The problem with taxis

An Atlantic article on cab-alternative Uber focuses on Washington, DC, but a lot of it sounds familiar:

Almost all the everyday complaints about cabs trace back to this regulatory cocktail. Drivers won’t take you to the outer reaches of your metropolitan area? The regulated fares won’t let them charge you more to recover the cost of dead-heading back without a return customer. Cabs are poorly maintained? Blame restricted competition, and the inability to charge for better quality. Cabbies drive like maniacs? With high fixed costs for cars and gas, and no way to increase their earnings except by finding another fare, is it any wonder that they try to get from place to place as fast as possible?



Free tagging: 


Freedom isn't free

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A car is always available (because at peak times, such as New Year’s Eve, the company raises prices until supply matches demand).

Now isn't that special?

Fortunately Uber has no such restrictions, as it is occupying a gray, non-regulated area presently, in which it does not follow either taxicab or limo rules.

Fortunate for whom?

We need a T&LC

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Fortunate for whom, indeed.

But it's not so much price regulation that concerns me. I want better safety regulation for both vehicles and their drivers.

One of the differences with the analysis for Washington is that it appears to take into account some "rules" for limos that they apparently have there.

There are essentially no rules for limos here. With a couple of exceptions concerning the use of Massport facilities and the turnpike (the later of which may have evaporated with the folding of the Turnpike Authority in to DOT), pretty much all you have to do to operate a limo is go to your town clerk's office and get a license for a nominal fee (and in most places, that's it). No background checks or vehicle inspections as for taxis at least in Boston (which checks and inspections are sometimes not that thorough anyway).

No one has ever been able to give me a decent reasoned explanation for this disparate treatment. Taking just the example of background checking - does a limo driver somehow have less of an opportunity to simply drive off with someone and attack him/her than a cab driver? The answer is no, yet only taxi drivers (in Boston) are background checked. I can't speak for the other towns, which might not even have the checks for taxi drivers.

Even though many people recognize the need for a regional entity resembling NYC's (admittedly single municipality - but it covers a much larger area and many more consumers) taxi and limousine commission, we won't get it because the cities and towns would object to losing the meager revenue they gain through their own licensing procedures.

I admit..

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While there does need to be a little more oversight in the livery business in Boston, the NYC model is fatally flawed. Say you buy a new Town Car in NYC, it can take up to three months to get permitted by TLC, as they are overworked and woefully understaffed.

So you blow 46k on a car that loses money for the first 3 months you own it? The big companies can absorb that easily, but the single operator gets screwed.

Like in Boston

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Because of the medallion system, there's very few, if any, single owner / operators in NYC.

This sub-thread is about

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This sub-thread is about limos/car services, which don't have medallions.

You have to call a limo,

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You have to call a limo, while you can hail a taxi on the street. So it makes sense to have (somewhat) less regulation for limos -- you can do your research ahead of time.

And sometimes, after spending

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And sometimes, after spending 20 minutes wistfully waving two fingers in the air while the traffic hurtles past, you have to give up and trudge to the train.

Stories about cars where the author feels the need to put down public transportation in the first graf make me write angry letters to the author and editor and magazine publisher.

you need

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A hobby.

Not everyone likes nor does everyone have access to public transportation. Did you ever stop to consider that perhaps the train woukd add time to their already tight schedule?

There was no 'put down' of public transportation. Just because you confuse your ideals with what was actually printed there is no need to write angry letters.

Now go back to being a crumudgeon.

No, there was

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This is Megan McArdle we're talking of. The snub was intentional.

Megan McArdle!

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Every time I see that name I think of my ex-girlfriend, Meghan McArdle! Gah!!!

Megan McArdle is a hack

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I'm sorry to see you driving traffic to her, as I gave up clicking any of her links long ago. She espouses opinion and regurgitated talking points as facts, and never does any hard lifting or thinking. 9 times out of 10, she just makes shit up. Shes a pundit in a thinkers job compared to her peers.

She's the weakest editorial voice at The Atlantic.

If you're looking for smart, rational thought on taxis and other transportation and infrastructure policy issues, Matthew Yglesias over at Slate is a much better read who actually does his homework.

The truth...

A Boston Cab driver must gross in the neighborhood of $120 plus the cost of fuel in a 12 hour shift before they make a penny for themselves. This is why so many drivers are tempted to drive poorly and overcharge. I am not saying it is proper that they are tempted. I merely state the truth.

People in the Boston area often confuse the taxis licensed by their local cities and towns for actual Boston Cabs. Every city and town in the Commonwealth is entitled to make and enforce their own regulations regarding their licensed taxis. Some municipalities like Boston are very strict. All cars placed into service must be brand new factory white vehicles with under 200 miles. The vehicles may only stay in service for 6 years past the model year and are inspected in out and now under twice a year on top of the yearly state inspection. If you see a Boston Cab with body damage chances are it happened within the prior 72 hours and you can be assured that a special kind of dickbag cop will find him soon and take the vehicle out of service.

Now look at Brookline or Somerville taxis. Not enough is done (in my expert opinion) by these cities and towns to ensure safety of passengers. If the vehicles are maintained as poorly as they look...its a wonder they make any money at all.

Other cities and towns have seen the light on this. I just left the Revere police station 27 minutes ago having had my Revere cabs inspected. All of mine passed the extensive safety inspection. The car just ahead of my first one was failed for an emergency brake the mechanic felt was not strong enough. The owner was complaining loudly that he had just passed the state inspection this week. He was told "you shouldn't have the cab is off the road until it is fixed". As my last taxi left this man was returning to the back of the line having gone straight to a mechanic to have it repaired.

If you want to know why taxi service is bad just read the rule book in whatever town the cab is licensed in and then think about what you would need to make money under those rules. You will have your answer.