Sunday, April 28, 2019

Can This Be True?---Is Uber & Lyft Recruiting New Operators In Seattle Homeless Shelters

It might, or can be said that the strange and unusual are occurring often these days in the ride-share country known as Uber & Lyft-land, but the oddest, if true could be Uber and Lyft's Human Resource employees actively searching for new independent operators in Seattle and area homeless shelters.  This is the report I got yesterday concerning an outreach meeting at Mary's Place, a Seattle Belltown/Downtown shelter for distressed mothers and their children, HR officials telling the women in attendance they too could be driving around Seattle making part-time money.  And displaying their full corporate  benevolence, were willing to provide everyone a car for only $200. 00 per week, this of course spoken to women struggling to survive and receiving welfare benefits.   Appropriately, one woman replied she couldn't even afford a driver's license, yet alone a new car, which brings up an obvious question: why are Uber and Lyft doing this?

Theoretically, I can understand why Mary's Place and the ride-share companies might team up, deciding this could be a favorable occupational opportunity but does anyone understand who they are talking to?  Having picked up passengers at 4 different Mary's Place shelters, many could potentially be described as "ill-prepared" for life challenges, and certainly not ready for the rigors presented by Seattle congested streets.  As recent reports of Uber and Lyft driver criminality suggest, driving a quasi-taxi can and will push you over the edge into personal lunacy, not a place where one wants to reside.

Too often in Seattle I am reminded of the biblical parable, "the Blind leading the Blind," which could certainly be cited here, only hoping  City and County regulators will question Uber and Lyft's tactics.  A few years back, the noble minds governing Seattle Yellow/Puget Sound Dispatch decided to fill entire shifts with women inmates from a prisoner work-release facility, an ill-conceived idea wholly unsuccessful, insolence suddenly dispatches' new demeanor, anger the new friendly hello.

As every taxi veteran knows, even the sane go crazy in this environment, meaning inserting weary, unhappy women into the local transportation hurricane unwise and cruel, something neither benign nor fair. While money is essential and important, situational stability, should I think, be the first goal.  As a former case manager, that would be my initial recommendation, anything else coming much, much later, these women requiring months and years of rehabilitation and support.  Life is not an inspirational movie, and reality not instantaneous fantasy.  Change is clearly incremental, a step by step process not somehow quickly accelerated by fast-moving cars looking to make a buck, making little sense moving further down a dead-end highway.  First and foremost, teach people to be themselves before trying to make them into someone else, an obvious tenet preached in Therapeutics 101.

And that is what Uber and Lyft were doing at Mary's Place, wishing Spring into Summer while forgetting Autumn and Winter's months of quiet regeneration, replenishing the soil before planting the seeds.  All farmers know this, green, bountiful fields testimony to patience, wisdom and care in both tilling the earth and the ever fragile human mind.

What taxi does to you

Mike, a taxi buddy at Yellow, was found unconscious in his cab on southbound State Route Highway 509 at S. 128th Street.  Initially breathing, his breathing stopped on the way to Highline Hospital, resulting in five days upon life support.  While his prognosis remains positive, his taxi days are over.  Some remain enthusiastic about taxi but not us who know better, knowing too well death in various forms lurking round the next corner.  And Uber & Lyft want to introduce more neophytes into this twirling maelstrom?  Unkind!

Two New Restaurant Recommendations 

Taxi buddy Chris met me last Thursday at the Mizuki Buffet, an Asian-themed all-you-can-eat joint that is simply amazing.  While pricy, settle for lunch at $16.00 each.  I know Chinese and this is good and fresh, restaurant cooking.  You will not be disappointed.

Mizuki Buffet, 17950 Southcenter Parkway, Tukwila, WA .  206-575-6988


And another terrific and authentic restaurant is Salva Mex----Pupuseria y Comida Mexicana.  One step into the door and you are in Mexico and Central America.  I love the place!  And yes, it is wonderfully cheap and good!  Head on down and enjoy.  Located more or less 2 miles west of the airport.

