With the Seattle City Council finally scheduled to vote on proposed taxi and TNC (Lyft, Sidecar, uberX) regulations today at 2 pm (really, this time), I thought it appropriate to post some comments from an actual taxi owner. Taxi owners have without a doubt been the most reviled stakeholders throughout this entire debate, cast by TNC boosters (and some for-hire drivers) as a cabal of greedy medallion-hoarders, sucking the lifeblood from immigrant drivers while assuring crappy service.
Responding to my coverage in The Stranger, one of these allegedly greedy drivers (who wishes to remain unnamed to protect his music career) emailed me with his personal story:
Just want to thank y’all for your coverage on the taxi v tnc issue. Honestly it’s where I’m getting most of my information.
Nowadays I’m temporarily making a living with music & have rented out my cab, watching in panic as my future job (can’t survive on music in the long term) and planned retirement crumble away to dust, and it’s even worse for the guy leasing my cab right now, who can’t make the payments or support his refugee family. Let’s just say it’s very personal for us.
Last time I was in Seattle I was shocked to see hipster oligarch David Mienert opining on the topic in some article, not sure if it was with y’all or the Weekly, but clearly there must be a shortage of expert opinions if someone is turning to him. If you ever need an inside perspective just holler, I’ve been in this business for a tedious eighteen years, drove for Broadway, Greytop, Orange & finally Yellow before buying my own taxi.
And if you think this cab owner’s story is an outlier, think again. “There is this myth out there that a few people own all the taxi cabs,” Green Cab general manager Chris Van Dyk tells me, “but the vast majority of taxi cabs are individually owned.” Van Dyk, a longtime industry insider, says that there is only one owner in the city who owns more than 50 cabs, and only about 25 who own more than five. At Yellow Cab—the largest taxi association in the city—Van Dyk estimates that there are about 370 owners of Yellow’s 559 cabs.
Of course, there are many more drivers than owners. The costs of owning and operating a cab are so high that they require 24/7 operation to provide a return on investment, so every owner leases out his cab for at least one 12-hour shift a day. In addition to purchasing a medallion (which went for as much as $140,000 just two years ago) and a $30,000 car, the musician/cab-owner above estimates his recurring costs to be:
- $600/month commercial taxi insurance
- $550/quarter for Labor & Industries insurance ($225 per driver)
- $170/week to be a part of a taxi association
- $1000/year in licensing & inspection fees to the city, county and state
Plus, you know, gas, maintenance and depreciation. Van Dyk says that 24/7 operation puts about 100,000 miles a year on the typical taxi, meaning the vehicle is totally depreciated after just three years. That comes to $10,000 a year in recurring depreciation costs. And that doesn’t begin to count the steadily depreciating value of taxi medallions, which are reportedly now selling for half what hey did just a couple years ago, if you can find a buyer at all.
Lyft, Sidecar, and uberX currently bear none of these costs but for some indeterminate cost for insurance coverage. The drivers do bear the cost for gas, maintenance, and depreciation, though the part-timers may not fully appreciate the total tally.
“Imagine for a moment how much we could lower the taxi leases and lower the customer fares if we had less fixed costs,” our musician/cab-owner writes. “Alternately, imagine how much the fares would rise in UberX if these same business costs were applied to them?”
It is ironic that some of the same people arguing that a $15 minimum wage would crush struggling small businesses, have absolutely no empathy for the hundreds of small business people in the taxi industry—most of them current or former drivers, and many of them immigrants—who have sunk their life savings into purchasing a medallion and a cab, only to have their livelihoods ripped out from under them by the illegal operations of the TNCs.
It is that uneven playing field that the council is expected to at least partially address this afternoon.