By Don McCurdy

DC drivers "no taxi meter" strike.

Washington, D.C. city government wants to install taxi meters in all D.C. taxicabs. Presently, taxicabs charge by zones, no meters. D.C. taxi drivers do not want to change the current form of charging for taxi rides, and so, an impasse. Once again, the taxi driver " no taxi meter" strike is on with mixed reports of the results. William J. Wright, a spokesman for one of the driver's groups, is reported to have claimed 90% driver participation in the strike. Wild Bill didn't exactly explain how he arrived at that figure, but that's his story and he's sticking to it. It's only my own jaded past in the industry that prevents me from believing such a tale.

Various hotels' employees reported lighter than usual taxicab traffic, some indicating a shortage, while others not so much. If memory serves me correctly, which sometimes it does not, the choice on taxi meters was left to the mayor not the city council by an act of Congress signed into law by the President. So that leaves one to wonder if council members Mendelson and Barry believe that the DC city council can overrule Congress. Or, perhaps, they are just getting their name in the paper without the mug shots.

A step up for DC politicians one would think. You really don't have to study the situation too hard to understand why Congress left the decision up to the mayor instead of the city council do you? The sad part of the story for me was the mayor lowering the flag drop. $3.00 just doesn't get my tail wagging like $4.00 would. I guess we now have to wonder if he will be able to stick to his guns on meters at all. Time will tell.

But wait, there's more!

The DC cab drivers are suing the mayor. In a last ditch attempt to prevent the installation of taxi meters it is reported that a group of taxicab drivers are suing the mayor for establishing the rules by which the meters operate. The best part of the story for me is the drivers' claim that they are suing also in part on behalf of a "senior citizen living on a budget" who "relies on taxicabs to get her to her doctor". That's a good one.

If, as the drivers claim, driver income would go down then wouldn't it follow that the fare for this poor unfortunate "senior citizen" would also go down? I mean how can it be both ways? The suit obviously exposes the fact that the DC taxicab drivers have been exposed to way too many politicians since this sounds exactly like what we hear out of DC from politicians.

A touching tale.

A livery driver in New York City is being hailed as a hero after turning a baby allegedly abandoned in his vehicle in to the local fire station. While a sad tale of abandonment it was also a touching tale of heroism, according to local press reports. Why, the New York Federation of Taxi Drivers is even reported to be rewarding the driver with a $300 award. How very touching. The part that gave me pause was when the report said that the driver was working with police sketch artists.

What? What about the pictures from his mandatory security camera? Good thing he didn't have one, or the police would have found out he was lying right away. No wonder so many drivers don't install working security cameras. It would contradict their stories. Taxicab drivers taught me a long time ago to get the whole story before rushing to judgment one way or the other, right Fernando (New York Federation of Taxi Drivers President)? I don't mind a little face time on the news, as long as my dominant feature isn't egg.

Not so fast.

It would seem that in an alleged technologically advanced society something as simple as credit card use for payment would be assumed. I know that as a businessman I routinely accept credit and debit cards for payment. Yes, there is a percentage to be paid to the processing company, but that's just the cost of doing business. Well, maybe for everybody else, but taxicab drivers just don't seem to want to get with the program. I suppose it's far too civilized.

A recent article out of Chicago has one driver reportedly saying, "if you don't have cash, don't get in the cab". No wonder the Chicago drivers are begging the city for a fare increase. With a customer service attitude like that it's a wonder anyone gets in a cab at all.

Taxicab drivers whine that sedan services are stealing their business, but I disagree. A Taxicab driver's unwillingness to meet the needs of their customers is all but forcing some riders to find other means of transportation.

Imagine, if you will, that five star restaurants change their policy to cash only or if your local grocery store stops taking debit cards. Pretty ridiculous you say? As do I, but that's exactly what's happening in many cities with taxicab drivers.

The city ends up mandating credit cards because drivers are too Neanderthal to understand the business ramifications of not accepting credit cards. "But taking credit cards is costing us 5% to 15% of the fare", they cry. Not so says I. If I take a sedan service to the airport so that I don't have to put up with a bunch of whining over a credit card payment then you've lost 100%.

In a later news story out of Chicago drivers complain that not only are tips down, but it's hard to get a fare at all. No connection there of course. It's not hard to see that soon anyone going on a taxicab ride over a few dollars will call a sedan service rather than have to deal with some snotty taxicab driver whining about what's considered a routine method of payment in any other industry. But, hey, don't worry boys. Granny will still have go to the grocery store.

Does the DC council know anything about taxicabs?

One of the most endearing sights a taxicab driver can see is a person with their hand in the air. Ah the thrill of it. Trolling the sides of a busy avenue in search of that elusive fare always reminded me of fishing. No more fishing is to be allowed in the Adams Morgan area. It's reported that the taxi wise DC council passed an "emergency" bill to restrict cruising for fares in that area.

