Monday, February 22, 2021

Waiting Out The Snow & Uber Hires A Harsh Critic & Dispatching Part two

Snow Weakened by Rain 

Road conditions made the decision for me, late Saturday afternoon no fun at all, secondary roads and parking lots hellishly slippery.  With a Sunday forecast calling for rain, I stayed inside, hoping for nature's assistance in getting restarted and answering all the inevitable waiting bells.  But stepping out Sunday morning telling me me I was a day away from any kind of sane and safe roadways, radio reports of area accidents and traffic tie-ups not at all reassuring that the weather nightmare would soon be ended, Monday morning seemingly the better choice.  At one point, up to 170 Metro (Seattle & King County) buses were stuck in the snow, the storm moving faster than the road crews.

And during late Sunday night, rain did arrive, along with higher temperatures, loosening the storm's frigid grip upon the city, and most important to me, providing the hope I could release my cab from its snowy carapace, allowing an escape to a more drier roadway.  Monday morning, finding YC 1092 hemmed in by a snowplow created icy barricade,  I thought it would be a difficult struggle freeing the cab but I was wrong, the Crown Vic's powerful V-8 engine conquering nature's snowy impasse, up and through we went to firmer blacktop taking me to Rainer Avenue South.  I was free! free again to to slip and slide, a snowy defiance lasting a couple more days, keeping me aware trouble was a only quick moment away, telling me to stay alert to all possibilities. 

Uber Hires its Enemy

In a recent Bloomberg News article reported by Brody Ford, Uber hired Alex Rosenblat, author of the 2018 book, "Uberland, How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work" to facilitate driver relations.  Admittedly I haven't read the tome but viewing her picture tells me they probably hired the correct person to "window dress" their underlying criminal agenda.  Hey Uber! I'm a well known ride-share critic, at least here in Seattle, hire me and see what happens?  Ha Ha Ha!  Do I have a bad attitude?  You bet I do, knowing full well the kind of predators occupying the Uber zoo!  Will they bite?  Hell yes, they will kill you minus hesitation. 

More Computer Dispatching

I feel it necessary and helpful to describe more fully the positives offered by dispatching taxis through the magic that is, because, if done properly, it truly speeds up the cab to passenger process.  When it doesn't, the onus falls upon human, not technological, failure.  Here are some examples of what our current MTI computer system does well:

---Instantly putting the call into the taxi biosphere, allowing for fast acceptance and pick-up.

---Offering the call to the closest cab though Mr/Ms/Miss MTI not always understanding there is a lake or a salty bay in the way.  I wonder if its possible to program more geographical information into the computer's brain, eliminating this kind of error.  

---Making all account info automatic, eliminating paper vouchers, registering payment into individual driver accounts.

---Permanent tracking record of driver routing, especially important when the driver is in danger.  It also can reveal driver misbehavior, which is, depending upon the viewpoint, both good and bad. 

---Telling the passenger the name and cab number of the cabbie servicing their call.

---The app showing location of the belled-in cab, providing a realtime view of the arriving cab.

---Allowing for "forward plotting" into another zone.  This is a great feature, in voice terms it would be called "throwing your peg" into another part of the city.  The peg was part of a voice dispatcher's peg board, the instrument used to keep track of all the cabs operating at that moment.  If the cabbie was on break, your peg would be "twisted."

Now that's pretty much how it works, the one thing missing from the old voice days is the dispatcher's discretion in rewarding cabbies for good work done, like serving that long waiting grocery run or delivering a rush package.  Voice had lots of good and take, and the smart, hard working cabbie made lots of money, the dispatching anointing the driver's fevered brow.

Bad Cabbies playing in the Snow

I've gotten reports from passengers of cabbies over charging customers during the snow days.  Not nice to do that, no, not at all.




