The warm yellow glow of a taxi cab sign look welcoming but rarely is.

A failing public service

Taxi Cab are drivers for hire. But an opening market can lead to saturation which is why Taxi Commission were introduced in cities to limit the number of cabs in a market place.

In some Northern Communities people don’t own cars and taxi’s are a flat fare from A – B. The community is only so big.

But in the major centres people are getting rid of their cars in droves relying on bikes, car sharing services like car2go and modo and mass transit.

No one wants to be driving with Louie from TAXI
No one wants to be driving with Louie from the show TAXI.

But when you need to get from Akward point A to Akward point B or you have a suitcase or two the good old taxi cab is one of very few options other than walking. In my opinion Taxis are a public service as they are the only one who can provide this specialized service. Unlike web development I can’t just one day start working for myself as a cab driver.

A tale of two cities

I have two stories… one about Vancouver area and one in Seattle, about how the taxi industry is fail us and how technology can improving a failing public service.

Vancouver proper and the Greater Vancouver area is different. Every community in the Vancouver area is served by a different cab company. Depending on the municipality you could be dealing with 15 different cab companies all of which are a little different.

Outside Vancouver’s city core they mostly hang around the malls and skyTrain stations.

A number of times I have had the “pleasure” of taking Bonnie’s taxi a total of five minutes from a SkyTrain station to my brother’s house. It is usually late at night. I usually  just missed the bus and I have a bunch of bags.

Gone are the days when a cabbie actually knew where you were going. He hits the meter and then starts typing the address into his GPS. Yes your paying for him to look up the address you just gave him… No mater the address if five minutes away in his “local” area. No matter he drives in this area of the city for a living. He doesn’t know where he is going. On the rare occasion (one in five btw) I actually get a taxi that knows the local neighborhood they rarely WANT to accept credit or debit cards. My reply “If you don’t want to accept it why is it on the side of your car”

For this five-minute ride I’m charged nine dollars and suppose to tip the driver.

This is not what I call a good customer experience.

Yet they can get away with this as they are the only game in the town of Burnaby… Can you say Monopoly? Yet you ask a cab company if they are usually busy and they will say no. I will be dammed to give them any more when only absolutely required because I don’t like the service and in fact I have had better in the middle of Colombia.

~

In Seattle the old style taxi is still around but they seem to have embraced change more than then there Canadian counter part.

I was in West Seattle on the corner of Fauntleroy Way and California Avenue in West Seattle. If your not familiar with the area, these are two main streets in West Seattle that cross only once. Fairly well-known streets. I had picked up dinner at the local grocery store and just wanted a cab to my relatives house some five minutes away.

I decided to go to Starbucks on the corner to call me a cab. They got me the number to Yellow Cab. The first time I called I was on hold for 15 minutes and then cut off. 2nd time I called I got through and gave them the cross streets. The Starbucks on the Fauntleroy Way and California Avenue in West Seattle. The Response

I don’t know those streets and you could be at any Starbucks in the city call back with a street address… click…

I got the real street address from the Starbucks and called Yellow Cab back. They asked where I was going. So I called back with the exact address. They didn’t know where I was going. I told them it was about five – ten blocks away. Fifteen minutes I was told…

Half an hour later I called back yup still waiting. They will be there shortly… Forty minutes go by and I call again… He is on his way…

Just shy of an hour from the first time I called the cab finally arrives. He takes me to my destination. The driveway starts out dark and narrow but fits any normal size car.

Driver: Is this a dead-end?
Me: No it’s a driveway what does your GPS say.

Driver: Can I just drop you off here.
Me: No, I promise you there is a turn around I am paying for you to drive me to the house.

Driver: Do you have cash?
Me: No Dispatch said you accept Visa.

Driver: But do you have cash?
Me: You get Visa or get nothing your choice.

Driver: alright…

Time it took to get the cab explain he wasn’t driving into a wilderness (we haven’t left West Seattle), get him to accept the credit card etc… I was completely frustrated. The only reason I took the cab was the two travel bags and three bags of shopping or else I could have walked faster. Also I had been up for 16 hours by this point. I just wanted to get home.

There has to be a better system regardless of the company.

“Transportation Network Companies” or on demand style cab companies.

You call the service with a savvy phone app. Your given an estimated wait time and when a driver has accepted your job. You can see where the driver is and watch him drive up to you.

Your taken to your exact destination via GPS and then your credit card is charged… The App works pretty flawlessly and so is the transportation. Pretty Stress Free actually and there is no debate on payment, no pressure on a tip…

And that’s what people want. They couldn’t care if the service was called Uber, Smoober… Bonnie’s Taxi for all the name matters. If Bonnie’s Taxi in Burnaby operated via Uber’s smart savvy iPhone app? Would it reduce the absolutely horrible rating they have online?

I have been afraid to mention Uber directly as the company hasn’t been without its controversy.

While I have used the company and quite enjoyed the trips I have taken. It’s not them that I truly love about the transportation. It’s their savvy savvy app.

But what I wanted to point out is that the digital hiring and payment model that Uber (and others) use works quite well from a users perspective and it’s why hundreds of thousands of people want a similar service.

While I was doing some research for the blog post. I heard about Taxi Magic and will give that a try next time I am in need of cab. I’ll post here a how well it works.

Analogy for a good foundation to web design

Always start with a good foundation

Although I went to school for web design I basically taught myself HTML and CSS. I am generally an organized person, so I always kept my CSS neat and organized. So if someone had to pick up where you left of they code without a huge amount of trouble.

Since joining the Vancouver WordPress Community I met Christine Rondeau who instilled in me just how standards are so important. I have been using her blank themes for WordPress development for a number of years now. I’ve also collaboration with Christine on a responsive blank theme For WordPress development.