15019 Ambaum Blvd., Burien, WA .  206-988-8786

Keith Moon and NYC taxis

Back in 1967, the Who drummer rented 9 Yellow Cabs to block off both ends of a street.  Why?  So he could toss all the furniture from his hotel room unto the street.  Why I have no idea why.  The cabbies must have been amazed at the sight!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Verging Upon Anarchy---Honking A Horn (Or Alternate Title---Welcome To Seattle, The Punitive City)

Is it true that you never know when you are crazy, that everything seems normal despite it truly isn't, denial and non-recognition your only response?  I say this because both the City of Seattle and Seattle Yellow Cab appear to reaching a crisis, with chaos and anarchy the present reality but no one appears to understand that bedlam doesn't equate functionality or sanity.  Now I don't mean that Seattle and Yellow Cab are operating collectively, which isn't true.  From what I can observe, the City of Seattle cares little about what Yellow and the other cab associations do one way or the other.  But decisions made by the City does affect us in ways large and small, though as I said, taxis are not part of municipal consideration, little more than chaff in the bureaucratic wind.  A very small incident this week exemplifies this, when a honking of a honk set off a rage very much typical of Seattle---Seattle, a much smaller mind residing in a larger, urban body.

All I did was, after picking up a passenger at 1st & Pike, was proceed north until stopped short in the intersection when a panicked driver stopped on an angle in front of me, blocking me and all access forward.  Why the sudden response?  Because the driver found themselves in what is now a bus-only lane, and over-reacted, causing me to partially block the pedestrian crossing.  Though providing at least four feet for crossing Pike at 3rd, it didn't stop this older gentleman from pushing on 1092's hood while glowering through the windshield, my instinctive response hitting the horn. 

Anywhere else, this is where it would have ended but no, two days later he calls, identifies himself to Jeff the superintendent as a doctor, saying my honking startled him, causing him to further injure an already impacted leg.  As I later discussed with Jan, my passenger at the time, and someone having taken my cab daily the past two weeks, what we saw was different from the report provided to Jeff.  Irritated over this silliness, and tired of being victimized in the cab, we had a short, and for me embarrassing shouting match.  As I told Jeff latter, I just can't take it anymore, it is complete madness! and come next March, if I am still in the cab, I will be selling my medallion.  Enough is enough, isn't it?

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Primary Seattle Yellow Medallion Owner Returns His Licenses Back To The City

At one point, N____ owned 30 City of Seattle medallions, all of them Yellow cabs.  Now I have found out, that after selling an unknown number of these once very valuable licenses, he gave the rest back to the City of Seattle, divesting himself in a way I am sure he never thought possible.  And why did he do the unthinkable?   A shortage of drivers willing to drive a cab in Seattle convinced him it was time to get out of the business permanently.

How much money did he lose?  Given past value, quite a bit is the answer, his 30 cabs times $250,000 once equalling a combined equity of 7,500,000.  And how much is a medallion currently worth?  Anywhere between $3-5 thousand dollars.  You might also ask who is to blame for this?  Uber and Lyft and their municipal and county and Port of Seattle enablers.

While many local cab veterans might say "Good riddance!" to someone despised, I always had a good relationship with him, having known him for over 27 years.  He wanted me to take over the current lot, something I agreed to but was overruled by L___, who thought I deserved $1500.00 less than what I was told.  N____ also was the sponsor of the yearly Thanksgiving feast for Yellow drivers and their families, something I made every effort to attend.

In conclusion, he deserved better than he got, and now he has the pleasure of not having to deal with a bunch of crazed cabbies who don't and never will understand the underlying economics of operating a big cab company.  At its height, the BYG co-op (Seattle Yellow Cab) was an astoundingly efficient transportation machine, keeping a fleet of well over 500 cabs maintained and on the road.  That the current version, Yellow Fleet, is sinking into the taxi sunset is something I find sad, and worth shedding a tear over.   What we are witnessing is an end of an era, something not soon or ever again replicated.  Despite all its associated hardships, driving a cab can be both profitable and entertaining.

