Taxi Driver Update: Video by Philly IMC


Image from the PhillyIMC.org website.

Public Authorities continue to be one of the best means for taking control out of the hands of voters and putting it in the hands of bureaucrats two or three or four steps removed from anyone elected. I've written about the Taxi Drivers in this space several times now, but now Philly Independent Media Center has a great new video coming out a week or so in advance of a two day taxi strike.

Check the video out here.

I'm really glad IMC is paying attention to this issue. It's a fascinating case. It's one that I'd think the Nutter Butters would be going NUTS over. Closed door decisionmaking. Gouging a group of workers and the public. Capricious rulemaking. Lack of access to decisionmakers and no voter oversite. Everything that should be making them crazy mad. I hope they do pick up on it and take action. It really sucks that nobody is in control of the Parking Authority any more and that it has control of Taxis (isn't that ironic? Taxis hardly ever park, you know?).

I've written about this issue on here before. First, I spelled out how confusing PPA regs are and how they're priorities seemed more in line with ramming a system into place than making sure it worked. Second, [this one was for the Nutter Butters and other process folks], I spelled out their bogus rules for promulgating regulations.

As an Organizer, I find it exciting because this is a very diverse group of people who are hardscrabble and refuse to be victimized. If they have even close to the participation in their strike that they anticipate in the video, it's a real coup. A beautiful show of worker solidarity. It's so great to see these guys excited to take action, and any time I've sat down with them they really have been.

Now if the taxi cab drivers could just drive a little nicer...

Conflicted. I'm conflicted

Conflicted.

I'm conflicted about taxi drivers.

First, I generally support them. They have a difficult job, it is a hard way to make a buck and it seems that regulators have nothing but contempt for them.

Second, and more importantly, they need regulation. Taxi cabs and drivers vary immensely in terms of knowledge of the city, civility and decency of the taxi. I have been in taxis that I do not know how they passed inspection. I've had taxi drivers talk to me about what kind of cocaine they like. I've been yelled at by a taxi driver for simply asking them to turn down a very loud radio. I've been in the car with an visibly intoxicated driver. Just last week, a taxi driver refused my service (which is generally illegal) and, as I was exiting the cab took off with my leg still in it. Why? Because I wanted to use my debit card, which is my right as a consumer. And--not something service can be refused for.

Third, the parking authority should focus on making taxis safer for consumers rather than trying to rip everyone off, I'd really enjoy that.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

you should look into it

G,
I don't think you should feel conflicted at all
I don't disagree that they need to be regulated for a minute, but watch this video and read some of my past posts on the topic. PPA ain't the way to do it. They are just gouging them, us, the owners, the operators, everyone.
There's a lot of money to be made off of the taxis and everything the PPA is doing seems to be about generating revenue, because when you listen to people in the industry talk about it, it sure as heck isn't making it work more efficiency.
The trick is that all the things they are doing sound good in theory.
A GPS system.
Credit cards.
A central dispatch.
It all sounds good in theory but NONE OF IT IS WORKING, unless by "working" you mean "generating cash for the PPA and its contractors." Then it's working very well.
Yes, regulate, but let's put the regulations in the hands of the public and not this very removed, seemingly corrupt authority.

---
BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

So radical! I agree with Gaetano again

Third, the parking authority should focus on making taxis safer for consumers rather than trying to rip everyone off, I'd really enjoy that.

I am not even going to touch the debit/credit card thing, which from what I can tell was a giant boondoggle for everyone (or the not-infrequently jacked meters). But I do want to add something else to Gaetano's list: over and over I feel like my safety as a woman is threatened when I ride taxicabs here.

Cabs often do not have visible identification from the drivers, who have repeatedly propositioned me and my friends in really frightening ways. They are simply not adequately regulated.

This is not to detract from the issues the drivers face. Everyone is perhaps ill-served by the status quo.

word to the alligatorateher

yes, G & JK, the drivers are definitely not all angels, that's for darn sure.

But it makes sense to back this effort up and get the Industry in the hands of an institution that will try to make it work for all parties, including our business travel and tourist industry, for which they are a major support system.

