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Monday, March 10, 2014

Now’s the Time to Officially File All of Your Cab Complaints

Posted by on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 4:42 PM

If you've ever complained about a cab ride to a friend but never complained to the city, you're doing it wrong. Did you even know you could do that—complain straight to the city? You can. There's a hotline that's inside of cabs and on your cab ride receipt (it's 206-296-TAXI). It’s much better than just complaining to your friends or to the internet.

City council is about to vote on a proposal that attempts to level the playing field between innovative newcomers like UberX and Lyft and traditional cab companies. There was going to be a vote today rein in the previously unregulated newcomers (by capping the number of vehicles on the road), but that vote has been put off for another week. This just so happens to give consumers who have have had issues with cab companies an extra week to get involved and file complaints with the city, which they should absolutely be doing.

This whole conversation isn’t just about the dearth of available ways to get home from the bar—though that is a fair issue. There's also that thing about how the quality of service offered by traditional cab companies is, by many accounts, really, really lacking. And that isn't going to get solved if the cab drivers, companies, and consumer-protection organizations don't know about it.

I was reminded of this by a Reddit thread yesterday, in which a user from Seattle complained about a bad experience he’d had with Yellow Cab, and the company’s seeming unwillingness to hear his grievance. The thread now has close to 300 comments, many of which are similar stories from users who have experienced at best a level of unprofessionalism; others allege unsafe and potentially illegal business practices. This old KOMO story from 2005 details women who said they had been sexually harassed by cab drivers.

However, few people actually take the time to complain—officially—to the City’s Office of Finance and Administrative Services about infractions by cabs and for-hire vehicles. Craig Leisy, the manager of the consumer affairs unit for the city, says that for the number of cab rides (over five million per year), there are relatively few complaints from the hotline and website. "From the hotline, we get about 450-500 complaints per year," Leisy told me, adding, "I'm sure that people have more complaints than get called in."

Among the concerns consumers are encouraged to report, the city lists refusal of service, overcharging, and refusal to pick someone up. The complaints then go to the specific cab company, which is charged with handling them, either with a refund or—and this is adorable—a written apology.

Leisy says each complaint is examined to ensure that it has merit and is accurate (for example, that the license number and the company of the cab match). Those that are deemed valid are then investigated—which is why it's a good idea to make sure you know exactly what kind of cab you're riding in.

Of course, other services, like UberX, already have that information for you.

Additionally, says Leisy, complaints have historically led to policy change. In the 1990s, the biggest complaints were about the cab drivers' skill sets, including their geographic knowledge and ability to communicate in English. To cut down on those complaints, cab drivers must now pass a language test and go through navigational and geographical training.

In the numerous hearings I’ve attended regarding cabs and TNCs, neither customer service nor safety have been expressly addressed; the focus has largely been on the free-market aspect and how cabs, with their myriad licensing requirements, have a hard time competing. Possibly because there just isn't data—real data, not just shared experiences—about how many poor experiences consumers have.

Going through the hotline or website not only leaves a public record of the complaint, which city councilmembers weighing a decision could have access to; it also seems to be dramatically more effective than, say, calling the company directly. According to that Reddit user above, when he tried to call to complain, they hung up. I called Yellow Cab today to ask how they usually handle these kinds of allegations. They have not gotten back to me.

Leisy says that now, most of the complaints are down to things like wait time, or the fact that on a busy night, you may call a cab and get it dispatched, only to have someone else pile in and ride off in it.

It deserves to be pointed out that these are the kinds of problems that can be corrected not through a reduction of everyone else's service, but rather by innovating and improving the cab companies' level of service.

It may be that instead of/in addition to siding with UberX and a more free market, we may also need to simply demand more from regular cabs.

So, while writing to your city councilmembers is a good thing, and signing petitions is a good thing, if you’re concerned about the state of TNCs and cabs in Seattle, complaining through the city is another good thing, because it might actually make things better for everyone.


Comments (26) RSS

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keshmeshi 1
The complaints then go to the specific cab company, which is charged with handling them, either with a refund or—and this is adorable—a written apology.

What, if any, accountability is there for the individual cab driver who stands accused of breaking the law, in some cases even endangering a passenger's safety?
Posted by keshmeshi on March 10, 2014 at 4:53 PM · Report this
Even the complaint process illustrates why the cabs are losing the competition. I didn't like an uber ride once so I left a comment on the feedback form that displays automatically. Took 10 sec, drunk. Later I got an email from a customer service rep who had issued me a partial refund after reviewing the data from the ride.

