Taxi!

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I’ve had some memorable cab rides in my day. The best was clearly the one with the newly arrived immigrant cab driver.

He came to America from a poor and war-torn country. For the entire ride from the airport to my hotel he told me how much he loved being in America. He proudly showed me the book he was using to study for his citizenship exam.

As we approached the lights of the city, he waved his arm in an expansive arc. “You can do anything here!” he exulted.

The worst ride was from Logan airport to my hotel. The yellow van had single bench seat bolted to the floor. There were no windows. The inside of the van smelled like it had been used for either petroleum storage or as a food truck.

The driver was mad. He drove as fast as the grinding transmission would allow, all the while yelling and waving his fist some imaginary enemy. I did not recognize the language. I was thankful for my robust prayer life. I hoped my life insurance was paid up.

When we got to the hotel I refused to pay the fare and asked the doorman to call the police. My driver spat and suggested that I perform a biologically impossible act. Then he jumped into his cab and sped away. I noticed that the license plate was covered in mud.

Like most cities, Boston has books full of regulations pertaining to taxicabs. Ostensibly they exist to protect riders like you and me. In real life though, things are different.

Boston Globe columnist Edward L. Glaeser said that the regulation has served “mainly to enrich the holders of government-issued taxi medallions, even as taxi drivers struggle to earn a living and passengers pay some of the highest rates in the country.

Now several start-ups are challenging the status quo. Users of services like Uber and Lyft are willing to pay more for reliably clean and prompt transportation. Existing taxi companies and governments are pushing back hard. Fight’s on!

Here are pointers to some articles about the issues and the players.

From Celia Brown: Transportation Wars: Taxicabs Take on Uber to Regain Their Share of Rides
Standing out in the street frantically waving your arm to flag down a taxi. A chatty driver with the radio on far too loud. And perhaps a tear in the vinyl bench seat with the stuffing popping out. Let’s face it — the taxicab customer experience hasn’t changed significantly over the past 30 years. Only recently have taxicab companies been forced to up their game or risk losing their share of rides to disruptive technologies, such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft.”

From Megan McArdle: Why You Can’t Get a Taxi
“What I’m describing is a classic market failure: people who are willing to do business together can’t make it happen. If taxis and passengers only knew how to find each other, and could strike deals that would appeal to both, everyone would be better off. Why can’t we fix this? As it turns out, a small but rapidly growing business is trying.”

From Alexia Tsotsis: For Limo Service Uber, Downtime and Idle Resources Are Fuel for Profits
“Uber, a service that lets anyone summon an executive car with two presses on a smartphone touchscreen. Uber already has fleets in nine cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Paris, with more coming soon. The official Uber slogan—”Everyone’s private driver”—captures much of the service’s appeal: Everything from the black executive-style cars to the simple interface to the cashless transactions (customers’ credit cards are charged, tips and all, behind the scenes) allows passengers to feel like their personal chauffeur has been idling around the corner. In exchange for that experience, Uber users pay an average of 50 to 75 percent more than a normal cab fare.”

From Cass R. Sunstein: Uber Cab App Threatens Death of Taxi Dinosaurs
“With respect to taxis, some states have a system that isn’t altogether different from socialist-style planning. Some longstanding regulations have the purpose and effect of squelching new entrants. And in the face of fresh competition, the industry has been creative and occasionally shameless.”

From Patricia Rossi: Practicing Proper Uber Etiquette
“Startup companies Uber and Lyft are popping up in cities across the US the last few months, offering a game-changing alternative to traditional taxi cab services. In essence, both Uber and Lyft operate like a taxi cab, and standard taxi cab etiquette applies. However, Uber etiquette and Lyft etiquette both present a few important differences, especially in social interaction. If you want to join this growing trend in social ridesharing, you’d be well served to keep these etiquette standards in mind.”

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