Thursday, May 26, 2011

The problems with the current taxi system as it is

A couple weeks ago, I observed that taxis can help us with our goals of reducing pollution, carnage and obesity and increasing efficiency, fairness and social connections. But they can only do that by making it easy for people not to own a car, and they can only accomplish that by being available and reliable. I would add that they need to be affordable - cheaper than a car, when used in combination with transit, cycling and walking.

The yellow cab system in Manhattan serves our goals. My father is an example: he ran a successful small business for twenty years without a driver's license, using taxis when he needed to transport moderately heavy equipment. Thousands of Manhattanites rely on yellow cabs for all kinds of trips where they feel that buses and subways are inadequate.

The de facto gypsy cab system in the "inner boroughs" (roughly, Manhattan north of 96th Street, the Bronx west of the Bronx River, Queens west of Flushing Meadows and Forest Park, Brooklyn west of Kings Highway, and Staten Island north of the Staten Island Expressway) is also pretty successful at integrating with transit to provide an alternative to car ownership. To the extent it succeeds, it does so because it's available (the gypsy cabs cruise the streets and respond to hails) and affordable (the rates are often lower than yellow cab fares for comparable trips).

Reliability is the big question in the "inner boroughs." "The Changeling" on the Bed-Stuy Blog gives a list of shortcomings: (1) from a distance it's hard to tell whether a car is a livery cab and whether it's already taken, (2) the honking that substitutes for availability lights is annoying, (3) haggling is difficult, and some passengers resort to flirting, (4) some cars and drivers are unlicensed and some dispatchers are unprofessional.

In the true outer boroughs (the South Shore of Staten Island and the eastern parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens), the problem is availability. The car services simply don't cruise. And honestly, there's also an availability problem in Manhattan at peak periods. During rush hour in the rain you can stand for a long time, and fights over taxis are not uncommon.

In essence, there are three problems, then: availability problems in Manhattan and the outer boroughs, and reliability problems in the "inner boroughs." So what can we do about these problems? I'll take a look at some of the Bloomberg administration's proposals in future posts.


jehiah said...

not related to the topic of taxi's in terms of the definition of "taxi" but in the sense of self-service-taxi it's fair to note the amazing takeoff of zipcar

George K said...

I live just south of the SIE in Staten Island, and it is extremely rare to see taxis cruising around anywhere near this area (though you do have some drivers from "car service" companies that wait around supermarkets in the area, since they know that it is inevitable that somebody will come out with a cartload of groceries looking for a way to get home).

Because of this (and the fact that there are large gaps in either north-south or east-west service in a lot of areas), the car ownership rates are still fairly high on the North Shore: Varying from 50% to 80% (maybe in the immediate area by St. George, it is a little lower)

I don't know about the other areas you described, but I think that it is a similar situation (with the difference being that there are more destinations for the taxis to congregate at).

Jonathan said...

It's only my opinion, but there are too many livery taxis in Upper Manhattan. I think livery drivers have collectively realized that by causing more congestion through double-parking, illegal U-turns, and picking up/discharging in bus stops, they can make the buses slow and uncompetitive, allowing the taxis to capture that business. If there were no livery cabs, we would just take the bus and get there in the same amount of time.

jazumah said...

Thing 1: Taxis do not cause congestion. Poor traffic management and/or very high demand does.

Thing 2: The problem with the current taxi system is that it is not demand based outside of Manhattan and the airports. The livery taxis are struggling in the outer boroughs and illegal taxis with no commercial insurance are handling all the street hails. The TLC is doing nothing about it.