Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Is Uber Just Another Ponzi Scheme? And Who Remembers Bernie Madoff?

As I write this, Uber is preparing an IPO or public stock offering estimated at a value of $129 billion dollars sometime in the upcoming year 2019.  As some might say, "that's a lot of green cabbage, brother!"  Or maybe its something far more questionable than leafy vegetables, since cabbage is eatable, and Uber's IPO possibly just financial garbage and nothing else, this due to years of unsustainable business practices producing billions of dollars in losses since its 2009 inception, this past quarter alone losing 1.3 billion.  The question now is, just why do so many so-called financially astute investors remain willing to invest money in something hemorrhaging cash, an operation providing no clear signs indicating fiscal profits?

But first, here is what the US Securities and Exchange Commission says about Ponzi schemes in a section entitled "What is a Ponzi Scheme."  Read the following and beware!

"A Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed from new investors.  Ponzi scheme organizers often solicit new investors by promising to invest funds in opportunities claimed to generate high returns with little to no risk.  In many Ponzi schemes, the fraudsters focus on new money to make promised payments to earlier stage investors to create the false appearance that investors are profiting from a legitimate business."

The unfortunate answer to my earlier question might be greed, something Charles Ponzi and Bernard (Bernie) Madoff knew much about, historically two characters promising investors huge profits based upon nothing little better than thin air.  Mister Ponzi bilked clients for over $20 million dollars in the 1920s, claiming that discounted postal reply coupons were their financial nirvana.  Madoff,  even more dishonest, defrauded 4,800 individual and corporate investors of at least 65.8 billion dollars, issuing manufactured paper and documents to trusting friends and clients, Madoff finally arrested in December 2008.  At least Uber, financially, has been nominally transparent while flushing billions down the investor toilet directly into the pecuniary sewer, those dollars twirling round and round.

What then makes Uber the equivalent to a Ponzi scheme when it isn't hiding what it is doing, not purposely misleading investors?   This potentially shared definition is based upon two factors.  One, it appears that the TNC (ride-share) model can never create a profit, explaining Uber's diversification into bicycle rentals and autonomous driving technology.  And two, huge investor stake holders like Japan's Soft Bank understand, knowing its investment returns relies upon a successful IPO, granting them all their money back plus a substantial return profit guaranteed.

Okay, initial investors will have gotten their money back but what about all those new public stock shareholders, when will their Wall Street financial wager see returns?   Of course, buying stocks is a financial gamble but usually the investment is based upon sound business premises, for instance knowing that people will keep buying Heinz catsup for their French fried potatoes, or that folks will continue eating McDonald's "Big Macs" despite all the calories and potential obesity.  This is something you can essentially "bank upon."

Uber's product, if you can call it that, is instead giving rides provided by independent operators, rides currently financially supplemented by Uber investor money.  That this can be termed a viable and real industry model is something yet to be explained.  At least the taxi model and operation is well understood, with over a hundred-year long history.  Uber it seems is more "flash in the pan," with that pan riddled with holes.  How can something like this make money?

And that is what I am saying, it probably can't, Uber, and Lyft too, economic fantasies, a financial model equal to hallucination, everyone thinking or believing they see something that just isn't there.  Professor Timothy Leary would be proud, his psychedelic adage "turn on, tune in, drop out" taken on by a new generation of straight, non-hippie billionaire investors, all ingesting some new kind of monetary LSD convincing them that Alice (or is it Travis Kalanick) is actually ten feet tall.  I know Gracie Slick is still alive.  Maybe they should give her a call, asking her opinion.  I would love to hear her response.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

New Seattle Area Hotels & State Highway 99 Update

Anyone driving cab at Yellow Seattle is forever bombarded by commonsense reminders to do this or that but providing information the majority of us need and want is another taxi story, for instance Yellow never telling us when yet another Seattle or area hotel opens.  Given this absence, the following list is a compilation of recently opened hotels, or least hotels totally new to me, so I hope everyone finds this helpful, further breaking down the ongoing mystery that is driving a cab.  I have listed them in more or less alphabetical order regardless of location, providing some order in a very disorganized world.

