By Don McCurdy


Best of intentions gone awry!

Toronto had a plan. The mission of the plan was to get taxi plates (medallions or permits in other jurisdictions) into the hands of taxicab drivers. Since ownership of standard plates is very lucrative and the plates sell for a small fortune the city devised a clever scheme to upgrade the training of the drivers and get a plate into their hands. And it was good. Ambassador plates hit the streets of Toronto and all was well.

Now, fast forward a decade and the program is under attack by the group who benefited the most from the program, the ambassador drivers. What? Yep, they say now that it's racist despite the fact that race isn't, and never was, a consideration. Like a lot of phony racism charges this one was based on the fact that most of the ambassador plate recipients were minorities.

Stories abound regarding the poor downtrodden ambassador drivers and their plight. A recent column from Toronto pointed up a simple yet comprehensive solution, cancel the program. Gather up all of the ambassador plates, declare the program a failure and allow the drivers the racial dignity of leasing a plate like everybody else. Ingenious! The simplicity of the plan is exceeded only by its brilliance. Get those poor mistreated drivers out from under their racist plates and increase the income of the other drivers by reducing the number of taxicabs. A win, win solution! Bravo!

You probably should.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is unhappy with the "new and improved" airport contract for taxicab service. The entire contract procedure seems to have a bit of odor to it.

I have visited a few cities in my life and Charlotte had one of the fairest methods of airport space distribution, albeit a little strange. With any change of government regulation there are going to be winners and losers and those willing to help potential winners become winners. That appears to be what is claimed in Charlotte.

Reports are that some company owners believe that the contract award was influenced by an "uptown power broker." Now, I'm not an "uptown power broker" or anything like that but it seems to me that any time you start fixing problems that don't exist you open yourself up for these types of situations.

Why the need to restrict access to the airport? No doubt an attempt at revenue generation for the airport, but at what cost? The mayor is also concerned about the "exorbitant" fees the drivers are required to pay the companies. Well, Mister Mayor, those fees are associated with the charges the companies pay to service the airport. If the airport demands money from the taxicab services to operate there the fee has to come from somewhere. The question I have is how is reducing the number of companies allowed at the airport going to "improve service," the stated goal of this exercise? Limiting the number of vendors never "improves service." While drivers are protesting the change it won't really affect them, just who they pay their vig to (a vig is a fee charged for services rendered). If I was a cynic, which I probably am, I'd guess the entire affair was unnecessary and somebody didn't get to wet their beak.

Mile High not quite yet.

Mile High Cab's saga is fast becoming a clear example of what is wrong with protectionist taxicab markets. Restricting entry because it would be "detrimental to the public interest" is just subjective enough to allow the Public Utilities Commission to disallow any competition. Meanwhile, taxicab drivers are compelled to pay extortion type lease rates because the real competition would be for drivers, not riders, if more competition was allowed.

The most recent addition to the industry, Union Taxi, says bring it on, competition will be good for the industry. Yellow Cab, on the other hand, says that the market is already saturated, but has requested 150 more permits for itself. Huh? I'm not sure how anyone that believes in free enterprise can vote against allowing competition. Interestingly, the "corporate special interest" republicans in the senate are for the bill and the "for the little guy" are sticking with the big corporations currently owning taxicab franchises in the city. Guess you can't believe everything you hear on the news.

It's not staying in Vegas.

It has been reported that a pair of lawsuits have been filed in Las Vegas over "long hauling." "Long hauling" is the term they use in Vegas for taking the long way on a taxicab trip. The Taxicab Authority is accused of colluding with companies to allow the practice which seems to have some traction. Amazingly, only 149 drivers are reported to have been cited in the last year for "long hauling." Why, I'd say that was a stellar record if I believed that there was any attempt at enforcement.

Like most taxicab ordinances, Vegas regulates the willing. The new chair of the Taxicab Authority, Iliana Drobkin, has suggested raising the fine for long hauling saying that taking the profit out of the practice would remove the motive. Well, I wouldn't want to contradict that wisdom, but enforcing the law might also help. Doubling the fine merely takes more money from the 149 dummies that got caught. If you really want to end the practice have the legislature pass a law that the third infraction would result in losing your taxicab license for, oh, I don't know say, ten years and aggressively enforce it and the problem would be gone in a flash. For a city whose purpose is to separate suckers from their money I wouldn't be looking for any real action on the issue.

They just don't understand.

