Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Black And The White Of It: Seattle's Extinct Taxi Uniform & Uber Reality: Real Details On What It Means Driving Ride-Share & Important Steps Toward Creating A New Sustainable Seattle/King County Taxi Association & Taxi Medallion For Sale

 When All Of Seattle's Cabbie's Looked Like Restaurant Waiters

To begin my stint as a ride-share driver, I honored my recent cabbie past by wearing a white shirt and black pants, something once mandated as the correct and proper attire of the Seattle/King County cab driver.  Many chaffed at that requirement and were overjoyed when told, "sure, no more uniforms" but all you gotta do is not object to Uber and Lyft entering your market unfettered, minus any operational vehicle caps.  Now didn't that work out very well, did it, having done away with those silly parochial/Catholic school clothing standards, cabbies can now dress just like their 28,000 plus TNC counterparts, but one thing the vastly diminished taxi work force won't be doing is "laughing all the way to the bank."  No, very doubtful they will be doing that.

Is It All About Algorithms?  Perhaps, Perhaps Not

To say that my first few days driving Uber has been eyeopening is a vast understatement.  Having no real idea what to expect, I found myself in a bewildering contradiction of efficiency, inefficiency, lack of transparency, poor communication, bad coding and algorithmic discrimination.  "What the hell is he talking about?" many of you might ask.  Well, the term opaque, meaning, at least in part, from a definition  taken from the Cambridge English Dictionary, "difficult to understand or know, especially when intentionally secret or made complicated," explains much.  And opaque can certainly describe much of what I have experienced, sometimes completely befuddled as to what was or is occurring.

Now admittedly, I am somewhat dense when it comes to understanding how apps work, even the basic functions of my new iPhone is puzzling but "dumb I'm not but dumb I'm made" when little effort is truly expended to prepare the new Uber driver for their first day.  The theory it seems to Uber's educational efforts comes from the old " swim or sink" axiom of vocational training, or how militaries usually treat their new recruits.  If you drown or are killed, no problem as there are lots of new volunteers or conscripts to replace the fallen.  A good/bad current example of this is daily headlined by the Russian incursion against Ukraine, tens of thousands of ill-trained Russian soldiers dying after being tossed headlong into battle.  Same could be said, minus the fatalities, of how new Uber drivers are put into action minus adequate training and indoctrination.   And Uber fully knows this, using fare/trip request algorithms against the new driver, limiting the rides offered to you while simultaneously saying that will change once you meet a certain quota of completed trips.  

What kind of contradiction is this?  Well, not a very kind one, made worse, as I have said, by the lack of training and real preparation.  It is arrogance of the very worse kind,  something confirmed by the nice young woman I spoke to at Uber's Greenlight Hub office space located at 4634 East Marginal Way South, Suite 200.  Not that she was arrogant, no, not at all; instead extremely frank, acknowledging Uber's short comings.  When pointing out how difficult it was at times finding the passenger's location, she said "lazy coders" were part of the problem, implying that the coders not caring how both the driver and passenger were impacted.  

I told her how, on Saturday night, when 60 thousand motocross fans poured out of Seahawk stadium, the app told me my customers were at 1st Ave. South and South Atlantic when in reality they were at the corner of 1st Ave South and South Main.   I had driven past them, and the only way they found me was by running six blocks to my car.  Now that isn't efficient.  Looking it up, Uber has provided tens of billions of rides worldwide since its inception in 2012.  One would think, that with all that practice, it would be a smooth running operation but from my short experience, it clearly isn't.  Pretty crazy is what I say, and depressing.  What does it all mean?   Efficiency, or not, is what Uber is.

Here are concrete examples of the good and bad.  My very first fare said much about how the well the app works, or doesn't.  I was sitting on NW 62nd at the corner of 15th NW and 62nd facing east.  I accept the trip and very briefly see an address, 1423 NW 65th, which then disappears after about 2-3 seconds.  Then the app begins guiding me to the fare location, to where I wasn't quite sure, telling me to turn around, proceed west to 20th NW, turning north to NW 65th, then turning right or east to what was the vanished  address.   As it turns out, the passenger had first called Lyft but the driver got lost, and afraid she would be late for her Capitol Hill appointment, requested Uber.  By needlessly rerouting me in the wrong direction, I lost nearly 5 valuable minutes that I wished I hadn't lost.  But me being me, I was able to maneuver through all the heavy traffic from Ballard to 12th and East Pine, getting her there eight minutes early.   

