Yellow Cab at Seattle-Tacoma Airport: What 10% discount?

(courtesy Puget Sound Dispatch)

Maybe it’s just an extraordinarily well-kept secret in Seattle. Members of AAA–you know, the American Automobile Association–are generally entitled to a 10% discount off the meter for rides with Yellow Cab of Seattle. But some taxi drivers claim the discount doesn’t exist and won’t honor it.

How do I know? I just encountered the brick wall yet again.

One night earlier this week, I flew into Sea-Tac Airport and lugged my luggage and myself to the Yellow Cab stand in the parking garage. The dispatchers who work there (more about them in a minute) directed me to a cab that had just pulled up. The driver loaded my bags. As we pulled out, I asked about the 10% discount.

“What discount?” he asked.

“The one for Triple A,” I said. “I can show you my membership card.”

“No discount,” he said. “No such thing.”

Now this was about the fourth time I had experienced such a recalcitrant driver at the airport since becoming New To Seattle last year. In the past I let it go (even though I sometimes later called the main number for Yellow Cab and was assured the 10% discount was real, valid and applicable to airport pick-ups). The ride between Sea-Tac and my home usually cost about $50, so the value of the discount was only about $5 (or, as they say in Seattle, a fancy drink at Starbucks). Also, four decades ago I was a cab driver myself in the Philadelphia area and I know hacking isn’t the highest paying of callings.

But this time I snapped. Maybe it was the sagging economy. Or the cumulative effort of watching so many lying political ads on TV. Or the Seattle Freeze. Whatever. I was mad as hell and I wasn’t going to take it anymore!

“You’re not going to give me the discount?”

“No.”

“Okay. I’m not going. Take me back to the terminal. I’ll go some other way.”

I think the cabbie thought I was kidding or bluffing–or maybe that I didn’t live in Seattle and thus wouldn’t know my way around. Then he saw the crazed glint in my eyes. He realized I wasn’t kidding or bluffing, or that I did live in Seattle and did know my way around. The driver looped around the airport back to the cab stand. By then, the meter read $7.50, which, of course, I didn’t pay. I got out, collected my bags from his trunk and moved away.

Standing nearby were the Yellow Cab dispatchers whose job it is to facilitate passenger trips out of the airport. I asked two of them if there was a 10% discount. They actually started arguing with each other! One said yes, the other no.

Now this is one thing I did not find especially surprising. In my experience the Yellow Cab dispatching set-up at the airport is a disorganized, poorly trained operation, more a problem than a solution. From their sloppy appearance, surely demeanor and other lack of people skills, some Sea-Tac dispatchers for Yellow Cab seem more like they belong on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle. To put it mildly, the situation does not reflect well on Tay Yoshitani, the highly paid chief executive of parent Port of Seattle, or its elected board, who gave Yellow Cab a monopoly on cab pick-ups at the airport.

But fortunately, not a monopoly on all other forms of transportation, like shared vans. So I simply walked maybe 30 yards and quickly got a ride home via Shuttle Express for $40, tip included.

Don’t tell Yellow Cab of Seattle. It’s a secret.

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