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Taxis


New taxi restrictions block fuel-efficient sedans

Earlier this week, the DC Taxicab Commission approved a new set of regulations for hired cars, placing new restrictions on size for vehicles in the fleet. As a result, many fuel-efficient hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius, won't be allowed.


You can't use an app to ride this in DC. Photo by goldberg on Flickr.

These regulations seem to be a direct response to Uber, a service where people can order black cars and limos, and UberX, which uses smaller cars and is less expensive. After UberX launched, DCTC sought to update its rules for sedans, which previously had no size requirement. Now, cars must be at least 95 cubic feet in volume. When asked what sort of fuel-efficient vehicles qualify for the sedan fleet, DCTC released this statement (emphasis added):

The sedan definition would include more than 40 hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles, just among the EPA sedans, and not including any qualifying SUVs, nor any vehicles able to use alternative fuels . . .
Therefore, although it would not be appropriate to add in the Prius or other basic, economy cars here, it is also patently untrue that no hybrids could be operated as sedans under the new rules. Thus, the definitions, as written, directly serve the need to conserve fuel and protect the environment, without compromising other important interests at stake in the definitions.
Not appropriate to add in the Prius? The Commission argues that since they only ban the most well-known and most well-tested hybrid sedan on the road today that their standard is still pro-environment. That doesn't make any sense.

I'm a firm believer in global warming and think we should be doing all that we can as a society to cut down on pollution. Hybrid cars are one way people are reducing the amount of climate-changing emissions they create and taxis are no exception. From a public policy standpoint, I want to see us moving as much of our transportation system to clean, renewable, or at least hybrid options as possible.

So I reached out to the DC Taxicab Commission to learn what specific "hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles" could be licensed as sedans under the new rules and which would be banned. I emailed a Public Information Officer at DCTC and received with a sample list of vehicles that were 95 cubic feet or larger and were hybrids or ran on alternative fuels. The list included some vehicles that were just a touch up-market from the Prius, including the Bentley Flying Spur, Mercedes 350 and Jaguar XJ:


List from the DC Taxicab Commission.

Looking at this model list, what stands out is how expensive most of them are, as well as how fuel inefficient they are compared to the Prius.

According to FuelEconomy.gov, the 2013 Prius hybrid gets a combined 50 MPG. Meanwhile, some of DCTC's recommended vehicles do much worse. The 2014 Mercedes E350 gets 18 MPG combined on flex-fuel, the 2014 Ford Taurus gets 16 MPG combined on flex-fuel and the 2014 Bentley Flying Spur gets a Hummer H3-like 11 MPG combined on flex-fuel. This is a great example of how flex-fuel vehicles are not, in fact, fuel efficient.


Screen capture from the US Department of Energy.

To be fair, these are just examples cited by the DC Taxicab Commission's press staffer. There are certainly other hybrid vehicles out there that are larger than 95 cubic feet and therefore eligible to be part of the sedan fleet. They apparently didn't merit being used as examples of fuel efficiency.

Leaving aside the relative absurdity of these fuel inefficient and hyper-luxury vehicles as models for fuel-efficient transport in DC, the 95 cubic foot threshold for passenger volume is key, as most Toyota Prius models tap out at 94 cubic feet.

There's a debate to be had about how DC should regulate Uber. There's a totally different debate to be had about whether or not the DC Taxicab Commission is creating nonsensical, punitive regulations aimed to prevent Uber from using fuel-efficient vehicles as part of the DC sedan fleet.

Most importantly, as a city near the water facing the impact of catastrophic climate change, we shouldn't miss opportunities to reduce pollution through regulatory choices. Institutions like DCTC should be seeking to increase fuel efficiency in the sedan fleet. Allowing Priuses and other smaller hybrids to be part of it would do that, while Bentley Flying Spurs do quite the opposite.