And what is replacing this fine tradition?  Oh my god! Uber and Lyft!  Oh my blessed Taxi God!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Stemming The Gypsy Cab Tide---Lettering And Numbering Uber/Lyft & Why Doesn't SPD Know WA ST Traffic Laws?

There was a time when unwary customers were warned against the unmarked cab---the notorious gypsy cabs cruising NYC, Chicago and other big city streets, ready to take you for a questionable ride.  Bringing us up to today, and with ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft taking the gypsies place, bad things are happening when passengers mistakenly step into cars posing as Uber and Lyft operators, resulting in robbery, rapes, and last week in South Carolina, murder.

What too often is occurring are confused ride-share customers unable to readily identify cars dispatched to them.  And the major reason for this is a grand misunderstanding made by municipal, county and state officials and regulators when releasing app-based taxi-like transportation services upon the consumer public, not realizing they were de-professionalizing an entire industry.  Not only is Uber now dealing with over 1200 serious complaints weekly but this new problem---ersatz Ubers and Lyfts patrolling the streets---related violations of all kinds have taken a serious turn, creating unanticipated havoc and mayhem.

While this problem continued to grow, there is a very simple solution: making TNC/ride-share vehicles as easily identifiable as taxis.  The state of South Carolina is currently considering whether Uber and Lyft should have illuminated signage similar to taxis.  I feel that is a start, along with external lettering displaying which company or services the operator is aligned with. In addition to that, a registered numbering system also seems necessary.  It could work something like this.

Given Seattle/King County has over 28,000 Uber/Lyft operators, each owner would be required to register their vehicle and receive a car number, just like taxis currently do.  Additionally, having the operator's name listed along the number would remove all possible confusion, your Uber app displaying that "car number 13,003 and proprietor John Smith" is your driver.  Taking these measures would protect the public while professionalizing the ride-share industry, underlining the obvious fact that these independent operators are taxi drivers despite the Uber/Lyft moniker.   You can be sure that everyone knows when they are approaching a taxi cab, tradition and regulation making it identifiable for what it is---a professional for-hire vehicle.

That this same requirement must be applied to Uber and Lyft is logical, commonsense telling us it is the answer to the problem of ride-share customers victimized by criminals.  And like taxis, a City/County complaint number should be listed either in or outside the vehicle.  That same number should also be listed on the app itself, Uber's rating system is not enough, passengers instead allowed to complain to an independent agency not sponsored by Uber or Lyft.

To all current Uber and Lyft drivers who might object, the response is simple.  Do something else other than provide passenger transportation.  If you can't recognize you are actually a type of cab driver and nothing else, then the fault falls upon you.  You are a transportation specialist and both you and your vehicle must be recognizable.  It is that basic.  What else is there to be said?

RCW 46.61.055 (3)-(a)-(c)

During the first Mariners' home stand of the season, I was stopped by a SPD officer who claimed I ran the red light turning left from South Jackson Street (a 2-way street) onto 4th Avenue South (a 1-way street).  While only giving me a verbal warning, he proceed to lecture me upon what I had done wrong and what I should do next time.

There was one very major problem with what he was saying: none of it was true, which truly has me wondering about the training SPD officers are receiving.  He explained to me how a driver can proceed past the white line, safely entering the intersection before making your left turn. While that makes perfect sense, that is not what the law states, clearly wanting the driver to stay behind the white line until the way is clear.

As to running the red light from a 2-way to a 1-way, Washington States law does allow that turning maneuver unless there is a sign indicating otherwise.  RCWs 46.61.005 & 46.61.235 (1) spell out the law and driver responsibility.