The Seattle & Area New Hotel List

AC Hotel by Marriott
208 106th Place NE, Bellevue, WA

Aloft Seattle---Redmond
15220 NE Shen Street, Redmond, WA

Baymont by Wyndham
12223 NE 116th, Kirkland, WA

Bellevue Club Hotel
12000 SE 6th Street, Bellevue, WA

Bothell Inn & Suites
3850 MonteVilla Parkway, Bothell, WA

The Charter Hotel
1610 2nd Avenue, Seattle, WA

Even Hotel
527 Fairview Avenue N, Seattle, WA

Graduate Seattle (old DECA)
4507 Brooklyn Avenue NE, Seattle, WA

Hotel 116,
625 116th Avenue NE, Bellevue, WA

The Heathman Hotel
220 Kirkland Avenue, Kirkland, WA

Hyatt Regency (opening in December 2018)
808 Howell Street, Seattle, WA

Hotel Interurban
223 Andover Parkway East, Tukwila, WA

Larkspur Landing
1701 East Valley Road, Renton, WA

La Residence Suite Hotel
475 100th Avenue NE, Bellevue, WA

Moxy Hotel
1016 Republican Street, Seattle, WA

Palladan Hotel
2000 2nd Avenue, Seattle, WA

107 Pine, Seattle, WA

Residence Inn,
1815 Terry Avenue, Seattle, WA

SLKU Chroma by Domicile
1212 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA

Staybridge Suites---South Lake Union
1119 Mercer Street, Seattle, WA

Studio 6 Seattle---Montlake Terrace
6017 244 Street, Montlake Terrace, WA

Woodspring Suites
7045 180th Avenue NE, Redmond, WA

Count them and you'll see 27 hotels possibly new to you.  The old Deca just opened days ago, so with the autumn rain, new hotels are popping up like mushrooms.  What day that huge new hotel, the Hyatt Regency is opening I am not sure but the place is hard to miss, taking up it appears the entire old Greyhound Station block.  Whether any of these hotels are truly taxi friendly I do not know but since the Graduate Hotel has the only official cab stand in the University District, I would sit there and see what happens.  As many remember, the old Deca Hotel provided us many early morning Sea-Tac runs.  I can only hope that the Graduate is as good, sending us off southbound with a grin and smile, fifty dollars in our pockets a guarantee.

Viaduct News

January 11th, 2019 is the last day that State Route Highway 99 Viaduct will be open.  The new tunnel will be opening sometime during the week of February 3-9, 2019.  Please note this because it means there will be 3 weeks of traffic hell downtown.  Good time to take a vacation.  The demolition of the bridge is expected to take 4 months more or less.

Some important details:

The tunnel is actually 2 tunnels, north & southbound.  Each tunnel has 2 11 foot wide lanes and a 8 foot shoulder.

The posted speed limit is 45 mph.

The toll until mid-2019 will be free.

 Stated toll rates:  $1.00 overnight

                             $1.50 morning commute

                             $2.25 afternoon peak

I will keep everyone updated through the congested months to come.   Shall we all pray that the City of Seattle will use commonsense when dealing with the upcoming traffic mess?  Amen to that is all I can say!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Where Has Civility And Commonsense Gone?

It was bad enough that the Uber driver drove the wrong way down 11th Avenue NE off NE 45th Street, proceeding nearly three-quarters southbound down the block before finally heeding my flashing headlights and blaring horn, but perhaps worse was the response of all the drivers, upon clearing the signal down at NE 42nd, speeding headlong toward the errant driver.  Somewhat comically, the Uber operator, knowing little how to maneuver his new Prius, having dangerously positioned his car east-west on the northbound street, had instantaneously made himself a vulnerable target for all those modern fools flying pass the frozen, frightened driver, hoping for a momentary kindness never arriving; instead ugly scorn the prevalent emotion, none caring nor interested in another's individual plight. 