This 'disappearing address" business is a real problem.  If I miss it, or not receive it at all, I find myself having no choice but to follow the app routing, in real terms having no idea where I am going until my arrival.  It is nuts and not efficient.  But I will say that normally the given trip is usually very close, meaning I am averaging pickup times of 1-3 minutes, which is incredibly efficient.  

Obviously there is good and bad to this, and next week I will have more details for everyone to ponder and consider.  One thing that's very clear is that Uber's fare structure is about 40% more than Seattle/King County taxi rates.  The Ballard to Capitol Hill trip cost the passenger $42.00.  I got $24.50, which more or less is the taxi fare.  Monday I went from Northgate to Maple Valley and was paid $97.50 for the trip.  The passenger's cost was $135.00.  This kind of fare structure is advantageous for the driver but not so much for the passenger.  And remember, all my earnings come from a monthly overhead of $132.00 and not my taxi $1300.00.   There is no comparison.  As I have been writing the past few months, Uber won the transportation argument.  Taxi lost.

One last comment is that by controlling and limiting the number of trips I am initially receiving, by using their trip request algorithm to regulate my earnings, to me it's all a clear violation of my non-employee position, treating me more like an employee and not an independent contractor.  Does the City/King County care about this dynamic, this controlling of my movements?   No, of course not.   And if some GOP fanatic reads this, they really know who's to blame.  Former Vice-President Al Gore!  Isn't he the one responsible for designing these awful "al-gor-rithms?"   I bet Hillary Clinton also has something to do with this!

A Quick Taxi Blueprint for a Future Super-Sized Seattle/KC Taxi Association

The very first step is forming an organizing committee of between 6-12 Seattle/KC cab drivers.  From there you divide responsibility to contact all current medallion owners and drivers to communicate what. and why you think a new large taxi association is the correct approach to longterm industry sustainability: it would lower costs across the board, allowing everyone to confront Uber and Lyft head-on, eventually overtaking customer share and volume. 

If you then see there is enough interest, you begin collecting monthly dues of say $50.00 to create a fund for future activities, including the hiring of someone capable of putting together a company of this size.  As the City/KC is looking at a two-year timeline, and with the contributions of over 1000 current medallion owners, you will have enough cash on hand to make a real start.  What you should envision is an association of 2000 or more affiliated  cabs , all under the moniker of say "United Seattle-KC Taxi."  You wouldn't have to repaint all the cars, instead adding the United Lettering and phone numbers. 

Next week I will add more potential operational details.  This can be done, and in the long run, everyone would be the richer for it.

1092 City Medallion Up for Sale

I will be entertaining best offers.  What is the medallion worth these days?  Who knows but I will soon be finding out.  Email me at  Only serious offers, please.


Monday, March 20, 2023

California Appeals Court Rules In Favor For Uber And Lyft & And Answering A Reader's Question Concerning 2,600 Projected Taxis

 "The oligarchs are dancing in the streets tonight." Taken from a quote by Veena Dubal, Law Professor at the UC College of Law, San Francisco

On March 13th, a three-judge panel comprising the CA State Appeals Court ruled in favor of upholding the TNC endorsed Proposition 22, whereas California voters, subjected to a $200 million dollar campaign, voted to overturn Assembly Bill 5, a law granting employee status and protections to Uber, Lyft and Door Dash drivers.  It wasn't a complete victory for ride-share companies because the judges ruled that one section of Prop 22 improperly prevented union organizing, which opened up the door to potential union representation.  This particular case came about due to a 2021 lower court ruling that Prop 22 was unconstitutional.  This judgement overruled that finding.  Longtime readers might remember me reporting on that decision.  Nonetheless, the argument isn't over as it will be heading to a court capable of a more final say, the State of CA Supreme Court.  Meanwhile, in the legal interval, Uber is in a celebratory mood. 

Too Many Cabs? A reader asks.

A regular reader pointed out that the City of Seattle & King County's goal of ultimately having 2,600 operational cabs might not be wise due to the unlikely business sustainability of having that many cabs plying the Seattle and County streets.  He has a point, given how the overall taxi fleet has shrunk to numbers never seen before in our modern era.  

What would it take for Seattle's taxi industry to rebound to a place where it could actively support those kinds of numbers?  Organization, my friends, combining all the cabs under one business umbrella, similar to the old BYG co-op but this time a far more democratic association which could greatly reduce overall operational costs.  Wouldn't everyone love having a $50.00 per week dispatch fee and say monthly insurance coverage costs of $200-300.00.  It could it done but don't volunteer me, please, because I am too old and long-in-the-taxi-tooth for such efforts.  But if I were 30 years younger, I would take up that banner and charge up the hill.  Anyone out there have the time and energy to take on this fight?  It would be worth the effort.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

An Official Message From King County: "What Do The New (Taxi) Ordinances Do?"

