Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taxi networks and car ownership

As I wrote in my last post, taxi networks help us the most with our goals when they help people to renounce car ownership, or to avoid it altogether. If people are already paying $8000 a year to own a car, a few twenty dollar cab rides are just an added expense, but if those cab rides can save them the $8000 a year, that's a good deal.

There are always going to be some people who say, "This is really frustrating. I'm selling my car and taking buses and taxis!" and others who say "This is really frustrating. I'm buying a car so I don't have to take buses and taxis any more!" Our goal is to see the car sellers outnumber the car buyers. To be attractive as an alternative to owning a car, taxis have to be everywhere and they have to be reliable. Let me give you an example.

A few weeks ago I was doing some business out in Eastern Queens, and I wanted to get back home quick. Normally I would take a bus and two subways, which can take anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour and a quarter. I knew that a taxi could get me home in 20-30 minutes. So I went to look for a taxi. No taxi. Taxis don't cruise the streets of Eastern Queens.

Normally, I have the numbers of a few car services in my phone, but they're all out of the neighborhood, so it would have taken them at least twenty minutes to pick me up. That would have defeated the purpose of saving time. So I wound up taking transit. On a later visit I got the number of a local car service, and that worked well.

I could have looked up "taxi" in Google Maps and called the closest one, but there are some car services that you really need to avoid. Many companies are great, but some have dangerous drivers, bad service or dirty cars.

This is why people can't rely on taxis to replace a car in many parts of the city. In these specific cases, a private car was more convenient, and would have given me more freedom and independence than a taxi. This is the problem that Bloomberg and Yassky are trying to solve with their "Borough taxi" plans. I wish I thought that any of those plans would work.


ant6n said...

Wouldn't some website that tells you phone numbers of good taxi services any area do the trick?

George K said...

The problem is that it is like a circle: There isn't enough demand for taxi service in Eastern Queens, so there are no taxis available. Even if there is a passenger who wants to go from Manhattan to Eastern Queens, the cab driver is most likely to drop the passenger off and go right back to Manhattan where all of the potential passengers are.

Remember: Taxi drivers have to make a profit, unlike public transportation. There has to be a way to give taxi drivers an incentive to cruise the streets of the outer boroughs looking for passengers. What you you suggest as that incentive?

Andrew said...

Isn't this one of the situations a service like ZipCar is designed to address?

Alon Levy said...

More on this later, possibly on my own site, but what's wrong with trying to get taxis to serve Flushing, Jamaica, and maybe one extra node further east, so that calling one in from Cambria Heights will take 5-10 minutes rather than 20 minutes?