Friday, February 12, 2021

Snow! & The Positive And Negatives Of A Computer-Based Dispatching System

Six Inches Plus Snow in Seattle 

My cab YC 1092 lies buried in deep snow, a result of a furious, quick moving snowstorm coming in Friday night and early Saturday morning, inundating the city with 6-12 inches depending upon your location.  In Chinatown, my personal car had a measurable 10 inches accumulated upon the rooftop. Driving out to the parked cab, I decided it far wiser to do anything but drive a cab, the roads remaining hazardous, and what I saw exhibited by fellow Seattle drivers, scaring me to "No, I won't do this."  Tomorrow might be better so I'll try again, passengers needing cabs regardless of weather and road conditions.  I did see a small snowman.  Hey Frosty, where ya going with that shovel in your hand?

A Story History of Local Taxi Dispatching 

Given my over three-decade involvement in the taxi industry, it has provided me a literal "birds-eye-view" of how taxis are dispatched to their customers.  At least in relation to this subject, I have the idiomatic "eyes of a hawk" and the "wisdom of an owl," having taken thousands upon thousands of dispatched fares.  It is has been a long study, and since my very income depends upon my overall knowledge, I've paid great attention to this ongoing tutorial in receiving and accepting fares, what's good, what's bad and what is merely indifferent.  My motive for this brief overview is my most recent professional interaction with a foreign callcenter working with a type of client totally new to them: a large urban American taxicab fleet in a completely unfamiliar city.  But before examining that situation and taxi computer dispatching in general, I think an introduction of the now past world of voice-based dispatch would be especially helpful to those new to this perhaps arcane subject. The industrial world comprising taxi may seem simple to some though clearly to those long associated it isn't, instead a complexity confounding to many, a conundrum never solved but in moments, enjoyed.

If voice dispatching was a symphony, its composition certainly more Igor Stravinsky than Wolfgang Mozart, more atonal than melodic though the harmony achieved between dispatcher and cabbie sometimes beautiful, a tone poem combining addressing and purpose.  And the veteran dispatcher, always a retired cabbie, was truly a fierce yet kind conductor, wielding a supreme power over your personal destiny.  One sour note, and the dispatcher knew, amending error with a flick of his verbal baton.  Like a real symphony, every player knew their role, and at its best, indeed it was harmonious---dispatcher, cabbie, passenger reaching an apogee of efficient agreement.  It was beautiful, it was profitable when everyone, regardless of pitch, sang a taxi song in choral unison. 

Why then did it disappear, only to replaced by the siren song of technological innovation, singing to the greed synonymous with the taxi industry, saying "no salaries, little overhead, no heath insurance;" only blinking lights lighting up the interior of the cab.  Yes, there was the allure of a new kind of efficiency, and certainly with PSD/Yellow's new MTI system, you remove some trouble, the paperless account system wonderful, eliminating the paper vouchers, and as in the old voice days, not having to write down a series of numbers and names and addresses yelled at you while you're flying down the freeway at 70 MPH.

The very best element of voice was the keeping track of the bells (calls), assuring the customer was served in a timely manner.  The worse of computer dispatching, especially when utilizing a taxi inexperienced callcenter based thousands of miles away, is that calls get lost, which means too often a very tardy response time, along with the foul temptation chosen by too many cabbies of ignoring the waiting passenger altogether, resulting in unnecessary pain and suffering.   

Admittedly, these kinds of issues not the fault of the computer dispatch system itself, only of approach and managing style, the human element slowing down the machine but if the computer could respond to verbal messaging, the customer telling the computer "I need a cab at 11111 8the Avenue Northwest in 30 minutes," and instantly saved and relayed correctly, I think we would see a many times improvement in service, eliminating many mistakes. The taxi-app now in usage in many ways achieves this end, which I suppose could or will lead to the kind of system I'm suggesting.

I say all this because its obvious there is no going back to voice dispatching, the computer our new workable model taking us into the future.  If we can now only eliminate human error, both callcenter operator and cabbie, our taxi world will indeed run smoothy propelled by our electronic friend.  If only us humans would get out of the way, our world will be a New Heaven and the Computer our Benevolent Master.  Hail the New Authority! Hail the Taxi Caesar! all roads leading to our New Rome!


