Archive for category politics

Paranoia Not Probable

Might as well get to the worst …

Here is a thing I would rather not be posting, since it might “compromise my credibility” – as they say.

Admittedly it is less of a problem now than previously. It refers to surveillance. At this point, with the Edward Snowden affair having been daily news for several weeks, the possibility of excessive snooping has gained a credibility of its own : fewer people, at this point, can deny snooping exists, and that there is a lot of it.

My own experience of excessive snooping has to do with the Taxi TV (another reason for wanting to publicize that gadget as the truly atrocious idea it really is.)

Since the first introduction of the TV, I have been struck by the curious timing of meter breakdowns. For a while it seemed to me that meter troubles developed according to a pattern. This pattern was : strenuous discussion between me and a passenger of the faults of Michael Bloomberg’s governance of the city  …  followed by meter breakdown. At first I assumed it was me, that I was imagining it all, and it was just a funny coincidence.

It persisted, however, and it was hard not to think the discussion was causing the breakdown.

After a month or more, there seemed to be an improvement. Long, even vociferous, discussions were not followed by, and even interrupted by, a meter shutdown. I was ready to admit to paranoia – it had all been a mistake …

No, not really. While the meter had originally “reacted” (seemingly) as the discussion between me and the passenger was in progress, or when the trip was over and the machine was supposed to accept payment, the meter mishap was offset by 20 or 25 minutes. I.e., it happened after the passenger got out – a fairly good time after.

Not hard to find a “paranoid” explanation for that : when the meter failed while the passenger was in the car, there was a danger that the passenger would notice, and draw the same conclusion anyone would draw – that the critical comments about the mayor had caused the mishap. (I had even pointed the timing out several times to passengers, all of whom found the suggestion of foul play very interesting.)

Now, with the meter mess delayed by 20 minutes, there was no anti-Bloomberg discussion taking place as the meter failed, and no suspicion on the part of a passenger likely to arise.

Now, we’re all used to the phrase, “This phone call will be monitored, in order to ensure quality control.” We assume that surveilling service representatives is done, and that it’s acceptable. Question : why wouldn’t “the powers that be” do the same with cab drivers? It seems to me likely they would – and, with the growing sense of the pervasiveness of spying and snooping, I see no reason why there should be a great deal of skepticism about such a claim.

Since my experience of this problem first arose, in the first few weeks after the installation of the TV, the same scenario has presented itself to me many hundreds of times, maybe a thousand or more.  It’s inescapable. It happens over and over – it happened twice last night, as a matter of fact …

I will get to my ultimate point as quickly as possible.

When spying is accepted as a normal part of life, those who practice it are emboldened to go way beyond any acceptable limits with it – it is as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning that they will do so.

Remember, I am not complaining about having a lesson in bomb-building being interrupted by a bad meter. My discussions with passengers never involve conspiracies against government, criminal activities, racism, homophobia, plots, threats and the rest : these are serious discussions of whether the governance that Micheal Bloomberg and his people have brought to New York is of an acceptably high quality.

So what’s the matter with that?

In this case you have, it can be said, an example of the sort of snooping and surveillance that is justified as fighting crime or countering terrorism being used to protect an elected official from criticism.

How delightful! Freedom speech rescinded, because it makes Mike Bloomberg look bad!

He doesn’t want to be criticized! How like Muammar Gaddafi!

Where the carte blanche so willingly granted to snoops has gone in New York City is in the predictable direction : it has made it far easier to deny people elementary rights, and that is exactly what has happened here, if my perpetually reinforced suspicions are correct. The man in charge doesn’t want to be criticized, or even mentioned in unflattering terms, so, in order to keep that from happening, an electric trick takes place whenever that does take place : the meter, without which a driver can’t get paid – at least in the case of credit cards – cuts out, and the speaker is penalized immediately for his unacceptable speech by being denied payment for services rendered. Instantaneous punishment! What a dream for the dictatorial! The Soviet Union never had instruments like this. But, God, how they would have loved to have them!

But, to repeat : if you put the technology in their hands, they will eventually use it, and for the most self-serving of purposes.