Ethical.org, the campaigning arm of Ethical Electric (the progressive renewable energy supplier for whom I work), has set up a petition calling for the DC Taxicab Commission to allow hybrids like the Prius to be part of the sedan fleet. You can sign it here.

Matt Browner Hamlin resides in Adams Morgan and works at Ethical Electric, a proudly progressive renewable energy supplier that's serving members in DC, MD, NJ, DE, & PA with local wind and solar electricity.  

Comments

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Don't take DC taxis. Let these idiots find another way to rip people off for a living.

by MJ on Aug 21, 2013 9:45 am • linkreport

While I get that some may find the back seat of a Prius rather small, if that's the fleet that UberX wants to use and they attract customers, then so be it.

It's curious that this is the regulation that the DC Taxi Commission decides to enforce, when DC has meaningless fleet age and quality standards. Many of the 'regular' taxis on the streets of DC might not pass vehicle inspection even in some third world countries.

by Alf on Aug 21, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

Not sure a Lincoln Town car is any better.

by charlie on Aug 21, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

Why can't we just start anew with the DCTC? Honestly, the lobby for taxis in this town is too strong, the occupants of the John A. Wilson Building, with rare exception, unwilling to disrupt the status quo without first coddling the taxi operators (who are usually reliable donors to political campaigns - at least when the pol kowtows to their every whim).

This blanket dismissal of the Prius is a direct stab at limiting the competition and ensuring that police-surplus, falling-apart-at-the-seams, fuel-inefficient land barges like the Ford Crown Victoria still see dominance on our roadways.

While some efficient hybrids will still be allowed (e.g. the Toyota Camry Hybrid), this is still a punch in the stomach to new business models that challenge the DCTC's fiefdom.

In a word: pathetic.

by randomduck on Aug 21, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

The Taxicab Commission lost me completely on the color scheme. I'm sympathetic to Yellow Cab's petition drive. Completely. This commission, which once had two reporters arrested at a meeting, is systemic mess of incompetence and ignorance.

by kob on Aug 21, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

Why is it more important to the DCTC to enable rent seeking behavior on the part of taxi drivers than it is to provide the consumer with fair and flexible mobility options?

Why do taxi drivers get protection from competition by the government that isn't afforded to other professions?

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 9:50 am • linkreport

A picky comment to be sure, but I dislike the term "believer" when applied to global warming. Climate change is sometimes characterized as a near-religious affectation by science deniers who don't want to face what the sciences explain. Global warming isn't a faith issue -- it is a physics and chemistry issue, with lots of implications for biology. The physics and chemistry and biology will do what they will, regardless of whether people understand or believe. Global warming is a scientific fact, and its relationship to the burning of fossil fuels is accepted by virtually all scientists. It should be characterized as such.

by Greenbelt on Aug 21, 2013 9:51 am • linkreport

I also think the list you have is flawed.

It only list flex fuel, there are plenty of 95+ hybrid vehicles.

Fusion, Camry and Prius V all are over 95 sq ft.

by charlie on Aug 21, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

Between supporting Metro and the DC-cab cabal, I will take Metro as lesser of two evils....personally, walking is best (unless you do not like the concrete cabal).

by JDC Esq on Aug 21, 2013 9:56 am • linkreport

I'm a firm believer in global warming

Pet-peeve: You are convinced that global warming is happening.

Science is not a religion. One does not believe in science, one is convinced by it.

by Jasper on Aug 21, 2013 9:56 am • linkreport

Why do taxi drivers get protection from competition by the government that isn't afforded to other professions?

Because taxi companies have historically been very adept at making contributions to politicians (both legal and illegal)to protect their own interests.

Look at NYC, for example, where the number of taxis have been kept artifically low for no other reason than to protect the investments of people who bought taxi medallions.

One of the arguments that is brought up is that the supply of taxis needs to be limited in order to make sure that taxi drivers can make a living. I can't really think of another industry where the relevant regulatory commission is concerned about keeping the industry profitable. For example, health inspectors don't care whether your restaurant can make money, they exist to make sure you don't poison your customers.

