Car2Go Needs to Do Better

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Hi,

I just took a trip from my house to a client’s where I am dogsitting. I have no income other than the odd dogsitting job and try to drive rarely as I can’t really afford it, but since it’s a quasi-holiday with reduced transit service, I thought Car2Go would get me there sooner, enough to justify paying a few dollars more than my regular $2.25 transit fare. I was wrong.

I found a car parked near me and reserved it, but your smartphone app gave me no warning that the car had improperly been left with only 1 gallon of gas left in the tank. I was already on my way and stopped at a red light when I realized that not only was just 1 of 8 bars lit on the fuel gauge, but the gas pump icon was actually blinking and telling me only 0.8 gallons remained. As I rarely drive and rarely make the trip I did, I don’t know where the gas stations are. Siri was no help. Nor was your phone number. I went to one station where I was told they didn’t accept your credit card. But nowhere in the car or smartphone app is there any guidance as to what gas stations accept your card, or how to find one along your route. So I wasted several minutes of time–paying by the minute–for nothing. Because a previous user failed to leave the car with enough gas. And you seem to have no way of enforcing this rule except when the next user, like me, makes a complaint.

When I found another gas station that did accept your credit card (this time I was smart and told the car I was ending my trip, so as not to pay for time fueling it), I was already pumping 87 octane gas before I noticed a little sticker inside the gas tank cover saying the car requires a minimum octane of 91. I just stopped pumping gas and left, since I’d put several gallons in. If this is important to you, you might want to find a way to let drivers know clearly in advance of pumping gas. Perhaps a gas octane icon reading “91+”.

The navigation system in your cars is weak. It only accepts addresses in a peculiar entry order, but it doesn’t tell you that or give you any guidance. And, like PIN entry, it takes so long that you can’t tell if it registered a character (it doesn’t acknowledge any until I enter my whole PIN), so you enter it again and end up having to start over. It always says the address entry is unavailable when you start, and then it takes forever to devise a route once you finally (if ever) manage to enter a destination address (and who reads an address as “Main Street 123” instead of “123 Main Street”??). You can’t reorient the map or zoom in or out with it. (Hint #1: it would be helpful if the map showed gas stations that accept your fuel card) And even then, it talks at you in a voice that’s too quiet to hear, even with the radio off. Utterly useless.

I’ve noticed recently that some of your cars haven’t changed their clocks from Daylight Savings back to Standard time. How is this not done automatically like computers and cell phones? Clearly your cars are already communicating back and forth to a server. When you have the presence of mind to remember that the car’s clock is an hour fast, you need only subtract an hour. But when you’re dealing with all the anxieties and frustrations that come with occasional car driving, it’s easy to forget that the clock is wrong and get confused or stressed out thinking you’re an hour late. Come on, this is stupid. Fix it.

Finally, your home zone (PDF) is not only too small; it makes no discernable sense. Neither your northern or southern borders in Seattle manage to go straight across our narrow city. You have a remote island of acceptable parking at the Fauntleroy ferry terminal–why? Your zone doesn’t seem to follow any kind of familiar boundaries like neighborhoods, zip codes, transit routes, city or political district boundaries, or anything else I can think of. Parts of it don’t even follow any streets! Seward Park would be a high-demand destination, but your zone stops just outside there. It adds complication and confusion when you draw what seem like arbitrary lines that delimit where we can and can’t park a Car2Go. Why can’t you make lines that are at least clearer–as rectangular as possible, and contiguous–if not simply follow the City of Seattle’s borders? We already know those because they’re fairly simple and also mark one- vs. two-zone fares for Metro Transit (and Sound Transit express buses until recently). If I don’t zoom in *quite* enough in the map on your app, my destination looks like it’s safe to park in when it’s actually 1-2 blocks outside–which I only find out when I park and get a message from your strangely accented robot voice telling me I’m outside the home zone and can’t park there. But it doesn’t tell me how far or in which direction, so I have to check my phone again. (Hint #2: It would be helpful if your navigation maps in the car marked the home zone)

In the end, I paid $13.50 for a trip that took me just as much time as a transit trip. Except I could’ve saved $11.25 had I taken transit (just enough for 5 more transit trips), as well as a lot of stress and frustration. And instead of focusing on driving unfamiliar streets in dark, wet conditions; I could’ve taken a nap, listened to a podcast, read a book, answered emails, or played on my phone.
You can do better. And you must.

If You’re Poor, Your Time Has No Value

Email I sent to Gov. Inslee and my state legislators:

45 minute expected hold time (it ended up being a 52 minute call) to update my address with DSHS for Medicaid & SNAP. After I just gave it to my health insurance company. Assurance Wireless only gives you 250 peak minutes per month. When you’re poor, the “social safety net” treats your time as worthless.