FAST (King County) sent me this very important information.  I also had a King County regulator call me.  There is good news for anyone currently operating a taxi or might be planning to.  Please note this probably means that all Seattle/King County licensed cabs should eventually, in a year or two, be able to work the airport.  Whether that means you first have to join the airport taxi drivers union, I don't know.  That will be something you the individual cabbie will have to figure out. Contact the Port of Seattle after all the new rules are finalized.  And if that permission is granted, please remember that Sea-Tac International Airport isn't a mythical taxi Shangri-La or that wonderful Goose laying all those Golden Eggs.  Now that you will be able to work every King County road, street, village, town and city, take advantage and do it.  Expand your taxi horizons.  James Hilton would be proud.

Two Pages from King County

What you will be reading are the exact wording sent to me.  Read all this very carefully, with some of the goals outlined positive, while some maybe not as much.  Ultimately it will be up to all those still in the industry to decide what is best going forward for a taxi industry in deep flux.  Personally, I have my doubts whether Seattle's, and America's taxi industry can survive Uber's ability to manipulate the personal transportation industry.  Uber, as shown over the past 13 years, is not nice.  The provisions listed here by King County are designed to assist in the taxi industry's survival.  One can only hope.

Page One:  What do the new ordinances do?

In 2023, the City and County plan to each transmit two ordinances affecting the for-hire transportation industry to the City Council and the County Council.   The combined effect of the ordinances is streamlined taxicab and for-hire vehicle regulations located in new chapters of City and County codes. Key changes include:

1.  Allow City Only and County Only medallions to operate throughout the region with a new reciprocity endorsement (a reciprocity endorsement-a medallion).  (Editor note: my keyboard doesn't have the symbol used by KC, so I inserted a dash instead)

2.  Convert all for-hire vehicle medallions to taxicab medallions.

3.  Adjust insurance requirements and adapt to a changing insurance market and policy models that will attempt to make the Seattle market more attractive to other insurers.

4.  Eliminate outdated operating requirements and align City and County requirements such as no longer referring to uniforms or personal hygiene and aligning differences in vehicle age limits. 

5.  Establish a new regional for-hire driver's license with the option to obtain an enhanced license that includes a fingerprint-based Federal background check and a third-party background check.

6.  Require adoption of smart taximeters including integration with public facing regional trip-planning tools, integrated payment processing, and authorizing greater use of dynamic fare setting-all of which are key features of a modernized fleet.

7.  Simplify enforcement and penalties and create a more coordinated appeals process:

        a.  The City and County will issue civil citations (monetary penalties) and license actions                                  (suspensions, summary suspensions, revocations, and denials).

       b.   Appeals will go to the hearing examiner for the jurisdiction issuing the citation or license action.

8.  Establish a uniform age limit of 15 years, lower the minimum for-hire driver age from 21 to 20, and           adjust maximum allowable driver operating hours (these requirements align with the State TNC law           adopted in 20220.

9.  Authorize the County to set a minimum fare for short trips such as those from Sea-Tac Airport (the            ordinances will not affect other decisions made by the Port of Seattle regarding ground transportation        service).

10.  Establish certain vehicle owner and driver protections, including provisions for advanced notice of            contract changes and the opportunity to provide input on agency policies that affect drivers. (Editor            note:  Allowing owner input is some very important)

11.  Plan for the use of all electric vehicles (EVs) when technology and infrastructure make EV's viable            for for-hire transportation:

      a.  The ordinances will not require the use of EVs but will acknowledge as an option.

      b.  The City and County will work with partners to ensure drivers have access to programs for EV              purchases and charging infrastructure.

Page Two: Key Deadlines

ORDINANCE ADOPTION:  For-hire vehicle and taxicab associations are licensed as transitional regional                                                dispatch agencies for at least one year, but not more than two years

ONE YEAR LATER:  Owners of previously deposited, revoked, relinquished, etc. medallions must notify                                       director of plans

MARCH 31ST, 2025:  For-hire vehicles and medallions convert to taxicabs (deadline may change)

                                     Adopt a smart taximeter system (requirements rule to be issued confirming                                                   deadline

                                     Any remaining transitional regional dispatch agencies must apply for a regional                                           dispatch agency license to continue operating

New Rules (dates TBD):  Splitting a dual medallion into a City and a County Medallion

                                          Vehicle markings

                                          Dispatch system for WAVs


What is happening with medallions?

