Taxis

I’ve been pondering taxis all day, since I read about cab drivers protesting proposed legislation that will require them to have newer cars, etc etc. (Yes, the “etc etc” is because I haven’t actually read the bill.)

Then there was the hubbub about Uber.

And then I witnessed a cab change lanes into a car stopped at a red light. (A very nice car, I might add.)

There’s no way to fit my thoughts on taxis into 140 characters, so here we are. A few preliminaries:

1. I believe that government regulation is important and a force for good (at least when done well).

2. I rarely take cabs because I am cheap, but in DC I almost never take cabs because I almost never carry cash. The last time I wanted to take a cab (only about a month ago) I couldn’t because I wasn’t sure if the money in my wallet was enough to get me where I was going. I would have taken a cab if I could have paid by credit card.

3. I took a cab in Boston almost six years ago; I got in the cab, told the driver where I was going, and a block later he let me out because he didn’t know where my destination was. (In his defense, it was one of those street names that there’s one of in every town in Massachusetts, and in Somerville it happened to be sort of hidden.) The next cab I hailed had GPS and he took me right where I needed to be.

4. I’ve never taken Uber.

Now, with those out of the way:

Competition is good. In theory, Uber provides competition to cabs by providing a similar service under a different business model. I have no problem with Uber being regulated, and I certainly have no problem with laws being expanded to permit Uber to operate legally. I don’t know enough about today’s hubbub to address it specifically.

The (a?) problem is that Uber isn’t ubiquitous enough, or tourist-friendly enough, to serve as a real alternative such that a general boycott of cabs would be effective.

The way our taxi laws and regulations are written, the taxi industry is a monopoly. True, cab companies are owned by different people, but a cab is a cab is a cab. There’s no incentive for a cab company to upgrade its fleet or to offer amenities such as taking credit cards because it won’t get them repeat customers.

Cab drivers complain that fares are too low and cabs that aren’t falling apart are too expensive. So why not eliminate some regulations and create incentive for cab companies to compete? They can select their fares and select the amenities they want to provide (GPS, credit card readers, cabs that were built this millenium), make the information public, and let the market sort it out. Maybe people are willing to pay more than they are now for shoddy service…or maybe the cab companies will realize that given a choice, their customers don’t really want to be riding in falling apart cabs that only accept cash.

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