You NEED to raise revenue (income tax, MVET, highway tolls, estate tax, capital gains tax, luxury tax) and properly fund agencies like DSHS. Or better yet, abolish all these wasteful, bureaucratic, inefficient, classist, demeaning means-tested programs and replace them with a guaranteed basic income for all. It’d be more efficient, more effective, and actually reduce or eliminate poverty. Plus it would have broad political support like Social Security if you made it universal. Put a 3-year residency requirement on it to prevent lots of people from moving to WA just to get it.

Why was voter turnout so low this election? As they do abroad, people are boycotting elections that force them to choose between two bad choices, that aren’t truly free and fair. They know their voice doesn’t matter when corporations are people, and big money is the determining factor–studies (Demos et al) find that politicians overwhelmingly do what the richest 1-20% want, and the bottom 80% is powerless. Princeton said we’re not a democracy earlier this year–so why bother? Our political and economic system isn’t working for most Washingtonians. Give them a reason to vote–make the system work for them–and they will.

WA Redistricting Protects Incumbents

Joel Connolly, as usual, doesn’t quite get all the political science. And makes more factual errors than usual (1994 was not a Democratic year, and Adam Smith’s district (PDF) doesn’t include Snohomish County).

But this is what I started writing about a few months back on Facebook. It’s the difference between bipartisan and nonpartisan. Overall, WA has a much better redistricting system than most states. But the fact that it’s bipartisan lends itself to incumbent protection which is bad for democracy. We should amend it to be a nonpartisan system, including people other than Democrats and Republicans, so it won’t be predisposed to protecting incumbents.

Sick, but Disability Won’t Wait

I’ve been feeling dizzy for a few hours, though very gradually less so. Suddenly I feel really manic (wth?) and tired. It’s disorienting not to know what your body is doing or why.

I got two packets of SSDI paperwork in the mail that are due Thursday. I knew immediately that with packing and moving and sleeping a lot, that wouldn’t be enough time. I was too out of it to call yesterday. Today they’re closed for the holiday. Tomorrow they’re only open 8-12. Argh. You really need robust support to even apply for disability, but I don’t know of any available.

1 Hour Meeting with Councilwoman Bagshaw

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Wednesday evening, I met 1-1 with Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw. She’d invited me to meet with her via Facebook after seeing something I wrote (probably when I said she’s an airhead and pawn of the local business establishment). We talked for about an hour, which is more time than I’ve ever gotten with a local lawmaker. She seemed interested in listening to me and getting my ideas and suggestions. Not knowing where to start, I explained my interest in affordable housing and homelessness. She jumped off on that point and seems very interested (which really surprises me) in mandatory inclusionary zoning (fancy name for a policy where the city requires new apartment buildings to reserve some units for low-income people). She asked if I’d help her push for it, which I’m very enthusiastic about. I did not pull punches or sugarcoat on the dearth of courage from Seattle lawmakers or the economic corruption of the political system, and some of my initial thoughts on why the election went as it did. I don’t think she totally gets it. I still think she’s a bit simplistic in how she views some things. She doesn’t see the need for more political parties, following some of the tribal Democratic Party line (let’s just bring people together and get things done, the Republicans have just blocked Obama, who seems not to be held responsible) though she does see that the government, state and federal at least, has shown itself unable or unwilling to address our problems. It sounds like education, transportation, and mental health are her top priorities at least in Olympia. I also, after being warned that she likes to hear herself speak, made sure to assert myself. But I was civil and well-behaved. I came back to the need for public financing a couple times and raised the idea of a guaranteed basic income, which she seemed to like but find impractical at the city level. I also explained my own poverty, unemployment, and health challenges. At some point she said I’m needed to fix things in the U.S. and suggested or asked if I’d considered running for office. I explained I can’t raise money and don’t have the personality for it–I’m a policy person rather than a campaigner (think Obama; not Bill Clinton). I didn’t think to ask her to hire me. She’s no Socialist Alternative bombthrower, but she said plenty of things that seem basically like democratic socialism to me. (That’s a compliment)

Overall it was a very good experience. It’s nice to be called in to offer your ideas and be listened to (I feel ignored or excluded so much anymore), especially by someone with the power to act on it. Time will tell if there’s really hope for mandatory inclusionary zoning in Seattle. Bagshaw did agree that incentive zoning (tax breaks Seattle offers to developers to produce affordable housing–which has produced just 714 affordable units in a decade or so) is a joke.

Post-Election Musings

Some general and random election thoughts–

Four of the last five federal elections (2006, 2008, 2010, and 2014) have been wave elections, when one party makes major gains at the other’s expense. This is unusual historically. Before 2006, the last wave election was 1994. Before that, it was 1982. 1980 and 1974 were also waves. But two of the recent four were Democratic, and two were Republican. The nation isn’t moving steadily in one direction, nor is it responding to single clear events like Watergate; it’s moving back and forth between two parties it doesn’t like. We’re sort of playing hot potato. This has to be understood as a broad and deep dissatisfaction with the status quo (which, let’s be honest, hasn’t really changed much through all these recent elections). It’s as if voters are finally throwing the bums out every cycle, and we’re seeing the predictable result of low seniority and high churn.

