Saturday, March 20, 2021

My Hour Long Conversation With A King County Taxi Regulator

 Last Friday, March 12th, a King County licensing official called, and in the ensuing hour we talked about all issues taxi, what they (the City and County) have been thinking and mulling over these past few pandemic months and how they might and will affect us local, hard working cabbies.  This particular individual is clearly on our side, having taken a noticeable interest in the issues affecting our everyday wellbeing.  He is straight forward and to the point.  Do you wonder why I find that refreshing?  What you have before you is a quick synopsis of what was said.

The long requested regional licensing will be coming soon, meaning that everyone will be able to serve the entire King County with only one joint medallion.  The current system of City and County separation is long outdated and I am glad to see its extinction, something akin to the eradication of the smallpox virus, the two medallion system a malignant pox upon both passenger and driver.   He said some cabbies currently owning dual-plated cabs voiced some objections but for me their lingering nostalgia for times past are extremely misplaced since our taxi medallions are now essentially worthless, the last big Yellow medallion owner having given away his last 36 City of Seattle plates.  No, regional medallion licensing is way of the future, and in that sense, attempting to provide a viable future to our much wounded industry.  

Another big change is the transformation of the flat-rate cars into taxis, meters replacing their much disparaged zone fare system, something which allowed all those thieves to habitually cheat their customers.  A year ago I would have been shouting to "high heaven!" about this change but now I feel it doesn't matter much, certainly not in the short term for us already established taxis.  Eastside-for-Hire has been decimated by the pandemic business falloff, meaning they and the other smaller flat-rate companies will be slow to recover.  And given Uber's ever expanding rates, I see business averaging out, with  customers abandoning Uber and Lyft while transferring more to whom they trust, meaning the established taxi industry.

One disagreement we had is the City and County plan to allow taxi associations more flexibility with adjusting rates, allowing for something similar to Uber's "surge charging."  My objection is based upon what I have been saying all along about the current non-regulation of the taxi associations, that by allowing them to be unaccountable to the single owners, the City and County have created a kind of taxi industry "monarchical absolutism" answerable solely to themselves, meaning empowering them even further could hold dire consequences.  I ask everyone to think back to 1975 and Seattle and King County's taxi industry de-regulation experiment, and how the ensuing anarchy countermanded any possible positives, displaying minus any doubt how big an error that was.  Bringing us forward to 2021, it's clear to me the taxi industry still requires guidance---the guide dog's sharp fangs prepared to bite!  

Another plan I questioned was the proposed two-tiered for-hire licensing, one license for basic passenger transportation, and the other a higher level for-hire license clearing people for Hopelink passengers, etc.  One requires fingerprinting while the other doesn't.  I think the security requirements should be the same for Uber/Lyft and taxi drivers.  He said both background checks are mostly the same but still, doesn't it make sense that everyone is gone over with the proverbial "fine-toothed comb." thus guaranteeing the passenger public with a reasonably sane driver?  I think so.

One pleasing decision is the extension of the for-hire driver licenses forward for a full year, providing us operators with one less thing to concern ourselves with.  As I said in the beginning, a friendlier FAS has emerged and I'm happy for it, open communication always better than the regulatory hammer.  May the new Spring grace our industry and spirits. Let the robins and sparrows sing!