On Matters Relative to the
Ubiquitous Independent-Contractor

Serving the 'Burbs

On 6 Nov 00, at 9:02, somebody observed:

Why doesn't the city just subsidize the drivers for covering the suburbs?

As we follow various attempts by regulatory authorities to improve taxi service into outlying suburbs, an image is emerging of a somewhat niaive perception that taxicab companies are organized in the traditional mold of vertical integration where the company holding the licences owns the vehicles, employs the drivers, and owns the dispatch service.

In such an organization, drivers would all be treated equally regardless if they served the downtown core or an outlying suburb. If I'm not mistaken, this perception may be based on the idea that all drivers are equally treated employees. How novel!

So long as the independent contractor/leasing environment thrives, the issue of improving service to outlying suburbs will not likely be successful, no matter what contrived arrangements emerge from well-meaning regulatory authorities, but unfortunately all doomed to failure so far.

It seems increasingly clear that regulatory authorities, albeit through gritted teeth, are gradually becoming the personnel department for the industry, a mind-boggling concept.

(From an InterNet discussion 6 November 2000)

Airport Waiting and IC Freedom

A recent exchange of discussion on TAXI-L brought out a couple of significant observations:

The typical wait at Denver International Airport for a taxi driver is 3 1/2 to 4 hours

This airport wait situation seems quite prevalent at most all major airports throughout the continent. It certainly is not a situation exclusive to DIA, for I have observed it most everywhere.

What provokes so many drivers to voluntarily wait such huge amounts of time, sitting idle in an airport corral, after having shelled out a sizeable investment for the use of a cab? Sorry, but I have difficulty understanding how such a situation can continue to exist, as it seems so illogical. Surely, in the world of leading edge technology, there must be a way to moderately control the flow of cabs into the airport corral so as the flow bears a reasonable resemblance to deplaning passenger load.

I can appreciate such long waits would be very much in the interests of the lessee, for it means substantially reduced wear and tear on his vehicle. But is it in the best interests of the paying passenger in the back seat? Is it in the best interests of the driver to allow too many vehicles into the corral? Is it in the best interests of the industry itself?

Are there any airports out there with some kind of system in place to help strike a better balance of vehicles into the corral against predicted deplaning passenger load? If not, why not? Perhaps our technocrats on our list might offer some guidance on this very important issue.

drivers have a fair and equitable opportunity to make a good living and can work the way they want to work and when they want to work.

I have never disputed that such a situation may be good for some drivers in some situations, but is it good for the industry? Is it good for the paying passenger in the back seat?

Chicago is going through the agony of issuing substantial additional new licences. Among its rationalization is a perception that these new licences will be issued so that outlying residential areas will be better served. However, this is diametrically opposed to the fundamental premise of the lessee/lessor arrangement which basically says that, "... drivers can work the way they want to work and when they want to work ...".

As a lessee must shell out a sizeable amount of money before rolling an inch, he's already under considerable pressure to be productive. Sitting in some far off residential area shopping centre parking lot waiting for the phone to ring is hardly effective utilization of the fleet and its human resources.

That one driver sitting out there in not so splendid isolation is not cross-subsidized by more efficient utilization of other portions of the fleet in more lucrative areas. This is not a Denver problem, for it exists wherever the leasing/IC environment is prevalent. We have the problem right here in Winnipeg where I often see a lonely driver sitting in a parking lot in my suburb residential area, waiting for the phone to ring.

We don't have leasing here, but we have a close resemblance with an industry populated by independent owner-operators each individually responsible for acquiring his own employee drivers under whatever arrangements acceptable to both. Typically, that arrangement is a % share of the metered revenue.

That each and every driver "...can work the way they want to work and when they want to work..." is very much within the context of the 2,000 puppy dog model. In the eyes of the paying customer in the back seat, how can this situation be viewed as being good business practice?

How did this situation ever happen? How did the lessee-lessor/independent contractor situation ever evolve? How did we ever migrate from traditionally organized companies 'leventy-7 years ago, when we had centralized leadership, management, supervision and control? Has this migratory phenomena ever been researched and documented?

From a TAXI-L InterNet discussion 22 January 1998

Is it time for change?

The outside world is tending to perceive driving a taxi as an "entry level job". Even the 'think tank' folks, knowledgeable, well educated, have fallen into that trap and perpetuate the myth from a rather lofty plateau, adding credibility to the myth.

