From the Eastern Washington High Desert
Day 2 of my sojourn from taxi to where I exactly end up I don't know but last night I camped in the Quincy Game Range, and at this very moment I am in the wonderful library that is the town of Quincy's public library. Being open on Sundays, 1:00-5:00 PM is a boon for travelers like me wandering these sage brush hills. And I now can finish what I began a few days ago in Seattle, an essay on why it is important to have officials who intimately understand what they are overseeing. I use the example of David Trimble and his Roman Catholic counterpart and Noble Prize partner, John Hume, to helpfully illustrate that essential point. Having visited Belfast in 1991 and witnessed the many British troop carriers patrolling the streets, seeing personally how misguided bureaucratic meddling impedes rational outcomes. Has the Seattle and American taxi industry ever had regulators taken directly from those plying the taxi streets? Not that I know of, which is why our industry remains the mess it is. Would you take anybody off the street, hand them a scalpel, and say "here, this patient needs a brain tumor removed, start cutting?" No, of course not.
"I believe that a sense of the unique, specific and concrete circumstances of any situation is the first indispensable step to solving the problems posed by that situation."
David Trimble, from Northern Ireland, speaking in 1998 when accepting his shared Nobel Peace Prize
Intractable, Unresolvable Taxi?---The Misunderstanding of an Industry
I quote Mr. Trimble, he a veteran of "The Troubles" that afflicted Northern Ireland until the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, bonding Protestants and Catholics for the first time into a cooperative, power sharing government. The above statement relates to the many experts saying that the Good Friday agreement could serve as a template for resolving similar sectarian conflicts but Trimble disagreed, inferring that each situation is in a sense endemic to its particular environment and circumstance, underlining how important it is to know the entire anatomy of the subject at hand. If you don't know it, how then can resolution be reached? A similar example is when police are called to intervene in an domestic argument, the officers suddenly finding themselves immersed into personal histories totally unknown to them, making each step forward fraught with danger. Even when proceeding cautiously, the atmosphere is potentially explosive. Knowledge then of every parameter is imperative if resolution is to be achieved.
This preamble brings me as to why the USA taxi industry is severely wounded and what should be done to stem the bleeding and subsequent infections. Yes, in 2014, when municipal governments embraced Uber and Lyft, they began what has been the taxi industry's precipitous fall to where it is now. But even before Uber's arrival, the industry was in serious trouble due to regulators essential cluelessness in how to effectively manage what was then America's most important 24 hour, seven days a week ground transportation system, taxi filling the gaps when the buses, subways and trains were not running. This explains why New York City government promoted million dollar medallions, encouraging the innocent to make insane investments thus jeopardizing their future and personal finances, NYC not caring in the least any longterm consequences. If real cabbies, like myself, had been involved, we would have put a stop to this kind of nonsense.
When visiting NYC in 2010, a medallion broker offered me a medallion for $750,000. but said, if you want two, we'll sell them to you at $675.00 each. Such a bargain it wasn't. Any veteran cabbie knows that a medallion is only worth as much as you can make in a given year. Most taxi drivers I know are making between $50,000 to $75,000 dollars per year. Good money but in expensive cities like Seattle, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, that is little better than minimum wage. Experienced taxicab industry professionals know all about this, which is why they are the ones who should be sitting in the City, County and State offices making the rules and decisions for their respective taxi industries, and not bureaucrats who have never driven a cab, no matter how well meaning they might be.
One good, bad example I participated in was the Seattle/King County Taxi Advisory Commission, a great idea until you saw how it was put into practice, providing equal status to non-taxi driver member participants. It was pure chaos, and even when appointed Chair, productivity was stymied by an inherent dysfunction sabotaging our every minute. Nothing could have changed the situation other than removing the ordinary citizens off the commission but the City of Seattle and King County had their theories on how to manage the taxi industry, translating into the opening Uber stepped into. The commission's taxi professionals were neutered, preventing anything good to occur or come to fruition, blocked from using what we knew for the betterment for both drivers and passengers.
So to answer the essay's title, do governments understand the taxi industry they are regulating? No, barely at all. And if they were interested in truly understanding it, they would recruit and hire people like me to run the show. But that would be too scary, allowing a bunch of taxi renegades to infiltrate the Ivory Towers of non-functional government. Why they might have to hire armed guards to watch over us, no telling what kind of efficiency we might effect. All hell might break loose and customers would start getting their cabs arriving on time. But that would make Uber very unhappy, and Uber must be happy, and never, ever sad. No, you can't make Uber mad!
A desert haiku, August 13th
a rising full moon
coloring the night sky orange to
yellow to white.
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