Another Vancouver WordPress developer Joey Kudish had done the same for Christine’s blank themes and pickup up a lot of good habits from those two and many others.

This past month I had two examples of how important this truly is!

One site was small but needed to be professional and only had a three week timeline from start to finish. I took Christine’s Bold Headline theme from the WordPress Theme Directory, Changed the font, moved a few things around, added my own footer and a couple other style flourishes. The client love it, deadlines were met everyone was happy. But it all started with Christine’s Bold Headline (which originally started off as a Underscores default theme).

Christine had a good foundation with Underscores and made Bold Headline
I had a good foundation with Bold Headline and made my clients deadline.

The second example was less so.

It was a theme that was purchased from a theme house and I was contracted out to make a number of similar changes to this theme. A font change here, a new footer there and a couple other style flourishes to give the theme it’s own feel.

(Don’t judge a book by it’s cover some theme houses have great code and awesome developers working for them.)

After checking the support forums of the theme developer he didn’t provide any support if a single line of code was changed to his theme. If it wasn’t in the customizer. Don’t try it and if you do I can’t help you with it. Also it was said this theme could be used with the current version of WordPress btw.

I now know why he provides no support to making even slight changes to the theme. The theme’s is a mess of hacked code with no rhyme or reason why it was done.  Italics tags with the italics removed, anchor tags with both absolute and relative positions to them (you should never apply a position to a anchor tag anyway) … I could go on but it makes me cringe and nothing was commented…

Now I am not without my abilities and I was able to modify the existing theme to suit the clients purposes and they are happy with there site.

But both themes have left me with two very different feelings on completion.

The first theme I’d gladly work on again. I can adapt change to the clients needs and anyone with WordPress, HTML and CSS knowledge could work on this. They need some plugin that changes the functionality of the site. Shouldn’t be a problem.

The second theme: I never want to see again… Not because the work I did was of poor quality, or I am ashamed of what I did. But because any small amount of code change could completely break the theme. Just to change a icon took over an hour and for no good reason. Who know what will happen if or more likely when you want to add something to the site.

Coincidentally both projects came out to similar prices.

So the moral of this story is to always start with a good foundation or else you’ll be living with a website that feels like this:

House on stilts
Just keep to the right hand side of the house and you’ll do fine…

 

One of our long-standing family traditions from our Scottish side. Is the coal at New Year’s Eve. Commonly known as the  First-foot.

In our family home we run outside on to the porch with a bunch of noise makers and the enter the house via the other porch door in the new year.

Over the years we have all done it. One year we made the family dog Toby do it tying the coal to a bag to his collar and the calling him from the other door.

We haven’t done the tradition in years but my nephews were up this year and my youngest nephew Oxford wanted to do it with me.

It was kinda a fun to rekindle an old tradition I haven’t done in over a decade.

Giving the Gift of Kiva

The Kiva Logo
Helping out the poor $25 dollars a time.

I was introduced to Kiva by Christine Rondeau. She tweeted out a link to Kiva micro loans some years ago and peaked my interest.

Since I visited Colombia some years back and I really like Colombian Coffee I decided to help Elkin a Colombia Coffee.

It was all payed back months before it was due. I was happy to help and went on to re-invest in a phone accessories store and a smaller grocery store.

Other friends Flynn O’Connor and Jeremy Felt got into the game and donated to Ibrahim and his beer and stout business.  Two craft beer affectionados helping out another worlds away.

On Mothers Day I though of giving the gift of Kiva but getting my parents involved was a little harder then I originally though.

They are generous people who regularly donate to charities and such. But the concept of micro-finance, crowd funding and field parters was all quite new and they didn’t understand if it was a donation or a loan.

So we put it off for a couple months and while we were out for dinner one night I explain what micro finance was and how this was empowering people who couldn’t even the smallest of loans for there business. How they weren’t taking on the entire loan but a portion and how they were payed back and then they could loan it out again.

Lastly I tried to explain field partners to them. This was actually quite difficult because my folks though we were actually donating to Kiva.

They were still somewhat unclear how the whole processed worked mainly the loan part and they repayment terms…  But one thing my stubborn mother taught me well was be determined and don’t give up… Well I didn’t…

On Christmas Eve of 2013 I saw my dad on a charity website asking him to donate. I asked why he didn’t try a kiva loan.

Antonieta and her store. photo credit:  Kiva
Antonieta and her store. photo credit: Kiva

We sat down and I showed him my profile and then I showed him how you could pick someone, anyone. He suggested we find someone in the Philippines. We decided on Antonieta and her little store.

My father also made a second loan to Victor a chicken farmer from Peru.

I was so happy that they finally understood the process and decided to give it a try.

My mother who was the most skeptical of the enter process said.

“I wish them the best of luck in there business venture, but if we don’t get the money back will consider it a donation” I was glad to see such a turn around from her as well.

I also decided to give my brothers wife Michelle a Kiva Gift Card and she though it that was one of the most thoughtful gifts and can’t wait to pick who she can help out.

Post Script: I have asked Kiva about the interest rate that there field parents apply to the loans as I hear they can be quite high. Will keep you posted on my correspondence.

Andy Clark shoots The Patricia Theatre

Photographer friend Andy Clark of Reuters News Pictures visited the Patricia Theatre after I told him about my recent visit and he shot this amazing photo story.

He also wrote about his time in Powell River on the Reuters Photographers Blog.

Truly amazing what happens when you scratch the surface and look at the history of a community. I was just happy to help get this little gem of a theatre some much deserved recognition and hope it has many more years of opening nights and afternoon matinees.

Cheers Andy!