IMO, the only role of the DCTC should be to make, and enforce, safety, customer protection and non-discrimination rules.

by Potowmack on Aug 21, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

@Greenbelt:

I winced a bit at the "firm believer in global warming" line, too. Scientific facts (just like any facts) aren't a matter of belief, they simply are. I wouldn't expect someone to qualify their knowledge or acceptance of gravity or the age of the Earth as a "firm belief." To do so gives credibility to people who view scientific ignorance as a virtue, and who do real harm to society and the environment.

I also hope Uber goes to the mattresses against the DCTC over UberX. They can start by finding every cab without a credit card reader on Sept. 1 and filing complaints with DCTC and against the cab driver/company for violation of the law.

by IsoTopor on Aug 21, 2013 10:03 am • linkreport

I have a question for y'all:

At what point does the size of passengers in these Priuses come into consideration?

Someone mentioned it's a small back seat, but I'm more worried about the headroom.

I'm 6'6", and I can barely fit in a Prius, and need to bend my neck to not hit the ceiling. Jasper, I would imagine this is the same for you.

Is there some metric by which the Taxi Commission or some other body can determine if the head clearance of one of these vehicles is within the bounds of reasonable accommodation?

Otherwise, if half the taxi drivers switch to Priuses, I'm screwed.

by MJB on Aug 21, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

I hope this isn't too far off topic, but because it came up in the article:
I'm a firm believer in global warming and think we should be doing all that we can as a society to cut down on pollution. Hybrid cars are one way people are reducing the amount of climate-changing emissions they create and taxis are no exception.
I'm pretty damn progressive myself, and do everything in my power to reduce my carbon footprint. I'm all for getting more internal combustion vehicles off the road. But the claim that hybrid cars are reducing climate-changing emissions is still dubious at best. When you consider the increased resources that go in to producing them, the huge inefficiencies associated with using plug-in chargers, and the issue of disposing of massive batteries at their end of life, you're lucky to end up net-neutral in the carbon emissions game. The reality as I see it is that hybrid cars are still just a feel-good placebo for those with too much money to spend on transportation.

Achieving the maximum efficiency out of any hybrid requires the driver to adapt to a more relaxed style of accelerating and braking - something no DC cabbie is willing to do. I recently used a hybrid cab (I think it was SunCab?) and the way the cabbie was driving caused the engine to run almost the entire trip - hard starts, slamming the brakes, etc - typical cabbie style driving.

It should also be obvious the writer of this op/ed has an interest in selling you more electricity, so of course he's going to be championing electric cars.

The way to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, including taxis, is to get them off the road in the first place. This is accomplished by investments in a comprehensive and reliable public transit system, and encouraging alternate transportation choices like cycling and walking though smart infrastructure planning.

by dcmike on Aug 21, 2013 10:09 am • linkreport

@Potowmack: IMO, the only role of the DCTC should be to make, and enforce, safety, customer protection and non-discrimination rules.

Exactly! My issue with these new regulations is that they don't serve a public good. The only reasonable rationale I can think of for these regs is so that the customer from out of town doesn't get bilked by reserving a economy sedan at a luxury price. But you can solve that by mandating companies disclose the price and size of the cars. Limiting sedans to a certain size is nothing more rent-seeking for the luxury sedan and taxicab companies/owners.

by 7r3y3r on Aug 21, 2013 10:14 am • linkreport

Thanks for the feedback everyone. To the commenters who've flagged the line, "I'm a firm believer in global warming," and pushed back on it wrt the connection to religious language versus scientific fact: point well taken! Global warming is a scientific fact, not a something that is changed whether any individual believes in it or not. That's sloppy on my part.