Safety does not seem to be a concern of the PPA. Gouging for fees is. And any effort they might make to talk to drivers about some of their "in car" behaviors would be met with nothing but derision from the drivers now, because they have no trust in the PPA.

The issues you bring up are sensitive ones, and they can only be dealt with, really, in soft ways (workshops and meetings and junk like that that takes time to change a culture), but only a regulator that the drivers have some faith in will be able to do it effectively.

---
BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

Yeah, I am with you

Yeah, I am with you and I agree. I just have so much resentment! Sigh.

you should start riding a bike instead of taking cabs

My bikes never propositions me, and, believe me, I probably wouldn't turn either one of them down I love them so darn much!

---
BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

Haha I love my bike

It looks like this.

But I also REALLY like being driven around, as good as I am at riding in heels.

Our Bianchis could totally be friends!

Here's mine!

Plus my kitty, Mendota.

Hey! Other YPPers should put up their bikes! This is totally fun!

---
BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

Regulating Taxis

I think lots of people are up in arms about the Parking Authority, including Nutter Butters.

I also completely agree with Jennifer's account from various sources--and have heard of tales of much worse happening to women. Not to defame all taxis drivers but there need to be much better safety provisions, including life time disbarments for assaults on women or anyone for that matter.

Nonetheless, I think that there is good reason to support the Parking Authority in this particular case. Taxis should definitely have GPS monitoring because we live in the twentieth century, even if there is a case to be made to have them turned off when the taxis aren't in service.

Lastly, the bottom line about this protest is that taxi drivers don't want to accept credit cards because it'll increase their taxable income. I understand that could mean a pretty steep decrease in pay (maybe 20% or more) but consider it the cost of doing business. If you want to operate a taxi, you have the obligation to pay taxes. This protest is just an attempt to avoid taxes and should be criticized as such. There isn't any bureaucracy that will ever be loved enough to willingly get people to pay taxes, no matter how cuddly and customer service friendly they try to make it. No one has a right to avoid taxes. If taxis really have a problem with credit cards, they can negotiate lower payments in cash with their customers individually.

--Mike
Weeds in the Sidewalk

FYI

yeah, "propositioned" was the polite, vague, term.

it's much worse than that

Mike, your take is simplistic.

Have you watched the video I linked? Ron, the driver, spells it all out really clearly. Don't rely on the Inq'y's coverage. You've got an opportunity to hear straight from a driver.

Fine, put in GPS. Yes, it is the 20th century. But they aren't allowed to be on the road unless the things are working, and they break down all the time. Plus, there are several parts to the overall system, most notably the credit card/GPS link. If either part fails, it all fails. And they are taken off the road. These guys can't afford to lose driving time to constantly get these stupid things fixed plus they get fined when they aren't working.

Second, on the credit cards, there was no process to find a system that worked for the drivers. The Parking Authority rushed the system through.
Now why might that be?
Could it be because they GET A CUT of every fare paid for with a Debit or Credit card? Plus they get to nail drivers with fees if they catch them operating despite the fact that their GPS/CreditCard system has gone down again?
What do you think?
Not only do the drivers have to pay more taxes, but they also have to face more fines and lost time related to the crappy system and they also have to pay a tax to the PPA and the tax the credit card companies lay down on you for using their services.

If you really look at this issue, the PPA is not managing it in the community interest.

You are falling prey to the exact same logic I described above. IN THEORY it all sounds very modern and right, but in practice it's slowing the whole industry down (not making it more efficient), costing everyone (except the PPA) more money and it isn't getting anyone their cab service any more quickly, safely or efficiently.

The PPA is functioning capriciously. I'm for bringing out taxi industry up to modern tech, but let's do it in a way that works for riders, drivers, owners and dispatchers. This is not it.

---
BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

I'm conflicted too

I want to empathize with cabbies. And sometimes, I really would like to do something about their plight.

Then, I think about how hard it is for me to catch a cab. How cabbies don't stop for me, even wearing a suit. When they do stop, and find out where I live, they tell me they don't drive there.

And I'll never forget that cold night in November where it took me more than an hour to catch a cab... at 30th street! There were nothing but taxi-cabs around. They were all lined up and every one of them refused to unlock their doors for me. I had to jump into a cab while someone else opened the door for themselves... and I refused to get out.