Friday, February 5, 2021

Witnessing Mark's Nightmare & Frantically Waving At My Cab & Is Seattle's Cruise Ship Season On Hold For 2021? & I Just Can't Take Their $1.75 & Vaccinating NYC Cabbies At Yankee Stadium & The City Of Seattle Sez "We Can Drive 'Til We Drop Or Die!" & Thank You, Tbilisi!

 Witness to Horror

As will always be true, taxi driving is an instant insertion into another person's life, may it be five minutes or an hour, you are within inches of a living and breathing human being and their lifelong history good and bad.  In Mark's case, an impacted individual greeting me with two shopping carts filled with mouldering books and papers, bad has clearly been his prevalent theme for far too long, nothing short of a Roman Catholic saintly miracle changing a downward trajectory leading deeper to an already personal hell.  That it was raining only adding to a misery I'd rather not see but there I was, now a rented partner to Mark's living and awake nightmare, over and over Mark repeating "I was drafted to Vietnam," and I believe that must be true, his time in the military assisting his now obvious lunacy.  

Taking him to a sorry Highway 99 motel in Edmonds, I assisted unloading the broken boxes and deteriorating whatnot from the my overstuffed cab up one flight of stairs to his overpriced room. Up and down, up and down, sorry to see and glad to leave a deranged reality I could do nothing to change nor alter, witnessing a tragedy wrote large upon Mark's face.

Waiting in the Rain and Cold for 40 minutes

I wasn't even working but on my way to to check out some free used tires, the eighty-plus year old woman waved at my cab, clearly a elderly damsel in distress.  "No, I'm not your cab," I said, "but I'll take you. Hop in."  Yes, she was waiting for a Seattle Yellow Cab that never came, with no guarantee that it would. A couple days ago a passenger told me he called for a Yellow Cab from the 7-11 at 73rd and Aurora North at 6:00 PM Friday.  An hour later he gave up, after repeatedly being told by dispatch they were "searching" for a cab to pick him up. Searching?    

Very early Monday morning Dispatch twice gave me misaddressed calls.  601 1st Ave actually was 601 1st Ave North, a good mile away.  And 1411 15th Ave turned out to be 1411 15th Ave South.  I left a not completely nice message for the PSD GM, asking what was he going to do about all this, while also saying I knew nothing was the answer.  What am I supposed to do instead, congratulate everyone for a bad job done?  I was also given a fare in the 150 minus an address, the job info only containing the name of a building. 

Intervention, be it from Heaven or the City and County, needs to occur.  Why must our customers continue suffering from both dysfunctional drivers and management?  Good question, ain't it?  

Bad Canada!

The Canadian government just announced, due to the coronavirus pandemic, that it would not allow Alaska-bound cruise ships to pass through Canadian waters, essentially sinking the 2021 cruise season.  Is this logical?  If the ships are not stopping at Canadian ports-of-call, how are the cruise lines endangering Canada?  Another good question, ain't it?

MV/First Transit Fee

In addition to the fare, the MV/1st Transit/Access Van client must also provide the cabbie $1.75.  That this request is an unnecessary hardship for the impoverished ridership is not lost upon me, prompting me to refuse this meager sum from those living on very limited incomes.  I encourage all of my taxi brethren to do the same, refusing the money.  You don't need it and neither do I.  Be moral, be good like I know you should!

Famous in a Ballpark

Yankee Stadium is well known for hosting famous rock & roll bands.  Now it is equally famous for hosting COVID-19 vaccinations for Bronx-area cabbies. Rock on!

What is the City and County thinking?

PSD were shutting down the WAT (wheelchair drivers) after the legal limit of 10 working hours but no, after complaining to the powers that be, they made PSD reverse its mandate.  Doesn't the City & County now realize that if a WAT driver is involved in a serious accident after exceeding the legal hourly limit,  they could be named as a responsible party in any ensuing lawsuit?  Amazing!

Tbilisi, Capital of Georgia

Yes, I have readership in that western intersection of Europe and Asia, Tbilisi.  Thank you very much!