That I was totally shocked by the nonsensical response is why I am writing about it, finding the lack of empathy astonishing, understanding that collectively we the so-called superior species occupying the planet are in deep trouble, nothing it seems getting every one's attention.  Yesterday marked the 100th Anniversary of the conclusion of World War I,  the so-called "war to end all wars."  As most know, 22 years later Europe was once again fighting it out.  Does the majority truly care about anything except their own butt?  Obvious is the answer, the now usual attitude a living cancer engulfing us all, shutting off all heart, mind and soul, leaving us bereft of humanity.

What Would You Have Done?

Why did her group of friends think I was going to allow the belligerent and very drunk woman in the cab when all she could say is "I am going to my car." when instead I was supposed to be taking her directly home?  Why would I be interested in arguing with her or, far worse, explain to the police that I knowingly dropped her off at her car, fully aware she had no business driving?

"Oh she's sweet!" and making it dumber, one of her equally drunk friends said I was adorable. No, lady, I ain't, I said, locking the doors and roaring off, not interested in stupidity standing on a Seattle street corner 1:30 AM Monday in the Fremont District, having no time but for slumber late into the morning, dreaming about anything other than taxi and human imbecility.

Only Good Thing This Weekend

Taking the young brother and teenage sister home from Burien to the Renton Highlands, I spoke to them about WW I and the poet Wilfred Owen and John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Field."  "Yeah, I have seen those poppies, they have a black center!"  Those kids were great, happy for a few minutes of innocent sanity.  Thank you!

Another Uber Suggestion for the Seattle City Council

Take all shared Uber/Lyft regulatory authority away from them, monitoring all TNC companies just as the City and County manages the taxi industry.  Allowing the foxes to oversee the hens is a fatal approach, ensuring, come morning, piles of feathers and bones cleaned to the whistle. How could it be any other way?

Oil Now Under $60.00 a Barrel

The cost of gasoline will always be a prime concern for cabbies everywhere, and especially here on the American West Coast where we carry the burden of America's highest prices at the local pump.  Yesterday's per barrel price of prime crude oil ended at $59.93, a huge drop from the recent highs of $73.00 or more.  I think it reached a high of around $76.00 per barrel.  Cheapest I have seen here in Seattle and area have been $3.19 per gallon, making it about 80 cents more than it was a mere 6-8 months ago.  Rumor has it that the world's two major oil producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia, will be joining in a more cooperative agreement, jointly cutting production in an effort designed to stabilize market prices.  Does that mean our short term relief is just that, short?  I would guess that is probably true, as money and the powerful rule, which of course is nothing new!

Oil Price Yo-Yo Postscript 11/14/2018

Yesterday oil per barrel prices dropped 7% to $55.69, the biggest drop percentage-wise in three years.  Today, the prices jumped 1.5% to $56.55.   What it means for local gasoline prices this week I don't know but a buildup in supply probably means a short-term lowering of prices.  All I want to see are prices below $3.00.  When I was nine, gas at Altura Drugs (Aurora, Colorado) hovered between 23-26 cents per gallon.  Of course the good old days, 10 cents buying you a comic book, and one whole dollar a package of green plastic soldiers, supplying all future generals with ready recruits. Caskets were extra.

Monday, November 5, 2018

What Seattle And King County Needs To Do About Uber And Lyft & ACLU Advice About Police Stops & More Taxi Reality

Today's Seattle Times (10/05/2018) front page featured article by David Gutman asks "How Popular are Uber, Lyft in Seattle?", explaining how over 91,000 people daily utilize both ride-share companies in the overall Seattle-area, with 40% of the rides concentrated in four neighborhoods: Downtown, Belltown, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, translating into daily worsening traffic congestion, along with impacting Seattle's quality of life.  The issues presented are now commonplace in America's larger cities, and nothing new to close observers of the TNC transportation "revolution," altering the transportation landscape to no one's gain save Uber and Lyft.