TYPES:  For-hire medallions are eliminated and convert to taxicab medallions

                                            ---No changes to WAT medallions

CAPS:   Before---City: 1,050 taxicabs & 200 for-hire vehicles

                             County: 561 taxicabs & 471 for-hire vehicles

             After---City: 1,300 taxicabs

                         County: 1,300 taxicabs

JURISDICTION:  City and County medallion reciprocity endorsements are created and are required for                                  Seattle medallions and County medallions to operate regionally

                              Duel medallion owners have the option to split into a City medallion and a County                                      medallion, obtain reciprocity endorsements for each, and put two vehicles on the road

SCHEDULE:  Vehicle licensing will transition to an anniversary schedule, just like for for-hire driver                                 licensing

                         Owners of previously medallions relinquished, revoked, deposited, etc. have one year to                             tell the City and County their plans or the medallion is permanently retired


There you have it, guys and gals, taxi bureaucracy at its finest? or at its very worst?   Only time will tell.  I wish everyone luck with all these changes.  But my final comment is that it would have been much better if the City of Seattle had kept their TNC (Uber & Lyft) Cap in place, and then maybe all you have just read would never have been written, no reason to, no cause.  But welcome to the real taxi world as I know it: the taxi industry gets the shaft right up the you-know-where! shaved to the bone grizzly bear!

PS: Editor Note---For some reason, the "Page Two" section has decided to diagram some of its sentences like they were written by that Beat-era poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  Crazee, man, crazee! Ain't it cool!  I recommend highly his volume of verse "Coney Island of the Mind."  

Just noticed it also happened on page one.  Oh well, ain't it swell?  No.


Monday, March 6, 2023

A Final Assessment Of Seattle/King County's Taxi Industry: Failure And Delusion & Falling Upon The Sword: My Last Failed Attempt Of Taxi Advocacy & Remembering A Terrible 2018 Taxi Accident

STITA Closes it's Office

The departure of that once mighty group of Sea-Tac cabbies says everything about what is currently the awful state of affairs that is Seattle & King County taxi.  In short, it is abysmal.  Orange Cab is gone.  Farwest has 20 working cabs.  Yellow is operating with about 250 taxis.  The only bright spot, if there is one, are the 400 plus cabs working Sea-Tac International Airport but even they are fading due to the head-to-head competition from Uber and Lyft.  Though they are cheaper than the TNC companies, most of the arriving passengers don't know it, taking Uber and Lyft as a matter of habit.  

In a last conversation with Puget Sound Dispatch's (Seattle Yellow Cab) General Manager, I found his protestations about current business trends to be unrealistic, not based on what I have seen first hand as a front-line owner/operator.  A few months earlier, in a discussion about pick-up times, he said the average wait time was 11 minutes.  10 years ago, yes, that was true at times but not now, not at all, especially outside of downtown and late at night.  Denial has been, and is the taxi industry's death knell, and so in that sense, the bells are ringing, hearses, not taxicabs lining up to haul away the dead.  It is a bad situation.  The vultures are circling.   And that's the way it is, Seattle-style taxicab 2023. 

The Judge was Disingenuous 

Finally I got my in-person court date concerning the four bus lane violations I was questioning.  In a last desperate attempt at taxi advocacy I refused the first offer of reduced fines, understanding that I might end up paying the full amount for all four tickets.  I did this because I wanted to have my say, pointing out how poor the signage is, suggesting it might be a kind of entrapment but no one, especially the judge, heeding my arguments.  After getting my butt kicked over the first violation, I acquiesced and took a reduction for the final three, understanding how farcical my effort was, defeated before I started.  Have I learned my lesson?  Yes, I certainly have.    

Remembering the horrible cab accident of September 13th, 2018

Yesterday I encountered the former Yellow cabbie who survived an awful head-on collision with a wrong way driver at North 155th & Aurora Ave. North in 2018.  His passenger, a 62 year-old woman, was killed.  He was hospitalized for 7 months.  The 21 year-old kid driving the big American car wasn't insured.  I have looked up the photos of the accident and the cab was demolished.  I don't know if the kid was charged with manslaughter or some other such serious charge.  The former driver recognized me first, remembering my past efforts toward the industry. "You were our leader," he said, which was nice to hear but shouldn't he have had more coverage and protection at the moment his car was struck?  Why yes, and even though I cared, my concern wasn't enough to bring about the changes our industry required.  The man is very lucky to be alive, and walking.  Screw taxi!