Tuesday, February 26, 2013


A few years before the Turn of the Millenium here in Alexandria, Virginia there was unrest in the taxicab industry. Among other things the drivers wanted the right to own the licenses to their vehicles and have the right to tranfer between companies at will. This would have made Alexandria's system similar to New York City's; where a taxi permit - there known as a "medallion" can sell for more than half a million dollars. They had "strikes" and demonstrations and got themselves on TV; and finally the City Council took up the matter.
Now, when this was happening Yours Truly could see what would come of it. I told these drivers that once those damned politicians took this up, their main consideration would be to act in a way that would help THEM and NOT the drivers. And I was not wrong.
Ultimately what we wound up with was a DOUBLING of licensing fees across the board; an 8-year age limit on vehicles; mandatory use of a trip manifest form that was printed so that the clipboard had to be held crossways to enter data; and a new hack inspector who was basically Barney Fife with a loaded firearm.
Barney just got kicked upstairs to the Alexandria Sheriff's Office, where he now has a whole jail full of REAL criminals to treat like criminals so he doesn't have to come out hunting for a cab driver with a burnt-out turn signal to write up and suspend. And I hope he's happy, because he's basically a decent guy and I personally like him. Mostly.
So that's one problem solved, but we Alexandria cabbies are still stuck with the rest of it. However for the most part we now realize what I have known all along: When you ask the government to get involved with any aspect of your life, then prepare to lube up and grab your ankles.
We in the driver corps have taken our turn in the barrel. Last month, Management decided to ask for their turn. They are probably going to get it.
A little background may be helpful. Some few years ago, an Alexandria City Councilperson arrived home at Reagan Airport and was put into an Alexandria cab. The driver refused to accept a credit card in payment for the ride - understandable, because in Alexandria the cab companies do not own or insure the cabs and do not provide refuelling or repair or towing facilities; which makes having ready cash a high priority - and this fucking politician decided to throw a hissy and demand mandatory accepance of plastic NOT out of concern for the riding public but because his or her Imperial Ass was inconvenienced momentarily. The motion was narrowly defeated in the next hearing on fare increases.
And now the present story. For the past few years the company with whom I am currently contracted has been attempting to have as many fares as possible paid with credit cards; going so far as to mandate the installation of back-seat processing units in each cab and doing so in such a way that any attempt to conceal or disable the units also disables the meter. Human beings being clever animals, however; ways around this have been found.
And so, a few weeks ago when the City Council decided to raise fares they also ordered the City Traffic and Parking Board to hold a hearing into making accepance of plastic in payment MANDATORY CITY-WIDE EVEN FOR STREET PICKUPS.
That hearing was held last night.
All of the issues I have talked about above were discussed and at length. Then the Board began to discuss the issue among themselves. Would you like to know what they were most concerned about?
They were concerned about the 5% "processing fee" charged the drivers, and whether the companies wanted to grab as much - seeing as how card companies charge about half that - extra money as possible. Things were tossed around about auditing companies and putting "excess processing charges" into some kind of "benefits and disability" program for the drivers. You see, Management guys, once the freaking government finds you might have what they deem "excess money"; they then zero in like a laser on how to siphon off as much of it as possible (and by their lights, preferably all of it).
In retrospect, I suppose I could have warned Management that it wasn't a whole lot of fun getting down on your hands and knees and being told to squeal like a pig.
I thought you guys knew better, I really did. And so it was a shock to me that the whole idea of city-wide mandatory accepance of plastic was ASKED FOR BY THE MANAGEMENT OF THE TAXI COMPANIES who now - and having ought to have known better - stand to get hoist by their own petard, just as the driver corps of 1999 did.
There was a horror movie a few years ago that featured a "genie" who asked people if they had "a wish"; and who then "granted the wish" in a way the wisher wound up wishing he hadn't asked for. A kid who said he wished he couldn't see some horror wound up blind, etcetera. Dealing with the government is sorta like that. Case in point...

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