 

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My First Days With The New Fare

I have mentioned the fare increase in several posts.

Now, after having worked with it for a few shifts, I can render at least  a partial verdict.

It is a vast improvement.

To start with, let  me reiterate what I have said in another post : last year I made an average daily wage that equaled my average daily wage in 1984.

I don’t know if anyone else in America can boast of such a humiliating statistic as that.

Nevertheless, it’s true.

The reasons for such a financial disaster were several : an arbitrary increase in the number of cabs on the road in order to get a one-shot budget boost from the sale of medallions, leading to excess supply; complications of the credit card reader — such as slow start up, passenger confusion with a bad program, and swiping issues; a predatory driver fee of 5% per card transaction; and the Taxi TV, which transformed drivers into babysitters for an annoying media stunt.

With the new increase, I can report, my wages might just reach an acceptable level for a normal person in the modern world.

This  is not to say that I will become rich, simply that I will be in a good mood at least occasionally.

But there is more.

I have praised the new TLC chairperson, Mr. David Yassky, in a past post, because of, among other things, his advocacy of this fare increase. He knew it was necessary and helped enact it.

What surprised me these last few days is something else : he has calibrated the fares so that they are in multiples of 50 cents, always. Which is to say, there are fares of exact dollar amounts ($5, $10, $12, for example), or an exact amount plus 50 cents ($2.50, $6.50, $8.50, etc.). There are no more fares of $8.70, or $8.30, or $9.90, and so forth.

It is perhaps inconceivable to the non-driver why this is so important (though, after a while paying the new fares, the average customer might catch on.)

What it amounts to is this : every taxi transaction is enormously simpler and easier to negotiate : easier to figure a tip, easier to understand, easier to count out, round off, and, in short, to pay, than at any time in the past 10 or more years.

Why should this matter?

Because it makes life easier,  generally, for everyone : the passenger doesn’t have to think as much or take as long to pay; the driver doesn’t have to go through mathematical horror at the end of each shift as he figures out his debits and credits; the dispatcher or pay master doesn’t have to be swamped in confusion; and pedestrians and other motorists and their passengers don’t have to wait extra seconds and minutes of utterly wasted time as an interminable  taxi transaction takes place in their vicinity.

Not bad for one simple little adjustment to how fares are calculated.

I perceived in David Yassky, when I first became aware of his way of doing things, a particular fit for public service. He seems to notice what needs to be fixed, and goes about fixing it. I had given up even thinking about the hopeless complexity of taxi pricing, and the delays and frustrations it causes everyone, because I had never expected anyone to ever do anything about it.

Now, lo and behold, someone seems to have noticed the problem, and even done something about it!

Public service ought rightly to consist of doing the greatest good for the greatest number, and not the finagling of private advantages for one’s friends and their friends — which is what it seems to have become in recent years in New York City.

It appears now that we have someone on our hands who is genuinely fit to be a public servant — at a time when public service seemed to have breathed its last.

Hopefully this man will again run for office in the future, so that I will have the opportunity to vote for him.

From my experience, I would suggest you vote for him as well.

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The “Taxi Of Tomorrow”

The city has chosen the paradigm for a new taxi, to be adopted universally throughout New York City, beginning in October 2013.

You can see the bad news more fully at http://www.taxioftomorrow.com/web/index.php.

In as few words as possible, I can simply say that technology has triumphed over common sense.

Every conceivable bell, buzzer, whistle and gizmo that could possibly be added has been added. Every possible form of communication between passenger and driver has been diminished.

Now, after close to 30 years of driving, I don’t want to sound as if I think I know something, but I’d like to say something about passengers and drivers.

The best insurance a passenger has that he or she will be well served by a cabdriver is the quality of the passenger’s own ability to communicate.

A communicative person is aware of the proper time-tested and effective ways of getting what he or she wants and need out of life. This is not some idea I just concocted. It is, in fact, the considered opinion of professional managers and leaders.

Time and again I have experienced the contribution a good passenger makes to the speed, efficiency and safety of a particular trip. All it takes is :

a pleasant introduction (for instance, “how are you doing today?”) — thereby putting the driver at ease that he is not “under the gun”;

clear requests and directions;

a cooperative attitude when difficulties (bad traffic, for example) arise;

and maybe even a companionable conversation.