I didn't think it would be that difficult to get home after a party at the World Cafe Live. I hate to sound mean but... I'll have more love for cabbies when they have more love for me.

sounds right

When we have a legitimate regulator that really is trying to make the Industry work well for all its stakeholders, we can actually address issues like this. Forget about it under the PPA though. There's no way you can force people not to discriminate... these are issues that have to be worked through.

Like I said to Jennifer on the safety issue, this would take a regulator that the drivers had some trust in. Not the PPA.

---
The Russellian Incorporated Innovations Corporation
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

Tech is never perfect

Brady:

You've got some excellent points. Nonetheless, given the amount of times in my life that drivers have lied to me and told me their meters weren't functioning (admittedly, I've only taken taxis maybe twice in Philly in more than twenty years but I can't imagine the drivers are more honest than NYC or third world countries) so they could charge me more, I'm going to take their complaints with a grain of salt. Technology is inherently imperfect and todays standards are always worse than tomorrow's.

Look at what Septa's wait until tomorrow for a reasonable fare card system has left us: two decades and counting. The credit card technology could be near perfect and the drivers would still be complaining. I'll support postponing the system say a year but otherwise think this is still mostly about tax evasion.

--Mike
Weeds in the Sidewalk

Well, let's be honest

What we have right now is (from what I can tell as a lazy girl who wears uncomfortable shoes and therefore rides a lot of taxis) an apparently universal civil disobediance on the credit card thing.

I am not the pushiest person ever, but having asked maybe half a dozen times, I have NEVER seen or heard of a taxi driver permitting a customer to use the credit/debit machines.

So however things SHOULD be, there's a problem that has to be dealt with. I mean, the PPA can't skim off the contracts if there are no charges running, presumably. It's not working for anyone and something definitely has to be negotiated.

As a sort-of aside, you get the 'broken meter' with some frequency, but more often I think the meters are mis-calibrated. You get a ridiculous variance in fares on routes you know, and I have more than once mentioned that it seemed high and had the driver say, "oh, what do you usually pay, I'll take that."

I insist on the ability to

I insist on the ability to use the debit/credit machines. I have threatened to not pay if they do not let me use it. I consider it something that should be explained up front, but not on the back end. The presumption should be the consumer pays however she feels provided the method is accepted. If the machine is broken, post a sign. But if I get in that taxi and you drive me somewhere and tell me it isn't working--that is a consumer protection issue. The machines are hardly ever broken. That line is usually bullshit.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

That's why I said civil disobediance!

If you ask, front or back end, they say no, not working, whatever. If you ride a cab here more than once, you don't have to ask. No credit cards.

I agree. But, I consider

I agree.

But, I consider that a free ride. But, I'm a jerk who doesn't like carrying cash around and that will not change. I'm addicted to the debit card--particularly the pay-pass.

Why you so lazy? :)

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

good for you

G, you should definitely stand up for yourself and it's good to do this. I once staged a sit-in on a cab in Baltimore when he tried to gouge us too bad on New Year's Eve. My friends knew the regular price, so when he quoted a fare three times that I told everyone to just sit there till his fare went down. Pretty funny. We were in no rush.

I'll quibble a little, though... the cabbies I've talked to (outside of the actual cab), say they break all the time. Now, I have no doubt that you are getting lied to. My impression is that when they REALLY break, they get off the road because they have to. When you're in the car, okay, they aren't broken.

But they do break... a lot... we just don't see those cabs because they have left the street.

Cabbies are definitely shady pretty often, but ramming through reform with a battering ram is not the way to change the system.

---
BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

Good point, and thank you.

Good point, and thank you.

Usually, however, I have very pleasant taxi experiences. And, I enjoy talking to the drivers about their business and other topics. I once met a fellow, Patras, who immigrated from Pakistan and was, oddly, Roman Catholic. We talked a bit about our names. Patras is Peter. I still talk with him from time to time, particularly around the Christian holidays.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

I am just going to add a general apology

for co-opting your pro-worker thread with the complaints of taxi-riding attorneys!