This means that anyone with limited resources or knowledge can become their own company. They basically answer to nobody but themselves.

This is a serious impediment to fundamental changes that must take place. So long as the IC continues to flourish, nourished and fiercely protected by permit holders and by some IC's themselves, these changes will be extremely difficult to implement. The combination of fierce opposition often at the political level, coupled with a profound lack of political will and widespread regulatory inattention and ineptitude, virtually guarantees perpetuation of the major problems afflicting the industry.

Is there an answer? Is there something that can be done to reverse or retard this relentless slide into a path of eventual self-destruction? There are many good people in this industry who take pride in their work and the services they provide, but all too often they are beaten into the ground when they attempt to promote and introduce changes that in the long run will make it once again fashionable to take a taxi.

From an InterNet discussion 21 July 1997

So Who's In Charge?

It has been said that an independent contractor driver is free to do as he wishes, work hard or slack. The holder of the licence doesn't need to care because his revenues are fixed and guaranteed.

From the individual driver's viewpoint, I do not disagree with the desireability of such a situation. It's a great working environment. However, is this good for the industry? Is it good for the travelling public?

This is basically the situation Seattle found itself in as they finally perceived that this situation had so atomized the industry, that it could no longer supervise, discipline and control itself. Not unlike turning loose several thousand puppies and expecting them to behave in a homogenous manner for the good of the travelling public. An impossible task.

Pressure was brought to bear on the regulatory authorities, from many associations and service industries, to fix this problem and introduce some measure of control and uniformity of service levels. So now it is the regulatory authority being forced to step in and become the personnel department for the industry, somewhat of a role reversal.

From an InterNet discussion 26 July 1997

Is it time for change?

In response to the often asked question, "Do drivers want to be employees or independent contractors?", I would be inclined to ask, "Should drivers be employees or independent contractors?"

As employees, the 2,000 puppies problem shrinks substantially because each is answerable to an employer providing direction, supervision, discipline and rewards. I do not disagree that the independent contractor relationship is often good for the individual driver and in many cases good for a licence holder, but is it good for the industry and the paying customer?

From an InterNet discussion 28 July 1997

Industry Associations

Over the years I've heard it said that every driver has an opinion, but put 2 drivers together and you'll have 3 opinions on any given topic!

I've heard these observations before, another time, another place, but same message, different words. Why do you think this is so? I'm wondering if this is as a consequence of the phenomena of the "independent contractor". Each is independently free to think own thoughts, have own feelings, but possibly more important, not required, nor inspired to think like a "company" person. If my perception is reasonably close, does this help a little to understand the difficulty anyone might encounter when trying to build a truly representative association?

From an InterNet discussion 20 April 1997

Where Are We Going?

ENOUGH! ENOUGH! TAXI-L was never intended as a forum for exclusive debate about safety shields et al. From private concerns expressed by a number of participants, it has become quite clear that if this relentless debate about shields continues, particularly with its adversarial tone and last-word syndrome, we stand to lose a number of loyal, sincere participants.

I personally am very distressed that with all this seemingly endless debate about shields going on for more than a year now, only a single observation has emerged that just possibly we might better put our collective brainpower to work in finding ways to turn this industry around, such that safety shields will not be needed at all. Shields simply deal with a symptom, without ever contributing a thing to fix the root problem.

Folks, we have enormous brainpower among us. Let's see if we can focus our attention on something a little more productive. We are all in agreement that the mayhem inflicted on taxi drivers everywhere is reaching awesome proportions, and it is not going to shrink unless something pretty dramatic emerges to turn things around. We are currently blessed with nearly 200 worldwide participants, yet daily discussion appears limited to but a handful. How nice it would be if others would join in.

Why has driving a taxicab become the most dangerous occupation of all?

What needs to be done with organization, responsible management, image and status, regulations, etc., to turn this industry around, elevate its image and status, restore driver pride, public confidence, driver safety, and all the good things this industry once enjoyed in the past?

How about it folks? What do we have to do to shift the focus from tinkering with symptoms, to development and implemtation of a solid action plan of recovery?

From an InterNet discussion 7 April 1997

Blended Business Opportunities

In response to an incident where a cell phone supplier was officially denied the opportunity to "sell" cell phones through in-taxi sampling by paying passengers, I tend to lean towards allowing it with discretion. In many municipalities, in-car advertising is already permitted, albeit passive appealing only to the sense of sight. This would seem to be a natural extension where the advertising is attempting to appeal also to the sense of sound and touch, possibly with some imposed guidelines.