@charlie - this is the list I was provided with by the DCTC when I asked which hybrids and alternative vehicles would be eligible for the sedan fleet under these rules. As I say in the post, there are other hybrids which are qualified and the list is clearly not exhaustive. But it is what I was sent by the DCTC.

by Matt Browner Hamlin on Aug 21, 2013 10:18 am • linkreport

dcmike

Most priuses arent a plug ins. Allowing those priuses wouldnt mean more electricity sold.

I know of no studies suggesting that the GHGs in producing batteries for hybrids offsets the gasoline savings. There are issues with battery disposal, but thats a land pollution problem, not a climate problem.

And while transit, walking, etc are great - not ALL trips will be made in those ways.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 21, 2013 10:18 am • linkreport

" Thus, the definitions, as written, directly serve the need to conserve fuel and protect the environment, without compromising other important interests at stake in the definitions."

What, precisely, are these "other interests at stake"? Are there any legitimate interests in forcing the use of large cars (besides the dubious interests of the incumbent players)?

ps: Please drop the semantics of "believe". I am a scientist. Scientists believe in things. I just ran a search on the word "believe" through my collection of thousands of scientific papers, and pulled up hundreds of hits. Scientific belief does not have the same epistemic basis as religious belief, but the word is perfectly appropriate.

by alurin on Aug 21, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

@Matt Browner Hamlin; fair enough, and saw your disclaimer, but it pretty clear they just sent a list of flex-fuel "large" vehicles and no hybrids.

And yes, a Prius is terrible cab. They are too small.

by charlie on Aug 21, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

@Matt Browner Hamlin:
this is the list I was provided with by the DCTC when I asked which hybrids and alternative vehicles would be eligible for the sedan fleet under these rules. As I say in the post, there are other hybrids which are qualified and the list is clearly not exhaustive. But it is what I was sent by the DCTC.
But it's clear from the list (titled "Sedan Vehicles/Alternative Fuels") and your investigation (in the screenshot, all of the comparisons are Flex Fuel) that this is a list of alternative fuel vehicles, not hybrids.

I don't doubt that your contact misunderstood your request or didn't bother to look for a list of allowed hybrids, but that doesn't change the fact that that list specifically includes alternative fuel vehicles, not hybrids.

by Gray on Aug 21, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

The back seat of the Prius is plenty big. Especially since 2010. Plenty of leg room and even a fold-down console.

Taxis are a large part of traffic in DC and our ozone problem is terrible. Encouraging as many strong hybrids and electrics as possible is critical to our health and life span.

The Prius is a strong hybrid in that it uses mostly electric power in the city while most other brands use the gas motor in the city and only add electric power on the highway.

As many Prii cabs as there are now I'm sure there are many cab drivers who love them that this rule has to be controversial. It's extremely good city mileage and low upkeep is perfect for a cab driver.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 21, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

I could understand minimum sizes for regular taxi service, from a passenger comfort standpoint, because the taxi customer usually needs to ride in the first taxi that shows up. For hired cars, especially smartphone-based ones like Uber/UberX, a customer could opt out of certain cars when the request is made, so I can't really see why this regulation is anything but political.

That said, putting an emphasis on the fuel usage of individual taxis is not the best way to look at the role of transportation and climate change. The more important point is that a convenient and affordable taxi/ car-for-hire fleet is one of several key components of a transportation infrastructure system that facilitates car-free and car-lite living arrangements. It doesn't bother me if a taxi is a bit less fuel efficient than a car an eco-conscious city-dweller might buy, if it means that said city-dweller, and others like him, forgo car ownership to begin with.

by thm on Aug 21, 2013 10:32 am • linkreport

If DCTC's objection to UberX is based on the rate structure, what does that have to do with the kind of vehicles they will use?

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 10:32 am • linkreport

Why is there an independent Taxicab Commission? This is the classic case of a 'captured' government agency, where a focus on a narrow issue and little public oversight leads to rent-seeking behavior and corruption. Additionally, having the DC Taxicab Commission adds administrative costs for the DC government.

