Monday, January 16, 2012

Taxi !

You could step outside in downtown Lincoln and shout that until you're blue in the face, but no taxi is likely to materialize. Despite what you see on the movies, there are only a few cities in the United States where you can actually hail a cab: New York, Washington D.C., Chicago.  There are a few other cities where taxi stands in certain areas are common, or where you can walk up to the nearest hotel and reliably find a cab just waiting for a fare, such as South Beach in Miami, the Gaslamp district in San Diego, or the Riverwalk area in San Antonio. Let's face it though: it takes a really large population density to make a business model work that relies upon driving around waiting for someone to hold up their hand and shout.

The dearth of taxis in Lincoln has been in the news lately, as a State Senator has proposed legislation making it easier for a taxi company to get into the business.  I'm all for fair markets and competition, but it remains to be seen whether there is a steady enough demand for taxis in Lincoln to support a higher level of service from the private sector.  We shall see.

As this issue has unfolded, I've been reading the comments on news stories, many of which are ripping the City of Lincoln for maintaining a monopoly on taxi service, and obstructing others from entering the fray.  This is ludicrous.  The City does indeed have some regulatory authority over taxis: we require drivers to obtain a taxi license--primarily to ensure that Chester the Molester is not your driver.  The City has no role, however, in how many taxis are in play on the street, how many companies do business, or what a taxi ride costs.  The State Public Service Commission has some regulatory authority over taxi companies, but this is not a City function at all, and those who believe the gov'mint is responsible for their taxi wows are ripping the wrong unit thereof.

I'm a bit skeptical about whether anything can be done that makes it significantly easier for a tipsy twenty-something to find a taxi while weaving along the sidewalk at 14th and O after the bars close.  There may be a demand for more taxis during the hour of power, but it's pretty hard to make a living on a demand that exists for only an hour or two and only two or three nights a week.  Consider this: if you're a driver, you will be pretty lucky to make two runs between the time the demand picks up near bar break and the time it disappears again, because it's going to take you at least a half hour to shuttle you're first fare home and return downtown--often longer.  Not my concern, however, and I wish good luck to any company that wants to try to figure out how to make this work.

As long as you make sure taxi drivers have fairly clean criminal and driving records, I'm perfectly happy to let the free market work.  It does not, however always provide us with exactly what we want.  I, for one, am hoping for a Whole Foods market and a Legal Sea Foods restaurant.


Steve said...

Years ago, I used to drive people from the naval station to the airport in Chicago, and back, without a taxi license. Shame on me, but the navy didn't pay all that much back then. :)

I never molested anyone, though! :)

Anonymous said...

Most people in Lincoln don't take taxis because it generally takes way, way too long to get one, and they don't always arrive on time, even when you call them hours in advance. Being overly-expensive (which they are) is #2.

Most people don't take buses, because they don't run often enough, don't run late/early enough, and they don't always go within a couple of blocks of where they need to go. Even if that was fixed, the bus still wouldn't work well for for some people that need to haul gear to and from work, stop at the store on the way, etc etc etc.

Most people don't ride bikes to work, because they don't have a secure place to park them indoors when they get there, and stealing a $1,000 bike is treated much more leniently than stealing a $100 car. On top of that, and the difficulty of carrying anything heavy or sizable, there's always our temperamental Nebraska weather.

You have to fix those underlying conditions, if it's financially feasible to do so, before the demand will increase. For some people, cycling or public transportation won't ever be a practical solution.

Anonymous said...

Is there a database of all of the folks that have held a Taxi License in Lincoln going back to say 1985? I think it would be interesting to pull up the names of those that have had licenses in the past and do current criminal background checks on them.Many people get away with DUI for years but when they do get caught a career as a taxi driver or trucking is usually over.

Gun Nut

ARRRRG!!!! said...

I've been waiting for a business to get into.

Anonymous said...

ARRRRG-Wouldn't all that running be painful on a peg-leg???? LOL!!!

Tom Casady said...

Gun Nut,

Yes. It would take a little work to design an execute such a query, but the info is all available.

BTW, I'm only finding three Rabbits of that vintage registered in Lancaster County: an '81 and two '82s. That sounds a bit low to me, so I'm not sure I've executed the query properly. At any rate, the database is not public, and I cannot provide you with the information about the registered owners. Your best hope would probably be to spot one and leave a note on the windshield. That's exactly what the guy who bought my 1971 Karmann Ghia convertible did, circa 1984.

Anonymous said...

I would kill for a 1971 Ghia restored. LOL just kidding. Thanks for the headsup.

Gun Nut

Adam said...

Definitely lots of Taxis here in Austin, TX, especially downtown.