I concur.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

the funny thing is...

... I've taken two cabs in this city, ever. I think. Once only like 8 blocks but I really had to get to the bike shop before it closed, and once because it was just so cold I need a half-mile ride to my car or I was going to die (like, the worst night ever). Maybe I'm forgetting a couple rides, but... yeah, I never take them.

The user perspective is important, no question, it's just that I don't know that users realize how they also aren't really getting served by the PPA. It just seems as though they should be.

---
BradyDale OnLine
The R.I.I.C. Blog
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

I have seen some good

I have seen some good changes to taxi service since PPA has taken over. But, by-and-large, I'd say you're correct. They aren't aggressive enough where they need to be, i.e. safer taxis and general protection of consumers, and too aggressive in other areas.

Balance is key and, clearly, PPA doesn't have it. PPA should be a partner in the relationship between drivers and passengers, setting up the rules--with participation and input, not in an autocratic fashion.

I am working to elect Larry Farnese to the General Assembly. Unless otherwise expressly stated, this and every comment or blog I post on YPP and any action I take hereon is solely attributable to me and not Farnese or Friends of Farnese

I ride cabs a lot

Sorry to come to this so late. My shoes are generally more comfy than Jennifer's, but i ride cabs probably at least once a month and in the winter a lot more. I would say 1 out of 2 experiences is a bad or marginal one. For me, the concerns are unsafe driving (especially with drivers on cell phones) and totally crazy routes: some drivers go the way I would, but some seem to take me way out of my way to get home. There are some really great drivers too and some great cab rides.

Meanwhile, I hate John Perzel and his takeover of the Parking Authority. Everything about the PPA's control of taxis smacks of greedy self-interest and power games on the part of Perzel and his Republican friends.

This is a real conflict though. I don't think it's anti-worker to express some real concerns with experiences riding in cabs. I think one missing element in this conversation so far is cab owners. Some drivers own their own vehicles, but far more are owned by folks who are re3sponsible for vehicle maintainence, timely pay-outs of credit card sales, etc.

What's the deal with them Brady?

right now, there is pretty solid unity

No doubt there are plenty of worker issues with the taxi cab company owners and their workers, but, right now, the drivers, owners and dispatchers (dispatches are actually a third thing, though many people/businesses fall into more than one of these categories) are all pretty unified right now against the PPA. They have some stuff they'll fight out later and this fight will end with a much more organized driver-base,
but,
everybody hates the PPA and everybody thinks they are getting railroaded.

---
The Russellian Incorporated Innovations Corporation
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

What about the cabs themselves?

I understand that many of Philly's taxicabs are are actually former NYC cabs which don't pass muster up there. Hence, they tend to be old + decrepit, which doesn't lend one towards enjoying the occasional ride in a Philly cab.

-Z

Updated the post

I just updated the post with links to the past posts I'd already written on the subject, but I thought I'd put it here in the comments, too. I think the second link below is especially damning for anyone who cares about process:

First, I spelled out how confusing PPA regs are and how they're priorities seemed more in line with ramming a credit card system into place than making sure it worked. Second, [this one was for the Nutter Butters and other process folks], I spelled out their bogus rules for promulgating regulations.

---
The Russellian Incorporated Innovations Corporation
The Philadelphia Unemployment Project

The back story on the taxis and why I support them

If there is a special place in hell for bureaucrats who force people into impossible situations, then the Parking Authority (PPA) director and board would be there.

Cab drivers and the owners of the medallions, because of the changes the PPA has forced on them, find it almost impossible to make a living.

To understand the problem, I believe you have to accept that industries are formed and develop based on the environment in which they operate. Radical changes to the environment change the way the industry acts. As an example consider what would happen to the restaurant industry if tipping were outlawed. Could waiters make enough to live? If the owners had to pay much more in salary, would they have to raise the prices? And it they couldn’t, what would happen?

That is what has happened to taxi cab drivers and the industry. The industry grew under rules where cab drivers were able to collect tips, use their best judgment about how to get places, the owners of the taxis and medallions leased the cabs based on what it cost them to operate (including fees and fines). It was far from perfect (drivers were not allowed to unionize, they had no collective bargaining, no benefits) but they made enough to live and save enough to move on.

