Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Saturday Night Ride Escorted By King County Taxi Official: Beneficial Receiving The Inside Story & New York City Cab Driver Hunger Strike Begins October 20th, 2021

 Local government indifference to the taxi industry was shattered Saturday night when a King County taxi (for-hire) licensing official came along for an over five-hour long ride-along.  Jumping in about 7:00 PM, he endured the terrible passenger-side front seat until past midnight, telling him I was just getting revenge for all the abusive years we have faced from the City of Seattle and King County, though the truth being told, 1092 has travelled over 450,000 miles, meaning nothing could be in perfect condition after that many rough and tumble miles.  My goal was to provide a completely unvarnished view of real taxi, real Seattle taxi as I know and hate it, and those five hours provided a fair representation of what I and my taxi colleagues experience and suffer through, displaying through the misery the good money made and professional customer service offered and completed.  

Only two bells (fares) in, he said he saw my values at work, first turning down two passengers at Husky Stadium to faithfully check out the bell at University Hospital, and after finding no one there, rushing back and picking up the same couple standing out on the west side of Montlake Boulevard.  After dropping them off, and back to the stadium we picked up two more guys, taking them to a downtown hotel, with one handing me a twenty and a hundred dollar bill for a $16.00 ride, but quickly making him aware of his error, as this kind of mistake commonplace in the rush to vacate the cab.  Those interactions prompted his observation of who I am, which led me to recount my CO (1-0) exemption Selective Service story and how the trust granted me by my Eastern Colorado draft board way back in November 1972 remains alive and active in my now 67 year old heart, something also explaining my lifetime activism and advocacy for those not getting a fair-shake from life's circumstances. 

The night moved quickly, fare after fare machine-gun style rat-a-tat-tat, as we went to and from the stadium and downtown again and again, 1092 the only visible cab working a 70,000 plus stadium crowd, seeing only one other cab, and that was after the game was long over.  He in turn kept my interest by relating his most recent effort toward creating a standard to mesh with a consortium of dispatch companies, including MTI, that nationally would link all local cab companies to a international, worldwide public transportation network.  It is quite an endeavor, something favored since noticing that cabs have been previously excluded, suggesting perhaps a kind of widespread bias against taxi both here in Seattle and elsewhere.  He said, that until about two years ago, the City of Seattle expressed some reticence concerning our local industry, taking some persuasion getting them to the negotiating table.  Is anyone surprised by this news?  I am not.  But given our sometimes history, minor criminality spicing our taxi stew, it isn't all surprising that we have, upon occasion, been colored black, or darker shades of grey---the demon's heart not red but Yellow.

One story getting my attention was how quickly, back in 2014, did King County have to adapt to the flood of TNC (Uber, Lyft) licensees unleashed by the Seattle City Council and Mayor Murray, Seattle not caring how prepared King County was, or not, to successfully license all these new for-hire drivers.  My ears perked-up because I have never trusted the process that poured over 28,000 new TNC operators into our work and business environment, and here I was, receiving confirmation that something "smelled bad," and I have been holding my nose ever since the debacle that was 2014.   Anyway, it certainly wasn't his fault, and over the past couple of years it has been clear to me that this official is different, someone not taking kindly to all us cabbies being stepped on.  Hurray for that.

For my part, I was able to show him how inefficient the Philippines dispatch/call center can be, those faraway folks having little clue how to dispatch during a big event like the Husky football game, further underlining my point that, too often, the passengers either wait too long, or occurring too often, receiving no cab at all.  I also repeated my mantra that the local taxi associations require more, not less, regulation.  At this point, neither Seattle nor King County hold much jurisdiction over association behavior, and as I kept telling him, I hope that change comes soon but don't your breath as you are tempting self-affixation---suffocation at the hands of bureaucratic entanglement and red tape . 

He even saw me get tried, making a simple run from downtown to White Center more complicated than it needed to be.  Our time together ended after picking up a passenger from the University Medical Center ER, an ex-Lyft driver from the State of Massachusetts going up to N. 120th & Roosevelt N.  After that, back to the Northgate Park & Ride, where I shook hands with the "gentleman and taxi scholar" and said goodbye, glad the insight travelled in both directions, east and west, up and down.

Followup to My Recent NYC Cabbie Feature

Tomorrow, upon a full moon, dozens of NYC taxi medallion owners will be going upon a hunger strike in a desperate effort to get substantial debt relief from the City of New York, that very same government entity who lied to them about the financial glories attached to medallion ownership.  This effort is led by the NYC Taxi Drivers Alliance, guided by its president, Bhairavi Desai.  

Earlier this year, New York government offered a total debt relief package worth over 65 million dollars, with individuals receiving up to $29,000 in compensation and up to $200,000 in debt forgiveness but the majority of the cabbies owe $400,00 to 800,000 or more to the medallion banks.  This is why they are willing to starve themselves because they are already going hungry, facing the daily prospect of working long hours only to pay the interest on their loans.  They are already dying so why not formalize the process, is their thinking. 

Good luck!

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