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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Only serious offers, please.