The whole mess was regulated by the Public Utility Commission and was relatively lucrative; millions of dollars were collected through fees and the sale of medallions.

When the republicans in Harrisburg, led by Prezel and others took the PPA from the city they also took the cab industry from the PUC. Because the PPA was always seen as a patronage haven that funded the republican machine, its owners and consultants, the PPA jacked up the price of everything (fees, fines, you name it) and found questionable ways to give out lucrative contracts for things like the GPS system and the debit card system. (The PPA’s consultant, David Boonin, an economist with no experience with the cab industry made the decision to give the contract for the GPS system and then took a job with the company he gave the contract to)

The GPS system doesn’t work all of the time. And when it doesn’t work, neither does the meter. Cabbies either have to stop driving (despite the fact they have already rented the cab for the week) or keep going attempting to persuade riders that the meter doesn’t work and that’s why they aren’t using it.

The changes in the dispatch system means that cabbies are sometimes supposed to pass riders on the street to get to where they are sent (or face a fine). But because the system works so poorly, it takes as long as 45 mins for the driver to be sent, 80% of the time the caller has given up and either called another company or taken another form of transportation.

Drivers don’t like the credit card reader for three reasons: PPA gave the sweetheart contract away so that the people running it get 5% of the fares. Drivers lose 5%. 2nd, most people who pay cash, give the driver a tip, (here keep the change) the machine makes it harder for riders in a hurray (and most who use cabs are) to enter a tip on the machine. It’s not like a restaurant where one sits around and drinks coffee while paying. And third, the driver doesn’t get the money right away and is never sure what they are being paid for. (Many cabbies don’t have laptops to keep track and don’t know if and when they are being cheated.)

Because the fees and fines have gone up dramatically the owners of the cabs don’t believe they can lower the rents to make up for the drivers lost revenues. And then there is the imperial and undemocratic nature of the rules.

The PPA simply sets the rules. They set the fines and fees without a hearing, public input or any oversight. And because they are trying to build the republican machine in Philadelphia and can’t do it by electing anyone, they do it by creating jobs for everyone they can, which means raising the fees and fines whenever they can.

And they do all this behind the curtains covering themselves with the statement; we are doing this for the public. But if were for the public, there would be public hearings on regulations, the cab drivers would be able to make a living and the owners would be able to put new cabs on the street.

Lance Haver

There's a lot going on here that we may not see from blogland

Thanks, Lance.

I want to start from where he ended and say that I think it's important in this issue to realize that there are perfectly good reasons for this fight. It's easy to dismiss the taxi drivers for folks who read YPP, because most of us on here don't view cabbies as peers and don't have any cabbies in their social circles. Everyone has a gripe with a cabbie. Hell, I have plenty.

But sometimes there's a much larger picture and even if the issue gets spun against a group of workers, there's still a good reason to back them up. The SEPTA workers needed to hold the line on their benefits, even if that screwed our days up. Sometimes teachers have to shut down schools to keep decent wages. The Teamsters had to shut down UPS back in 1997 and my bike stayed in the shop an extra week because I couldn't get the new bike post I needed for it,
but sometimes we all need to take a breath and back the people up, even if they aren't people very much like us,
because I've got two statements here that I think most of us can agree with. If we use these two statements to frame our view of worker struggles, we might be able to cut them some more slack:

1) People are getting screwed left and right all over this country
and
2) The screwing has gotten pretty sophisticated, so even when you know you're getting robbed it's hard to point to when the stealing happened.

We've all been pissed at our own cell phone career or our landlord or the way our bank tricked us into some awful fee. Well, the PPA is pulling the same tricks against the cabbies on a grand scale.

---
The Russellian Incorporated Innovations Corporation
Lefty Homilies

PPA is out of control

Alright, it seems the PPA is out of control so I concede the taxis drivers are in the right here.

For what it's worth, I think that there is a business opportunity for anyone smart enough to out compete the taxis, or heck, provide a safe experience and not discriminate against riders.

--Mike
Weeds in the Sidewalk

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