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Blog #3 - "Recent Book - Transportation Network Companies and Taxis: The Case of Seattle"

Our country recently observed the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.  Nearly 3,000 civilians were killed in that attack and we have been at war in Afghanistan since - the longest war ever for the U.S.  I am sure that each of us can recall what we were doing on September 11, 2001 when we first learned of the attack.  I remember that I was standing at a podium in a hotel in Quebec City making a presentation to the annual conference of the International Association of Transportation Regulators (iatr.org) when someone ran into the room and yelled out that the twin towers had been attacked.  We all ran to the nearest television sets to get details.  I had only presented about one-helf of my paper, "Deregulation and Re-regulation of the Taxicab Industry in Seattle: Lessons Learned." Almost 18 years later, the paper was to become the basis of Chapter 4 "Deregulation: Lessons Learned" in my book, Transportation Network Companies and Taxis: The Case of Seattle.   My book was released in hardbound and as an ebook by Routledge in May 2019.

 

At the time of the attack on the twin towers, I was the regulator of the taxicab industry for the City of Seattle.  I also regulated weights and measures (including taximeters) for the city.  In subsequent years, my work unit took on regulation of flat rate vehicles, limousines, transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft) and the towing industry.  I retired in September 2017 and relocated to Colorado where I spent a good part of 2018 researching and writing my book.  The Seattle TImes published an article by Paul Roberts, "As Uber and Lyft Lose Billions Seattle's Taxis Are Hanging On," on September 11, 2019.  The article took notice of my book as follows:

 

Total taxi revenues, after plunging 56 percent between 2012 and 2015 to $43.9 million, crept back up to $52.5 million for 2018, the most recent year for which the city keeps data. 

"By several key measures, the taxicab industry in Seattle appears to have bottomed out and is now slowly recovering," notes Craig Leisy, who until 2017 oversaw regulation of the city's taxi, TNC, limo and towing sectors, in a recent book that uses Seattle as a case study of the TNC-taxi conflict.

 

Thomas Drischler, retired former taxicab regulator for the City of Loas Angeles (1999-2016) and past chairman of the International Association of Transportation Regulators, offered the following review of my book:

 

Based on many years of first-hand experience as a transportation regulator, Craig Leisy has written a comprehensive historic analysis of the Seattle taxicab and vehicle-for-hire industry.  He has thoroughly documented the economic, social, political and logistical factors leading up to the takeover of the market by phone app-based ride-hail companies, particularly Uber and Lyft. The Seattle story in this regard is strikingly similar to the stories of many other cities throughout North America and the world, making this book a compelling read.

 

It appears that my predictions about the future of the TNC industry in Seattle are on target.  Since the Uber and Lyft IPOs, there have been a growing number of articles in newspapers and business journals finding that the TNC industry is not only more unprofitable than ever but that revene trip growth is stalling.  Stockholders who purchased shares in the Uber and Lyft IPOs earlier this year  are concerned and it is reflected in the dramatic decline in the share values since the IPOs: Uber is at $32.54 down from $45.00 at opening day (-28%) and Lyft is at $45.26 down from $72.00 at opening day(-37%).

 

The passage of Assembly Bill 5 in Sacramento, providing that it survives court challenges, will likely turn Uber and Lyft drivers - and possiblt taxicab drivers - into employees instead of independent contractors.  This new law and initiatives in other states and cities (e.g., NYC's minimum TNC driver income) will make it much more difficult for Uber and Lyft to turn a profit.  This problem will be compounded if an expected recession occurs in 2020.  

In my book, I predit the failure of the TNC industry as a vehicle-for-hire service if they persist with the same business model. That is, pursuing rapid growth by engaging in below-cost predatory pricing.  Uber and Lyft set trip rates at about one-half of taximeter rates in order to drive them out of business but that strategy has resulted in billions of dollars in operating losses.

 

There is a growing consensus that Uber and Lyft drivers earn an average of only about $10 per hour before self-employment tax (social security) and federal/state income taxes.  In my book, I show that, in Seattle, TNC and taxicab drivers both earn about $10 hourly - well below the minimum wage ($15). TNC drivers are increasingly protesting their treatment by the TNCs.

 

Up until now, there has been very little written that is critical about how the TNC industry operates.  It is only since the IPOs that more business writers are openly questioning whether the TNC industry can become profitable.  Also, my book is the first, and only, to be written about the competition between taxicabs and TNCs from the perspective of a regulatory insider.   

 

I hope you have the opportunity to read my book and provide me with your comments and criticism.  It includes comprehensive operating data for the taxicab and TNC industries through 2018.  I may consider writing a followup book in 2020 if the TNC industry has to take drastic action to survive and to assess the fallout of the state and local laws intended to provide some employee-like protections to indpendent contractor drivers.  

