Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


1. Having a smartphone application to get a limo/taxi is not "disrupting the urban transportation space," it's just using a different medium to hail a taxi.

See "Technology to heat up D.C. taxi wars" from the Washington Post.

For insight into the difference between disruption and maximizing marketing channels see Innovation: the Attacker's Advantage as well as work by Clayton Christensen on disruptive innovation and Maxi-Marketing respectively. A smartphone application to call a taxi is just one more channel. In and of itself it isn't diruptive.

Plus, it's not good to promote single occupancy vehicle trips, which is what this does. On the other hand, it could help promote reduced car ownership a teensy bit, by easing people's discomfort concerning whether or not they can get a cab, plus it might be of use in the outer parts of the city, where cab service is harder to obtain, because most of the taxis are clustered in the core of the city.

2. DC is allowing taxi rates to go up. See "D.C. taxi commission okays fare hike" from the Washington Post. From the article:

[the changes] were outlined in a 20-page report issued by the commission. By approving the proposal, the commission effectively opened a 30-day written-comment period that will begin Dec. 23, when the proposal will be published in the D.C. Register. ...

The proposed fare increase “would improve drivers’ revenue while not adversely affecting the riding public,” according to the commission’s report.

A fare increase has been a long-standing wish of the taxi industry, dating to then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s imposition of meters in 2008, leading to what some drivers said was a 30 percent or more drop in income over the old zone system.

I don't understand why the impact of changes in how taxi charges are calculated, from zones to meters, hasn't been studied/research. After all, DC DOT does have some regular funding (from federal sources) for transportation research.

Although, taxis haven't been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, or at least, aren't covered in the Transportation Element of the DC Comprehensiv Plan. The Taxicab Commission is a separate entity.

3. Chicago is also introducing changes to taxi practices and services. See "Rahm Proposes Chicago Taxi Upgrades, Reforms" from NBC5. From the story:

The city of Chicago plans to set new limits on the age of cabs and require new taxis to have no more than 75,000 miles, down from the current 150,000 miles. Emanuel also wants to raise lease rates to incentivize fuel-efficient cars, wheelchair-accessible vehicles and a modernized, updated fleet.

A standardized lease system will restrict add-on charges that companies have incorporated to protect drivers from illegal overcharges, Emanuel said. It's not known whether these changes will translate into fare increases for riders. The proposal goes to City Council on Wednesday.

”These reforms will increase safety and bring Chicago’s taxi fleet into the 21st century by enhancing oversight of drivers, ensuring vehicles are modern and more fuel-efficient, and giving customers a cleaner and safer ride,” said Emanuel in a statement.

The reforms were created after a recent review of the local taxi industry by the city of Chicago that included input from aldermen, taxi companies and independent drivers and owners.

They include mandatory credit card machines and GPS in all cabs, as well as real-time access to Secretary of State's moving violations database to take dangerous drivers off the street.

The city press release has more details.

4. The Chicago initiative was spurred by safety issues and a series of pieces in the Chicago Tribune about the taxi industry and regulation, after an out of control taxi killed a pedestrian.

- Story gallery, "Problem Taxi Drivers," Chicago Tribune

5. It turns out that there are academic studies of the taxi industry for San Francisco (THE SAN FRANCISCO TAXICAB INDUSTRY: AN EQUITY ANALYSIS from the public policy school at the University of California Berkeley), Chicago (Driven Into Poverty: A Comprehensive Study of the Chicago Taxicab Industry from the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations), and Los Angeles (Driving Poor: Taxi Drivers and the Regulation of the Taxi Industry in Los Angeles from UCLA).

The studies tend to focus on equity and income issues concerning the drivers.

6. In looking at another report from San Francisco, 2008 Taxi Industry Report - Recommendation on Rates of Fare and Gate Fees, it seems as if SF has 1/4 the number of taxis as DC, even though SF has 200,000 more residents, and is about 1/3 smaller physically. That's another reason that it's hard for taxi drivers in DC to make much money--lots of cabs, and people who have limited job options (immigrants) are attracted to the industry because there are few barriers to entry, increasingly the supply of taxis beyond what might normally be provided if supply were dictated strictly on the basis of demand.

7. The Taxi Library website is a good source for this kind of information.

8. New York City too is dealing with taxi issues, seeking to offer new licenses (medallions) for outer borough service coverage. See "NYC mayor clashes with governor on $1 billion taxi plan" from Reuters.

The point about Gov. Cuomo's alleged opposition, that all the cabs should have to have wheelchair access, is ridiculous. It more than doubles the cost of a vehicle, for service to fewer than 10% of all users.

The city needs the state's approval (through enabling legislation) to move forward. And what motivates the city more than providing expanded taxi service in the outer boroughs is the one time revenue gain that they'd get from selling the licenses.

9. "Taxi firms are not in the business of carrying passengers. They are in the vehicle leasing business. Firms derive their revenue from leasing vehicles and permits to drivers. They derive no direct financial benefit from carrying more passengers, and compete with each other for permit holders and to a lesser extent drivers, not passengers.”

-- San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association Making Taxi Service Work in San Francisco’ Final Report, November 2001

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