Compare that to the Byzantine process described here. It's no wonder they don't get many formal complaints. Nor will they-- it's much easier to say "fuck that" and download the competitor's app.

If the council aren't aware of the widespread complaints, it's because they don't care. "But they didn't use the formal complaint system!" roughly translates to "we don't want to discuss this."
Posted by wxPDX on March 10, 2014 at 5:06 PM · Report this
I ride cabs a handful of times per year, for several decades now in Seattle, and never had any significant problem. Drivers used to complain about taking plastic 20 years ago but not anymore as far as I can tell.
Posted by anon1256 on March 10, 2014 at 5:09 PM · Report this
I've never had an issue with taking a cab in Seattle.
Posted by treehugger on March 10, 2014 at 5:10 PM · Report this
"quality of service"....Hmmm...What is the 'quality of service' provided by a gypsy cab driver, without proper insurance, who is providing services illegally? What happens when that gypsy cab driver is in an accident with you in the car, and his personal vehicle insurance doesn't cover him, or you? And, you find out his company (Uber, Lyft, etc.) won't back him either? What quality of service did you receive? Are you going to sue the gypsy cab driver? Good luck! What does he have to take? He's a schlub, just like you, without much. He's maybe earning a bit more than minimum wage, living in an apartment, and the only thing of value he had was the car he just wrecked with you in it.

At least with a regulated cabbie you can go after the company. They actually carry commercial insurance that will cover you.
Posted by elbowman on March 10, 2014 at 5:12 PM · Report this
merry 6
Whoa, is this ever timely for me!

I just got shafted AGAIN yesterday by Yellow Cab, and I was thinking back over the last two months - no less than THREE major shaftings (by dispatch, not the drivers)... I've called the complaint hotline before and the results were... well, there were no results. Just a lot of "Sorry about that" from the person on the other end of the phone.

It makes me sad, really. I want to do business with them, but their absolutely dismal dispatch "service" makes it tough.. Now, at a time when they've got more competition than they've ever had, and they STILL can't keep from shitting all over their repeat customers??? C'mon, people...
Posted by merry on March 10, 2014 at 5:13 PM · Report this
Every time I hear "innovative" in terms of TNCs, I think of all the hedge fund lobbyists that have earned their gold stars.
Posted by bozbozeman on March 10, 2014 at 5:29 PM · Report this
meanie 8
What a twisted system. Hey whole city, please provide a burden of proof that a protected monopoly thats being undercut by better service is bad, so we can consider allowing you to have other choices.

The blatant pandering to the taxi lobby in all these proceedings would be awful if it wasn't so hilarious.
Posted by meanie on March 10, 2014 at 5:33 PM · Report this
9 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
SPG 10
When the city experimented with cab deregulation it was a disaster. That doesn't mean we can't adjust the rules now, but that there are consequences. Turning a blind eye to unregulated and illegal car shares isn't the right thing either.
Some regulation with some standards on things like insurance would be a good place to start.
The other thing that people forget is that Uber isn't always the good guy here either. I'm not down with paying 2x the going rate with their surcharge periods or having them game the system by cutting down on the number of drivers out on the road. Uber is doing a better customer service job now because they have to. Knock down the cab companies and I'd be surprised if Uber doesn't jack up their rates.
Posted by SPG on March 10, 2014 at 5:44 PM · Report this
Yes, because in 2014 everything is exactly the same as 1980. Trust us. Seriously trust us, the cab will pick will be there by 6am for your ride to Seatac. Trust us. Remember, 1980!
Posted by Destroy the cab companies on March 10, 2014 at 7:10 PM · Report this
"I'm not down with paying 2x the going rate with their surcharge periods"

Then don't.

Call a taxi.

Stick your thumb up your ass and wait.
Posted by Destroy the cab companies on March 10, 2014 at 7:12 PM · Report this
Wait... what sort of insurance do the taxi companies have ? The highly suspect independent contractor cabbie insurance that tries to browbeat claims away to nothing ?…

From the 2005 story:
Independent Contractors

But here's the deal: Drivers are independent contractors, not employees. So, cab companies can only fine drivers or temporarily take them off the streets. They can't fire them. Labor and Industries forbids it unless the company wants to start paying insurance for their drivers. That would mean prices for cab rides would soar.