By now I am not surprised by the results these inputs have on my performance, but for years I was amazed at how quickly I could get people places when they bothered to establish and maintain a proper mood.

It seemed sometimes as if routes I scarcely knew I knew opened up , and that traffic — almost miraculously — disappeared.

But : the Taxi of Tomorrow will have none of this.

There is a solid, permanently closed glass wall between customer and driver, making communication harder rather than easier.

Result : less communication rather than more, and — as a predictable result — worse service, and all brought to you by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the presumed ensurer of good service.

Nowadays there is increasing concern over the prevalence of autism among children. I would suggest that autism among adults is a clear menace as well.

There is even an increasing threat of autism in government agencies, even more pernicious than the other two, because choices made by government influence the actions, expectations and habits of millions of people, especially the young.

Now, with the Taxi Of Tomorrow, the autism problem is coming to a government agency near you!

 

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Advertising On The Prowl

Since I cannot devote as much time to blogging as I would like, I cannot be as complete as I would like in this particular post. (At 60 or more hours a week driving, blogging has got to be a sideline.) The subject, however, needs more research than I can give to it now in order to be done right, and so, dear reader, you will have to consider this post a trial run of the more thorough treatment that, hopefully, will emerge over time.

That subject is : how does the taxi tv work?

By this I mean, what is its goal, and how does it achieve it?

The goal, of course, is to generate revenue for the TLC and (presumably) for owners of cabs. This is done by charging the companies who advertise on the the tube to pay for doing so.

But what do they expect to accomplish by this advertising, you might ask (or I might ask, for “purposes of argument,” shall we say).

The first point to remember is that, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, there are, on average, at least 5 to 6 million cab passengers per week year round in New York City. And all these people are confined to a relatively tiny place, for 5 or 10 minutes, or longer — and in the case of airport trips maybe for 30 or 40 minutes.

This makes of them a captive audience.

If they were at home, they could get up and go the the kitchen to make a sandwich while the “commercials” were on, or call a friend, or use their computers. In other words, they could escape.

On the other hand, when they’re in the back of the cab, they can go nowhere : they are stuck where they are, and can’t move much more than a foot in either direction. They are trapped. They are restrained. There is nowhere they can go.

This is where the advertisers begin to scent blood. The ads they inflict on cab passengers are nowhere so easy to evade as the ads they inflict on people at home or in cars. Such people have begun tuning ads out in greater and greater numbers. At this point there is even software that deletes ads when someone records material on a VCR.

I have been informed by several passengers from the ad industry that the industry is “in crisis.”

What to do?

Well — leaving the taxi tv aside for the moment — one way to turn the tables on the increasingly large part of the public that is sick of ads is to place “advertising media” (fancy words for “boob tubes”) in places where you can’t ignore them.

One such place is a gas station. Now, often, you will pump your gas beneath a tv tube featuring an ad campaign, with some weather thrown in, just to get you to look at the tube in the first place.

Or elevators. Did you ever think you would see tv’s in elevators? Probably not, but now you do, and will, because you’re trapped on the elevator and, therefore, a perfect object for an ad.

As people get better at evading ads at home and in their cars, the ads, refusing to be denied, are shadowing these people all around town. You and I are, in effect, being shadowed. Shadowed by advertisers, and by the ad agencies they hire to make up the ads in the first place.

Perhaps the best venue for persistent advertising is the back of a taxicab, because the average cab ride is longer than the average elevator ride or the average time spent pumping gas.

And so, presto! — the taxi tv!

Loved by few, loathed by many, but esteemed — if only as a last ditch effort by a challenged industry — as the salvation of the day!

You can’t escape it like you do the ads at home : it has you right where it wants you.

And, after you’ve left the cab, its accomplices will stalk you right into the elevator you take and the gas station you fill up at. And — who knows — it might soon be coming to a house of worship in your very own neighborhood, and even — dare we object? — to your library, your beach, your park, your woodlot, your garbage dump, your roof, your lobby, your air shaft. Dare we assume your toilet itself is far behind?