However, I perceive what I believe might be a much greater concern. On what legal grounds has the PCO become the Personnel Department for the industry? The incident does raise an interesting discussion about business opportunities facing the industry. There was a time when taxi drivers were also in the courier business, delivering parcels and at times documents.

Historically, such additional business opportunities were conducted in a discreet manner. i.e., a trip with a paying passenger, or a trip with a paying parcel, but not both simultaneously. What would happen if a business opportunity emerged that required some form of blending of the two?

For example, a substantial portion of taxi drivers in many major municipalities do tend to favor trips between downtown and the airport. What would happen if a driver at the airport had an opportunity to accept a package of some kind at the airport and deliver it to some location downtown after delivering the passenger? And vice versa........ Both with separate and distinct fees.

Would the local taxi regulator forbid it, allow it, encourage it, or not even care? Is something like this already in place somewhere? Is something like this being contemplated somewhere? Has something like this been denied somewhere, and if so, why?

In many jurisdictions, the industry has tended to migrate from a traditional tightly controlled and managed corporate entity, into a loosely organized array of highly atomized independent contractors. Under such conditions, I would think it very difficult for such business opportunities to be seized.

I saw the news item about the sell (pun intended) phones, and my initial reaction was one of cautious agreement. Now to learn that the PCO may be intervening as an intrusion into a business opportunity troubles me.

Based upon what little I know about the situation, my inclination is to support most any reasonable attempt for a driver or company to aggressively seek out and seize business opportunities with minimum interference from a regulatory agency that should not ever become the Personnel Department for the industry.

From an InterNet discussion 17 March 1997 (St. Patrick's Day!)

Detecting Off-Meter Fares

In response to a situation where an owner was aggressively discouraged by his peers to collect and maintain statistics off the meter and odometer, I have serious concerns. I perceive such data to be imperative for any business, small or large. But there must be a universal city wide mandatory collection of such data for it to work. If not, the few that do will be in pain trying to find and keep drivers.

The situation I briefly outlined earlier is a real one that actually does exist. The one operator trying hard to do the right thing is hurting because he can't get enough drivers to keep all his cars on the road. New drivers all too often, after only a few days on the job and having an opportunity to speak with other drivers at their favorite watering hole, depart to drive for some other owner who chooses not to keep such records. This is not a new situation. It was well documented in the 1990 Winnipeg Report.

From an InterNet discussion 19 November 1996

Working Pattern of a Typical Taxi Driver

In response to a question about, " What can a company do to prevent high-flagging?".

Enforce daily trip sheets, track vehicle mileage daily, develop profiles for every driver of paid vs unpaid miles, develop an average profile, compare against actual, invite those outside the standard profile to a fireside chat for an attitude adjustment. Reward and "recognize" those who perform well. This is what computers are for, and they do it well.

The down side of such imposition of sound management and supervision is that some drivers will split in favor of other companies who do not impose good management. Makes it tough to be good.

From an InterNet discussion 18 November 1996

Driver Representation

Drivers are an integral part of the taxicab industry. The local regulatory authority wants and needs to talk, consult, negotiate with taxi drivers. But such is not possible without an association representing and speaking for a majority of drivers. I do not believe it prudent to mandate association membership. Such an association must be a bona fide representative of documentated voluntary membership.

Perhaps such representation can be provoked via a published expectation that the regulatory authority will "consult" with representatives of a registered association filing proof of a majority membership. This may work, although I perceive it somewhat risky, depending on which way the latest newbie reporter sees and reports the tactic in local media.

Without such representation, a unified set of objectives is not possible. Little bit like turning 2000 puppy dogs loose and now its the regulator's job to go out there and round them up peacefully.

I do strongly support a bona fide association, with proven, documented majority membership, and constitutionally elected representatives. Without such an infrastructure, the regulatory authority cannot ever consult with enough people out there, for each is representing "self" at that moment of time. Consensus is not likely to emerge and the media folks are certain to publish charges of a failure to consult.

Decision making by the regulatory authority then is a high risk venture. Bad or inappropriate decisions are highly probable, generating and nourishing a whole new araray of unforeseen problems. It's a very difficult situation.

IMHO, mandatory membership will accomplish very little if anything. There is more to lose than gain by such a regulatory requirement.

From an InterNet discussion 11 November 1996

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