From publicola's story on council requirements for $1M in insurance for TNCs.…
Additionally, the council is seeking to require all ridesharing companies to provide $1 million in commercial insurance coverage any time a driver is logged in to a ridesharing system, as opposed to when they're actively carrying a customer—a response, in part, to a collision in San Francisco in which an Uber driver struck and killed a 6-year-old girl in a crosswalk while logged on to the company's system.
Posted by ChefJoe on March 10, 2014 at 7:18 PM · Report this
meanie 14
@13 WOAH WOAH WOAH there joe, that looks like editorial substance, we don't play that shit around here.

Lets talk more about the people who own the limited cab medallions are poor immigrants and not investors who pimp out every hour. How deregulation didn't work during the recession in the 80s when the city was a dead husk from the suburban expansions of the 70s. And most importantly why we are talking about density and getting people out of cars, while arbitrarily limiting the options for drunk drivers and alternative transportation.

We should have a cap on the number of busses till they get their numbers up.
Posted by meanie on March 10, 2014 at 7:53 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 15
There are two words for this article: stockholm syndrome.

You know how I deal with it if my neighborhood hardware store gives consistently terrible service? I shop somewhere else. I don't have to file an official complaint and chase it through a city bureaucracy, I just take my business elsewhere. It's simple, it's fast, it doesn't require the city to pay a salary to someone to handle the complaint, and if enough of my neighbors feel similarly about the level of service provided, the store goes out of business and good riddance.

And yet people are surprised, shocked to see that when customers suddenly have the ability to avoid giving their money to people who consistently provided poor service, that they do so.

"But, but, we have a convenient form you could fill out to register your displeasure with the incumbent monopoly!"

"That's great, I'll get right on that" said nobody who valued their time ever.
Posted by Doctor Memory on March 10, 2014 at 8:20 PM · Report this
fletc3her 16
@7 There is a reason why billionaire hedge fund investors are backing these services and it has something to do with them making additional billions.
Posted by fletc3her on March 10, 2014 at 8:20 PM · Report this
Hernandez 17
Speaking anecdotally, it kinda feels like the explosion in cab alternatives has put the cab drivers on notice to up their game. Has anyone else noticed this?

In the cab rides I've taken over the last 6 months, no one has complained about me paying with a credit card, no one has taken the long way to get me where I'm going, and the service has generally been friendlier. That's a significant improvement over the cab service I got in the past.
Posted by Hernandez on March 10, 2014 at 8:42 PM · Report this
So, my sister from California needed to get to Seatac last week. The shuttle driver didn't show up, and when we called, they refused to have someone come by specially. She still had 1.5 hours to get to the airport so we called Yellow Cab. The dispatcher said "Well, we might be able to get someone there in about half hour-45 minutes." We call Farwest Cab; they said exactly the same thing. Service was not refused; we never saw a cab to get a number/name. How are we supposed to complain about that? If either company had sent a cab, the driver probably would have made a good tip, but apparently they didn't care.
Posted by sarah70 on March 10, 2014 at 9:04 PM · Report this
sperifera 19
@5 - gypsy cab driver? Three times in one comment? Racist a little?
Posted by sperifera on March 10, 2014 at 9:56 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 20
@19 unfortunately, that's the actual historical name for that:…
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on March 11, 2014 at 6:30 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 21
Well, one name, today I learned... that was always the name I'd heard associated with them in New York.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on March 11, 2014 at 6:31 AM · Report this
"let's deregulate because it'll be different this time, I swear" [/snark]
Posted by anon1256 on March 11, 2014 at 7:03 AM · Report this
23 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
27 years on Capitol Hill. 20 cab rides a year = about 500 rides... ONE BAD EXPERIENCE... the cab was 8 min late. Guy fell over himself apologizing.

DEREGULATION doesn't look any better to me on hipsters & the youth.

GOOGLE trouble with UBER/LYFT in big cities that have let it muscle out regulated taxis... Congestion pricing & lack of oversight brings its own set of ARGH.
Posted by go bulldogs on March 11, 2014 at 8:38 AM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 25
Last Monnight I needed a cab to take me from Hotel 1000 to Aston Manor. The driver needed directions from his GPS. THEY ARE ON THE SAME STREET DUMBSHIT.
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on March 11, 2014 at 2:45 PM · Report this
Hi, it is totally correct to send taxi complaint to city taxi organization not to a friend. It is good for cab companies to provide good cab service.
Thanks for this post.
Posted by Steve Berry on June 13, 2014 at 8:11 PM · Report this

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