One wonders why it was an "emergency" bill? Did drivers just start cruising there? Or is it simply that some well heeled business owner(s) did not find it advantageous to permit taxicabs cruising in the Adams Morgan area. My experience has been that if there isn't a need for taxi service in an area then there won't be any drivers cruising there.

Kind of reminds me of a town I used to live in that put the taxi stand behind the bus station. There were taxi signs directing passengers to the taxi stand but no one saw them. The passengers still walked out the front door and wandered around looking for a cab. I'm not sure what constitutes an emergency in DC but I would expect that there's some money in there somewhere.

Didn't you already try that?

Capital Metro, the city owned transit authority in Austin Texas, has run afoul of the handicapped community by reducing the number of taxi vouchers available for handicapped use. The vouchers are used to pay taxicab fares for handicapped riders whose trips are difficult to route or who don't have an exact departure time such as a ride home from the doctor's office. This program is designed to assist the handicap with the availability of timely and efficient transportation service. The fare is shared at a scheduled rate between Metro and the taxicab provider.

We won't even discuss the predictability of knowing when you'll be finished at the doctor's office. Generally, Metro schedules as many of these Special Transit Systems (STS) rides as possible on their Paratransit vans and allows the riders they cannot schedule on the vans to utilize the taxicab company of their choice.

Metro has determined that the number of taxicab vouchers has risen too high due to increased handicap ridership, and has decided to try to do more of the trips themselves in their Paratransit vehicles and allow less use of taxicab vouchers. The interesting part of the story, which went unmentioned in the local media, was that Capital Metro tried this same scenario ten years ago and found out that it costs two to three times as much for them to provide the service with dedicated vehicles (Paratransit vans) as it did to use the non dedicated taxicabs.

History repeats itself. The use of taxicab vouchers has a storied past in Austin and Metro has put the handicapped community though some changes over the years with various iterations of the taxicab voucher program.

My first encounter with the program was in the late 70's when it was a low bid selection process, flat rate contract with a single taxi fleet provider. Yellow Cab had won the contract from Metro and the service was widely viewed as acceptable. Over the years, companies underbid each other and the service continued to deteriorate until it got so bad that Metro stopped using low bid contracts and issued an RFP (Request for Proposals). The current vendor was again a low bidder, but the level of complaints was high and the level of service was low.

Seeing a huge political fight looming the Metro staff decided to throw out the proposals and take the service in house. They purchased a fleet of sedans to handle the difficult to route trips and proceeded to provide poor service at two to three times the expense of utilizing the taxicab fleets.

I remember well the discussion with the new head of the STS program when it was decided to just go back to the taxicab voucher program. The riders were given a choice as to which taxicab company they would use and all seemed to be right with the world. Well, not all.

One of the smaller, minority owned, taxicab companies complained to the Metro board that the minority owned companies weren't getting their fair share. To quote the head of one of those companies, "this freedom of choice has got to stop". I watched in stunned amazement as the board agreed and established monthly quotas for each taxicab company. As you might guess the riders called the taxicab company of their choice until that company's monthly allotment of vouchers ran out, then they were compelled to ride with the companies that provided poor service until either more vouchers were issued or the month ended.

The sad part of that fiasco was that the decision was entirely political and the Metro board did not seem at all concerned as to the service the handicapped riders received. The distribution of the handicap ridership was determined by quotas and not by the service provided by the individual taxicab company.

Later, the quotas were dropped and the riders once again were allowed to utilize the taxicab company of their choice. Now comes the Metro board again.They claimed fiscal issues instead of political issues at least, tampering with a program that was working to the satisfaction of the riders (free choice of taxicab provider). Will these people ever get it?

I've been told that doing the same things over and over and expecting different results is a form of insanity. While transit authorities throughout the country look for ways to increase ridership, Metro is complaining that the ridership is not of the right kind. What does that mean? Get a grip. You have a very successful program that works. Why do you want to tamper with that?

Ok, who ratted?

In a recent opinion column in the San Francisco Chronicle Bud Hazelkorn exposed the city of San Francisco's biggest kept taxi secret. Ok, so it wasn't a secret - the huge rip off of the taxicab drivers by medallion holders.

Like a lot of places San Francisco has a medallion system. Most of the medallions issued prior to Proposition K, which represented the voters attempt to straighten out the system, were owned by individuals with little or no interest in the taxicab business or by company owners.

After Proposition K, all new medallions and any recovered from deceased medallion holders were supposed to be issued to qualified drivers on the medallion list. The stories are almost endless regarding the lengths people, with no legitimate claim to be on the list, have gone to claim they "should have been" listed on the medallion list in an effort to keep the "something for nothing" income they derive from leasing the medallions. Meanwhile, drivers pay more and more for the right to ply their trade.

Recently the city is reported to have allowed companies to raise their "gates" (lease fees paid by the driver) so the companies can purchase "green" cabs. In my opinion this entire situation is one of many things San Francisco should be embarrassed about. The medallion system as it now stands is simply a reverse Robin Hood scheme. So, San Francisco taxicab drivers, it would appear that this Buds for you.




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