Instead of repeating of what are now obvious TNC maladies, the following list contains some suggested solutions to the problems posed by Uber & Lyft.  All of them are fairly simple and easily implemented if Seattle's and King County's governing councils can decide to revisit past decisions, repairing some of the damage caused only by them.  Unless new measures are taken, the problem will only worsen because Uber in particular will not, and does not take any bureaucratic direction unless it is at the point of the governmental gun.  Something should be done to relieve congestion.  It is only a question of will.  What will the City of Seattle and King County do, other than nothing whatsoever?

Five TNC Remedies & Suggestions:

1) Impose a one-year moratorium or freeze upon all new for-hire license issuance.  Allow natural attrition to reduce driver numbers.

2) Like taxis, require all Uber & Lyft operators to send their verifiable commercial insurance polices to City, County and State agencies. Too often, area TNC drivers only have non-commercial insurance, meaning they are picking up passengers minus coverage, thus endangering their customers and complicating the lives of drivers who have the misfortune of having one of these non-compliant drivers run into them.  I know because it happened to me.

3) Reinstate the Seattle/KC for-hire driver three-day training program, including strict TNC criminal background checks, eliminating the now too easy online testing.  Make sure that all new drivers---taxi, Uber, Lyft---know the City and County streets and addressing systems before issuing for-hire licenses. What this will achieve would be the professionalizing of an amateur fleet of drivers, recognizing that "adding water and mixing" is not an rational approach to operator accountability, not to mention safety and reliability.

4) Increase TNC traffic law enforcements, especially illegal stops.  Currently Uber & Lyft drivers stop anywhere at anytime, instantly blocking traffic and causing accidents.  How can this continued lack of enforcement remain justifiable?  Why does the SPD allow Uber & Lyft to do this?

5) Equalize fare rates to near taxi levels.  This will improve incomes for all taxi and TNC drivers and push many passengers back onto public transit.  By putting riders back onto buses and light-rail, congestion will lessen, alleviating rush-hour traffic blockages.

Take these five measures forward and everything concerning Uber & Lyft will change toward the positive.  What does Seattle and King County stand to lose by going forward with these recommendations?  Nothing at all.  What will they gain?  Overall better traffic movement and the satisfaction of righting a great wrong done to the taxi industry.

ACLU---Know Your Rights When Stopped By Police Or Immigration Agents

I came across this handout printed by the ACLU in various languages from a display I saw in Seattle.  I thought of mentioning it because us cabbies have been subject to unreasonable police stops for years.  The legal advice is broken down into seven sections, beginning with "If You're Stopped By Police" and ending with "If You Feel Your Rights Have Been Violated."  To read the information in your native language, please go to the ACLU website: www.aclu.wa.org

By knowing what to do, you can spare yourself lots of grief.  Knowing your rights are all important because police can and will do anything they want given the opportunity.  Past readers of this blog might remember some of the incidents I have outlined.  I quoted this line from Bob Dylan before, and it still applies:  "the cops don't need you, and man! they expect the same." Be careful out there!

And in full disclosure, I have been a non-lawyer member of ACLU for years, supporting their never ending effort for seeking justice for all Americans.

Two Taxi Anecdotes 

Here are two "taxi reality" tidbits taken from this weekend.  I have more but I am tired and just ready to rest and sleep for a few minutes.

8:13-8-32 PM

Do the math and that is 19 minutes, the time it took me to rush two dingbats from Husky Stadium Saturday night to the airport through the rain and dark and moderately heavy traffic, their flight leaving at 9:00 PM.  For the uninitiated, Downtown to Sea-Tac travel time is usually17-25 minutes given the best of conditions.  That they were fools, with one in particular having no idea how to "speak" to a cabbie, was just how it was, and after my heroic drive, not tipping but nonetheless getting fifty bucks for my effort.  How long should it have taken?  30 more-or-less minutes.

Jeepy Creepy! Awful!

Over the taxi years I have had amazing things said to me but Saturday night, during a very short ride from 102nd & Aurora North to North 85th & Wallingford, this obvious gay man stepped over the line by saying "unless you want me to blow you!" leaving me feeling, two hours afterward, violated and raped.  Yes, taxi as it really is, you the public property, the piece of meat!  That he will never enter my cab again goes without saying, doesn't it!