But separate from candidate elections, issue contests seem to be going in a progressive, libertarian, or populist direction. Even yesterday; voters raised minimum wages, legalized marijuana, imposed gun restrictions, mandated paid sick leave, and steered clear of abortion and marriage equality.

At the same time, voter turnout fell between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, was very low in 2010, and I suspect may have been even lower in 2014 (41% in WA is shocking to me). Part of this could be the effects of strict “voter ID” laws. But it may also signal a different phenomenon. Like so many things, you can have too much voter turnout, or too little. When it exceeds 90% or 95%, it tends to signify major problems (e.g. fraud or authoritarian “elections”). Likewise, consider how in many other nations; candidates, parties, or other groups often boycott elections in protest because they find them rigged or unfair. Maybe this is what many Americans are doing. They’re fed up with having to choose between two bad options. They see the government is incapable of addressing our most pressing problems, like gun violence, climate change, or mass poverty. They know that if corporations are people and money is speech, their status as humans without money makes their voices irrelevant–the system has gone through the looking glass and is just too absurd to participate in anymore. Low turnout favors elitists and corporate power, who then make the system worse and more absurd, and it spirals out of control. Maybe people want some populist and democratic solutions they aren’t seeing.

I obviously can’t be sure I’m analyzing this correctly or considering all the necessary factors. I’m eager to mull it over with you. I do strongly recommend reading David Sirota and Chris Hedges.

*If 2016 brings a Republican president with a Republican Senate, will the people who supported filibuster reform come to regret it? Imagine replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg with another Alito.

*Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is up for election in 2016, when he’ll be 76. He was first elected to the Senate in 1986. He says he’ll run again, but politicians often change their minds about that. In addition, for all his faults, Mitch McConnell has proven he’s a talented legislator. He’s assembled several major compromises that passed Congress and became law. With Reid presiding over yesterday’s loss of the majority (in fairness, he also presided over the reverse in 2006), will he also be proven an inferior legislator to McConnell? Will the combination of the two lead Democrats to pressure him to retire? That would presumably lead Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer to compete to succeed him as Democratic Senate leader.

*In WA, there’s much attention on the state Senate. Hardly any on the House. Top notch state government reporter Austin Jenkins raised the prospect this morning that Dems may lose enough seats to bring back the 49-49 tied House (Co-Speaker Dan Kristiansen?). That’s unlikely, but their majority will definitely be smaller. That could give a few rogue progressives the leverage to force the House leftward. Or it could lead House Republicans to follow their Senate colleagues by persuading a few conservative Dems to join them and form a bicameral Majority Coalition Caucus.

Bicameral Legislatures Make No Sense

Bicameral legislatures are inefficient, duplicative, confusing, and outdated. What’s the point of having upper and lower houses controlled by different parties, thwarting and needlessly delaying each other’s work? There’s no justification for them since, unlike Congress, they’re all based on population. It’s not as if state Senates give each county a vote–at least since the Supreme Court’s 1964 Reynolds v. Sims decision. Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, as do all our city and county governments–including New York City which has over 8 million people. It’s lucky that Washington state uses one set of districts for both houses of its legislature because this makes it easy to convert. Keep the same 49 districts (PDF) we have now, but let them each elect one, two, or three members to a unicameral legislature. No more remembering who’s your senator or representative; they’re all equal state legislators. And to make it simpler, get rid of “Position 1” and “Position 2”, etc. If you go with a 98-seat legislature, just put all the candidates in each district on a single list, let voters pick two, and the two highest vote-getters win.

Even better, we have an easy way to give minor parties a voice and make people’s votes count regardless of where they live in the state. Americans dislike both major parties and want more choices. Easy! Keep the 147-member legislature. Make it unicameral. Keep our current 49 districts. Let each one send two legislators to Olympia. But then, let people cast a third vote–not for a candidate–but for a PARTY. Any party that wants to run candidates can field a ranked list of up to 49 of them. Each party gets its share of these 49 party seats based on its share of the STATEWIDE party vote. Parties need at least 1/49th (2%) of that vote to earn a seat. Suddenly, your vote for a Green, Libertarian, Socialist, or Constitutionalist really matters. It counts. It’s worth something. You’re not “throwing your vote away”. Same for Republicans in Seattle and Democrats in Wenatchee. The Democrats and Republicans have a slightly looser grip on all power. They have to listen to and even negotiate with representatives from different points of view. There’s a real reason for minor parties to run some candidates, and for people to vote for them.

The two-party legislature isn’t likely to make this reform. It would take a constitutional amendment (ok, this is harder than I realized, but we should still do it). But I think people would vote for it, because they WANT more simplicity and more choices. And a chance to weaken the two-party duopoly and hold the corporate parties accountable. The campaign for it should be called People for More Choices. Let’s do it.