleet.  Of course now she might expect to get between 20-30 thousand.  At least the former Northend drivers won't have any problem finding new taxi homes, a few already transferring over to Seattle Yellow.  Given that it is the winter season, if you are crazy enough to want to drive a Seattle cab, there are plenty available for you to suffer in.  Welcome, my friends, to the living hell we are all sharing.  Welcome!

As for being back behind the Seattle taxi wheel, I will make it short and sour, telling you that already I have come close to being killed by an insane driver on northbound I-5 and have twice encountered wrong way drivers.  And what about the schizophrenic passenger yesterday who first insisted on being dropped off upon the opposite side of the street from her home,  then compounding that bad decision by running headlong into oncoming traffic as I yelled "to please be careful!"  Fun?  No, this is not fun.  Stupid?  Yes, it is stupid!