 

 

 

 

Blog #2 - "Future Writing Projects"

 

I am working on several new writing projects at once.  As you can imagine, it takes a lot of lead time to complete research for a nonfiction book like a history but it also takes time to investigate the background for a fiction work.  Here are some of my writing projects that are far enough along to describe:

 

1.  Essays on Anything and Everything.  This is a collection of 1-page essays on anything and everything as the title proclaims.  For example: "The Date the Earth Was Created: October 23, 4004 BC"; "The Story of Isaac Newton's Apple and Gravity"; "Ancient Greek Calculations of the Distance from the Earth to the Moon."  Topics will include science, literature, philosophy and religion among others.  Each essay is intended to make the reader think about something just because it is interesting.

 

2.  Short Stories: A Memoir in the Third Person. This is a collection of fragments from my life but about other people.  It is not a conventional memoir by any means.  Just as the memories and thoughts in our minds seem fragmentary, this book describes those that my brain considered interesting enough to retain.  I have always thought that our lives are comprised of a bunch of little things and that many of these things turn out to be pretty interesting.

 

3.  Honest Doubter: Bishop John William Colenso v. the Church of England in South Africa.  The term "honest doubt" is drawn from Alfred Tennyson's poem "In Memoriam" which were his reflections on the meaning of life after a very close school friend of his died in an accident at a young age.  Bishop Colenso was excommunicated by the Church of England in South Africa for his writings which were found to be heretical (circa 1860s). For example, he wrote The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined (1862) which argued that the Books of Moses in the Old Testament were allegorical or metaphorical and not historically true.  Colenso was a mathematician and a clergyman so his life embodied the conflict between science and religion in the Victorian Era.  This book will not be a conventional biography but rather will examine Colenso's ideas, where they came from, and why he was willing to risk sacrificing his life's calling as a missionary to the Zulus by publishing them.

 

4.  Enewetak Atoll.  This will be my first novel.  A murder mystery set on Enewetak Island (code named Fred) in Enewetak Atoll located near the equator mid-way between Honolulu and Manila.  The murder occurs in the mid-1970s during the cleanup of radioactive waste from a decade of testing of atomic weapons.  I was stationed there for 12 months during 1974-75 in charge of the 10-man Coast Guard Loran A Station (LOng Range Aid to Natigation) before the 2-year cleanup started.

 

Other writing projects include a followup volume of collected poetry to rain's only wet if you're in it and a revision to my book, The Conflict Between Science and Religion in Ancient Greece.  I am also researching a possible book about my mom and four brothers who all joined the military services during World War II.  I'd like to describe their experiences and how WWII transformed their lives.

 

Well, that's about it for now.  I hope to have the next blog out in a month.  If you have any comments or recommendations  for me please send them and I will reply.  

 

 

Blog #1  "Welcome to My Blog"

 

Thanks a lot for visiting my web site/blog!  I am new at this and I promise that my blog will get better as I gain experience.  The home page introduces me to potential readers and provides a complete list of books that I have written beginning in 2011.  I have written seven so far.  My most recent book was released by Routledge in May 2019 - Transportation Network Companies and Taxis: The Case of Seattle.  It is an economic history of the taxicab and TNC (Uber, Lyft) industries in Seattle with a thorough analysis of the impact of market disruption  by the TNC commencing in 2014. As my biography indicates, I was the regulator of thes industries in Seattle for more than 20 years.  The book includes operating data for both industries through the end of 2018.  

 

A brief survey of the other titles of my books will make it clear that I have a wide range of interests and many of the topics I write about are rarely the subject of books.  That was my intent.  I wanted to write the kind of books that I was interested in reading - and my mind finds nearly everything to be interesting.  None of my books are opinion pieces.  Most are histories and biographies that are meticulously documented with copious annotated footnotes and complete bibliographies.  Of course, the mere selection of a topic for a book necessarily conveys somthing about the author's views.  However, the books include my interpretations based on research and not simply opinions.   Opinions, most often, are not founded on facts but are merely how we feel about something. I trust that you are more than capable of forming your own opinions without my help - and they may be very different than mine.  But that's what makes the world interesting.

 

There are some themes that I sustain a strong interest about and I return to them in books that are otherwise very different.  For example, I am very interested in the conflict between science and religion and I wrote a series of three books on this.  The books themselves address very different religions in different parts of the world and at different times: pagan religion v. science (Greek world, 500-200 BCE), Islam v. science (Persia, c. 1000 CE), and Christianity v. science (U.S., 19th century).  

 

My next book will be a novel.  It is set on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands during the mid-1970s when the U.S. government was beginning a 2-year cleanup of radiation contamination from a decade of testing A-bombs and H-bombs.  There was a contractor performing facilities maintenance on the main island code-named Fred. Also, on that island was a 10-man U.S. Coast Guard Loran A station (an electronic aid to navigation before satellite navigation).  I hope to finish the book by the end of this year.

 

I hope you will try any of my books that seem interesting to you.  I previously lived in Seattle and I know that a few of the titles would be available by interlibrary loan from the King County library system.  The recent hardbound book on taxicabs and the TNC industry may be available by interlibrary loan through your local library.  And, of course, all of my books are available for sale online.  I hope you have as much fun reading them as I did writing them.  I would very much appreciate your feedback on any books that you read and about this web site.  Thanks again!

 

 

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