After all, several years ago no one foresaw TV’s in the backs of taxis, or at gas stations, or in elevators …

 

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The Mayor Wants You To Be Healthy. — Oh, Really?

The legacy Mike Bloomberg seems to be interested in carving out for himself is coming to seem to be one of personal health : he has helped New Yorkers become healthier through his various health initiatives, and it is this that he will be remembered for above all else. — Or, so his thinking goes these days.

There’s a lot to be said on this subject, and no single blog post could hope to say it all.

I would like to focus on one very small, but clear and precise detail in the health orientation of our mayor.

By now (August 2012) when the vast majority of my customers have lost any interest in the taxi TV and have come to consider it, more often than not, a nuisance, and even something great numbers of them are eager to say they “hate” — by now I have been told thousands of times by these passengers that the Taxi TV makes them “sick.”

Somewhere around two thirds of women, and around one third of men, claim to get car sick when it’s on.

What does this mean?

Well, it seems to mean that the mayor’s concern for health is, at best, variable. There are over 5 million cab passengers a week, and, if around half of them are getting sick from the experience, as they say they are, then that means that the mayor’s brainstorm, the Taxi TV, is making somewhere between 2 and 3 million people sick every week.

Or : 130 million people a year.

Or, now that the TV tube has been in place for 4 years : 520 million people to date.

Which is to say, that the mayor can claim to have made half a billion people sick in the last 4 years.

Now there’s a health legacy!

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Why Is There a Taxi TV, And Who Benefits?

The average passenger has long since realized there’s nothing of value for him or her on the Taxi TV.

Although the assumption at first was that there might be something useful on the tube, that idea went by the boards pretty quickly, as even the most diehard Bloomberg fan had to admit that 50 hearings of the Mary Poppins commercial were — maybe — a bit too much.

So why is the thing back there anyway?

Revenue, of course. The nickel-and-dime billionaire who is our mayor has never hid the fact that the prime consideration in installing the monstrosity was money. Despite some notions being floated that gullible tourists would be seduced into heading for certain restaurants based on cab advertisements spontaneously acted on, (an event I’ve never known to happen in 4 years or so), the fallback position has always been that companies would pay for ad time on the tube, and this would constitute a valuable “revenue stream.”

That the whole ordeal would be a prolonged ugly experience for drivers and passengers alike wasn’t much factored in, apparently.

Some questions one might ask : how much money is involved? and who gets it?

The answer (to both)?

Who knows.

The mayor has made claims of openness and “transparency” in government : the city budget, he has claimed, is available for public viewing on the internet.

Well, maybe.

The city budget is available — to a degree — on the internet. But, as for information on the amount of revenue brought in by the Taxi TV  — there is none. The subject is not covered. As for information on the agencies or entities that get the money : none.

So much for “transparency.”

 

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Hold The Presses!

Yesterday I posted an appraisal of the new fare increase — about which I was enthusiastic, citing especially the role of TLC Chairperson David Yassky as something to be happy about. Another day, however, and doubts creep in. Currently held up by a judge’s temporary restraining order is a plan advanced by the State of New York and supported by the mayor and the TLC calling for an additional 2,000 cabs to be put on the streets in future months. The TLC is confident the delay isn’t final, and the cabs will eventually be cleared for service.

My question : if that happens, then what happens to the fare “increase”?

There are already about 14,000 cabs on the road. Adding 2,000 more equates to an increase in the total fleet of about 15%, and, consequently, a like increase to the competition the average driver faces. So, if the average driver stands to see his business fall off by 15% due to increased competition (a likely development), then what happens to the fare increase? It seems to rapidly shrink to 2%, doesn’t it?

Is this just another cosmetic deception, like many others from the Commission?

Well, we shall see what happens — whether the new cab initiative goes through, and what the results will actually turn out to be. Only time will tell. But : at this point, doubts about the fare “increase” are not to be rejected out of hand. Things have not played out thoroughly, the truth will come only when the fare is in place, and the fate of the increased cab plan is known and its effects experienced.

Just when everything seemed so rosy …

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