Taxicab sharing doesn't seem to be taking off in NYC. Who could have foreseen that? Oh yeah, I did. The practice seems to be headed for the car services which seems like a better fit to me. As a driver, why would I want to sit around a stand waiting for a shared ride when flags (fares) paying full fare are available? As a passenger, why would I want to have the rewarding experience of riding a bus while paying more? Nah, if I'm wanting a cab it's because I want to get somewhere in a timely manner. Waiting around for a matching customer doesn't exactly fit that model.

Gee I wonder?

I had to laugh at a recent article out of Boston about why taxicab fares were so high. Good government, that's why. No doubt if you've read any of my columns you know I'm against the "taxi tax" that has riders paying in perpetuity for a onetime payment to the city for the license to operate.

Medallions are a clear example of politicians making short term decisions that adversely affect their constituents long term. While governments scramble to pay for promises they've already made they compound their inability to make hard choices by making the public pay higher prices for taxicab fares forever.

How is it that we keep hiring these incompetent idiots? They look good, they're articulate and they're really, really good liars. Not only that, if you're of the right political persuasion you can get the news media to make up whoppers for you all on their own. So, with a complicit media, politicians are able to make poor long term decisions without voters being the wiser. The fact is that the free press is no longer doing its job and that is allowing all sorts of government excesses. I guess taxicab fares are small potatoes compared to trillion dollar budget deficits, but they are indicative of the hidden costs of government regulations.

A subsequent article bemoans the difficulty in getting a taxicab in Boston, a testimonial to the quality of service in heavily regulated industries. Who would have thought that would happen? Well, anyone who has ever paid attention to history would know. While deregulation hasn't been successful, minimal regulation has.

If I could turn back the hands of time.

Well, Fenty is out and Gray is in. As mayor of DC that is. Gray is reported to be on the verge of repealing the $19 maximum fare for a trip starting and ending in DC. It is even suggested that he might "nudge" the industry back toward non-metered cabs. Well Mr. Mayor, I can go with removing the maximum fare and a fare increase, but going back to non-metered cabs would be a big time mistake in my opinion. Switching to a medallion system would be an even bigger mistake.

Yes, it would be a windfall for current drivers, but it would be a burden for the citizens of DC for time eternal and virtual slavery for drivers in the future. Everywhere they exist medallions add to the burden of the driver who has to lease a cab or medallion. Now, I realize that politicians making asinine short term decisions for political reasons is in Vogue right now, but let's try to resist the obvious gross mistakes. Drivers will only be "for" medallions if they think they're going to get one for free. Tell them you're going to auction them off and see how wonderful they think the idea is.

You wanna go where?

Reports are that NYC taxicab drivers are engaging in destination discrimination. Destination discrimination? In what would be the lamest excuse ever told Bhairavi Desai, head of the local driver's union, by drivers that they rejected rides to far-off destinations because they know the lost time will mean they make no profit on their shift. Really? Do they refuse trips to the airport? It's really pretty simple, here's a set of guidelines, if you can't obey them find another line of work.

I know that NYC has a lot of really borderline rules, but refusal to convey (transport) is really a pretty basic rule. Yeah, I'm not upset at the TLC cop dressed like a gang banger not getting picked up, but I would be awfully upset if I had to go somewhere in the city and a driver refused to take me. Ms. Desai might consider a different fight to spend her energies on and just tell her group to obey the law.

Sorry, I'm not inside the city limits.

As some of you know my family owns an auto repair shop just outside Houston. The area used to be called Bordersville and was not annexed by any of the surrounding towns, including Houston. A Houston city inspector came in the other day and asked to see my dumpster permit. Well, I don't have a dumpster permit and I told him so. The man actually smiled at me and told me he was going to have to issue me a citation for not having a dumpster permit. He looked like I'd slapped him across the face when I told him we weren't inside the Houston city limits. He left and took his citation with him.

The entire affair started me thinking, not always a good thing, about how exactly it is that our governments, local, county, state and federal, have come to prey upon us like so much carrion rotting in the sun. I had to laugh when the good citizens of Houston voted to ban red light cameras that were all about safety and the next day the new mayor said they had to come up with a way to cover the lost revenue from the cameras being removed. It's all about the money which translates to it's all about the power.

When did it become okay for our government to lie to us? When did it become necessary for us to have dumpster permits? It seems to me that our city, country, state and federal governments collect more and more and do less and less for it. I'm sure that I commit enough unknown crimes every day to be put out of business by one department or the other, even though I have no idea what I may be doing wrong.

I also wondered how many other businesses waited until after the first of the year to hire new employees now that the unemployment compensation percentage is so high that it has to be a consideration? Government regulations, taxes, fees and fines are choking the life out of our economy and nobody at any level of government seems smart enough to see that.

If you have any comments regarding this or any of my articles please feel free to contact me at —dmc

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