A few years back, when stopped by a U WA campus police officer, I told him to check it out, that I had made an allowable turn.  First saying I was wrong, he later returned to my cab and apologized, saying he had verified my understanding of the rule.  That I didn't correct the SPD officer in this most recent instance was due to his obvious emotion, sensing it was best to just agree and say little else.

My only request now is for SPD to be more thorough in its training.  How hard is it to require that each officer memorize WA ST driving codes, rules and regulations?  I am certain a WA State Patrol officer would not make the same mistake.  Why?  Because the State of WA makes sure they are prepared before graduating them to the highways.  What does this say about the City of Seattle?   I'll let you answer that, though the answer appears to be fairly obvious.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Bad Marriage? Lyft's New IPO And The Investor Community & A Pink Bunny

The Lyft IPO Bad Marriage

Much has happened since Lyft's initial IPO Friday, with a first day valuation of $26.4 billion dollars.  It has not been pretty since, the honeymoon breaking into marketplace argument.  I use the analogy of bad marriages because I know all about it, not heeding an inappropriate laugh from my future wife during our first month together way back in 1976,  twelve years later a divorce telling me what I had already known years prior.  My only excuse then was youth, only 21 and unwise in love and passion.  Yes, there were good moments, real positives encouraging my emotional investment but the signs were there that Love's equity would plummet to nothing, our romantic stock worthless paper.

Too, then, has been the optimism associated with Lyft, a company bright and shiny but a real money loser, tossing over 1 billion away into the financial garbage can.   Still, last Friday, Lyft's initial stocking offering jumped from $72.00 a share to $78.29, a 8.7 % gain.  At one point shares listed at $88.68 each, I'm sure making everyone happy.

Monday, with the relationship souring, shares dropped 12 % to close at $69.01, not good for kissing and hugs and eternal sweet nights.

Tuesday, today, April 2nd, 2019, the lovers were no longer happy, having moved to separate bedrooms, shares down another 4.2 %  $66.10 but rising mid-afternoon $67.41, everyone deciding to have coffee and talk about their future.

As Kathleen Smith, financial analyst at Renaissance Capital, put it,

"Its a good example of why people should approach IPO investing cautiously.  This company has large losses and will not be profitable in the near future."

Ah yes, a poor foundation for a stable marriage.  But as I keep saying, Lyft (and Uber) are more Ponzi-scheme than serious, ongoing companies  Why the IPO anyway, why not keep operating until gaining real profit?  The answer is in this investor list.  They want their money back and want it now, all future investors be damned, their concern their own wallet.  Some of these investors might surprise you but don't be because it's all about "money honey!" and little else, money making or breaking most marriages.

Raken, a Japanese e-commerce firm---$2.26 billion

General Motors---$1.34 billion

Fidelity, a financial firm---$1.34 billion

Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm---$1.1 billion

CAPITALG (Google)---$924 million

Logan Green, co-founder and Lyft CEO---$603 million

John Zimmer, co-founder and Lyft President---$416 million

Floodgate, a venture capital firm---$111 million

Valerie Jarrett, former Obama advisor---$478 million

If this keeps going, this financial marriage will last as long as the Cher Bono & Greg Allman nuptials, just a few un-blissful months.  Oh such beautiful music, "Gypsies, tramps and thieves......"

Homelessness: A Pink Bunny

The crisis team put the mother and her 7 year-old daughter in my cab bound in the late night for a "Little House" homeless camp.  Upon arrival, they were refused entry, the little girl clutching her stuffed pink bunny rabbit.  Waiting for further instruction, the mother told her daughter that"she didn't deserve being put through this."  Hard to disagree as we drove south toward Burien, the mother disheveled and paranoid, many attempting to help what might be intractable, beyond quick resolution.

A little girl.  A rumbled pink bunny.  Sadness in the night.

Editoral Note:

Lyft IPO info originating, gathered from Washington Post & NY Times news sources.