Taxis Should Not be Social Welfare

I love Sam Smith’s “DC CITY DESK.” It’s a great shot of progressive thought into my email every week. Commentary on DC that usually finds me nodding my head in agreement. Well, except when it comes to the DC taxi system.

Sam seems to forget, in his pro-cabbie missives, that taxicabs are not a welfare to work social program, but a bona fide service to DC residents. Sam says:

In a decision that effectively dismantles the best urban cab system in the country, Mayor Fenty has ordered local cabs to install meters. No other city has so many cabs per resident and at a reasonable cost. In no other city is the cab business such an important factor in upward economic mobility.

Now I question exactly how those two statements can equal each other. If a cab system is affordable, just how can it also be a path to upward mobility?

Sam seems to say that it’s possible because DC cabs are not cab company owned. That the myriad independent drivers gain from direct, often unrecorded payments without cab leases from cab companies. But exactly how does that translate into decent service?

I know that when I am in a London taxi, the driver has “The Knowledge”. I know that when in NYC, I can I can track my ride by GPS. In DC, I only have a semi-literate driver, following a crap map, who often doesn’t know Petworth from Pentagon City. And I’m expected to pay at least $6.50 for the privilege for a ride to nowhere.

If we want the DC cab system to be a step up, then let us have the government, not riders, pay for that service. If we want to have a decent taxi system, then let’s have free markets, and meters, prevail. But no matter Sam’s hope, we cannot have both.

10 Comments so far

  1. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on October 23rd, 2007 @ 9:02 am

    I just wonder how many cities Smith has spent time in, if DC’s cab system is the best. I’ve had better cab rides in Los Angeles, and that’s saying something. Nothing good mind you…

  2. Wayan (unregistered) on October 23rd, 2007 @ 9:35 am

    I’ve had better cab rides in Arlington, and for me that’s saying a lot.

  3. Don (unregistered) on October 23rd, 2007 @ 9:44 am

    Now I question exactly how those two statements can equal each other. If a cab system is affordable, just how can it also be a path to upward mobility?

    Because the economy is not a zero-sum game. We could discuss that at greater length, but I think Smith is full of it here so why invest the time in a discussion with such a baseless start?

    I do think it’s worth considering what the impact is going to be of that financial outlay necessary for meters, but he doesn’t mention that. His biggest buggabo is the claim that there will be collusion between business and the DC gov to put a cap on the number of cabs on the street – something I have seen no discussion on anywhere.

  4. EdTheRed (unregistered) on October 23rd, 2007 @ 11:25 am

    Jesus…does he *really* think DC has the best cab system in the U.S.? Holy crap…I mean, if you like decrepit, uninsured cabs that may or may not have working seat belts and air-conditioning, and may or may not take you to certain red-lined neighborhoods, and may or may not charge you the actual fare, then by all means, DC is the best…

  5. marti (unregistered) on October 23rd, 2007 @ 8:28 pm

    DC cab drivers 99% of the time know EXACTLY where to go and the best way to get there.

    This is not the case in Boston, where the drivers don’t know where the streets are and don’t know how to get there.

    NYC beats DC only in terms of the sheer number of cabs.

    LA cabs are just too expensive.

    Why has it become fashion to bash DC cabs? This is just ridiculous

  6. Madeline Riley (unregistered) on October 24th, 2007 @ 10:14 am

    DC cabs for me are wonderful I call a service and they call me back and say your cab number is… They take me to my destination and the fare is reasonable. Or when I hail a cab no trouble there. So what is the big fuss about. If it’s not broke don’t fix it No Meters!!!!!!!

  7. Sarah (unregistered) on October 24th, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

    You know I think so many more people would ride in DC cabs if they knew they were not getting ripped off! When the same ride costs very by up to $10 a trip people are not going to make a habit of using cabs.

    I bet that ridership will dramatically increase when meters are instituted! I know I will start riding more offten!


  8. Jamie (unregistered) on October 24th, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

    "DC cab drivers 99% of the time know EXACTLY where to go and the best way to get there."

    Yeah… you mean, driving me up 18th Street through Adams Morgan on a Friday night, instead of taking Rock Creek Parkway, in order to pick up another fare?

    You must be the luckiest cab-rider in DC. I’ve lived here 17 years and DC cabs rarely take the best route, but instead blindly hurl themselves into well-known trouble spots or slow routes.

    NYC beats DC only in sheer number of cabs? I must disagree here too. In DC, you can get a cab on the street if you happen to be lucky enough to live in Cleveland Park, Adams Morgan, or on U Street. Or are downtown. Otherwise, good luck. New York, you can get one just about anywhere.

    And NYC cabs actually seem to care about getting you there before you grow old. DC cabs frequently drive under the speed limit (a baffling concept, since you would think they’d be interested in going faster and therefore making more money by getting more fares in the same time) and are yapping on their cell phones the whole time.

    It’s not "fashionable" to bash DC cabs. It’s just that the vast majority of people in this city have had shitty experiences with them.

  9. Wayan (unregistered) on October 24th, 2007 @ 3:17 pm


    You reminded me of a whole other bitch I have about DC cabs – how slow they go! In NYC you can whiplash if you don’t hold on. In DC, I’ve actually asked DC cabbies to speed up as they have set off the flashing radar speed signs – for going too slow!

  10. DC Residents (unregistered) on November 11th, 2007 @ 11:36 pm

    If we don’t act quickly the Mayor’s proposed taxi fare plan will impose the highest taxi fares in the Nation on DC cab riders. Under the Mayor’s plan, taking a DC cab one block will cost more than it does to take a Arlington, VA cab for a whole mile!

    1 – Write the Mayor, City Council, and the Taxicab Commission.
    We have created a standard letter, and have linked to it below- just make any personal changes you like, and press send. It couldn’t be easier, and we are hearing that we are actually starting to grab the Mayor’s attention–let’s make sure he hears us loud and clear.

    Click here to email the Taxicab Commission, Mayor and City Council now:

    2 – Make sure every supporter you know signs the online petition!

    We have 876 signatures as of Saturday . While this sounds like a lot, there are 7,500 DC cab drivers out there that are in favor of the sky high taxi fares. The more people who sign the petition, the larger the impact our voice has with the City Council and the Mayor.

    With your help, we can help ensure that DC residents pay a fare rate when hailing a cab. Please pass this on to anyone you know who may be interested. We CAN make a difference!

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