Instead, this regulation and oversight of taxis should be folded into the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). If this happened, presumably DDOT would be more interested in how taxis can improve mobility, how taxis fit in with the other transportation options in DC, and would allow for greater innovation and competition. Additionally, eliminating an entire commission can save DC expenses that could be used for services and investments that are actually a priority instead.

by 202_cyclist on Aug 21, 2013 10:37 am • linkreport

I've had it with the DCTC and DC Taxis. Horribly run-down vehicles, without "advanced technology" credit card readers (and always an argument even if they do have one), and terrible, discriminatory service.

It's time for a loud, vocal boycott of DC Cabs. Uber could really go for the jugular by going after the bread and butter of the local cabbie: DC tourists. Strategically placed ads at National, Dulles, the National Harbor, and the Convention Center would really cut into their business - the anti-competitive reactions of DCTC have made me pledge to never get in a DC cab again. I encourage everyone else to do the same.

by MtVernon on Aug 21, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

"Why do taxi drivers get protection from competition by the government that isn't afforded to other professions?"

Remember during the last mayoral election (the Democratic primary, really), many taxi drivers gave free rides to the polls to voters planning to vote for Vince Gray?! The texi drivers were still sore that Fenty had dragged the DC taxi racket kicking and screaming into the 1950s by requiring meters instead of the old, cheater-friendly zone system.

by Alf on Aug 21, 2013 10:40 am • linkreport

Why do taxi drivers get protection from competition by the government that isn't afforded to other professions?

Lots of people get protected against competition by the government. Big media companies, by endless extensions of copyright. Drug companies. Doctors, lawyers, etc. Agribusiness. Clothing manufacturers who are protected against competitive "knock-offs" regardless of whether the buyer is deceived.

Unregulated competition in the taxi industry, under conditions where the federal government's austerity policies have created lots of unemployment, would drive wages down to starvation levels. Blue-collar workers who want a living wage deserve government protection far more than media moguls and drug company executives.

by Ben Ross on Aug 21, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

A Prius may not be an optimal cab, but what about the buckets of bolts that routinely cruise Washington streets as "licensed" cabs? They are often rattling, squeaking, dirty, with no air conditioning, and of indeterminate age. Granted, there are exceptions (some independent drivers maintain their cabs well), but many cabs should be off the streets. Yet they pass taxi inspection. How is that possible?

by Alf on Aug 21, 2013 10:45 am • linkreport

I should note I was being rhetorical in my question. No doubt it's hard being a taxi driver. But, government shouldn't be focused on protecting a driver's likelihood from competition. Especially when that protection comes at the cost of the consumer (re: inability to use a credit card, expectation that a car will take me where I want to go, a safe/clean vehicle, etc.).

DCTC is acting as a de facto union in many ways. Taxi drivers have a right to organize but they need to do it themselves than rely on gov't to do it for them.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

I signed the petition, posted it on my facebook and forwarded it to my block's listserve.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 21, 2013 10:52 am • linkreport

Why should there be regulations on size at all. The only regulations should be for safety, and almost all cars have excellent back seat passenger safety. Go for what the market will bear.

Beijing and Seoul have fleets of Hyundai Elantras
Bangkok has a fleet of Toyota Corollas
Shanghai has a fleet of VW Jettas

all are completely adequate. If we are so concerned about fuel economy, we should forget about hybrids and force or subsidize hydrogen fuel cell cars which will hit the market in the 2015 model year.

by Richard B on Aug 21, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

I would sign said petition if it was for removing the space requirement completely or even if it made an exception for ALL hybrid/alternative fuel vehicles. I love the Prius, but I do not support laws that call out particular companies or models to their benefit.

by Richard B on Aug 21, 2013 10:59 am • linkreport

First, if you want to compare fuel use you should be using gallons per 100 miles. I know the standard is to use MPG here but it is extremely misleading when you are talking about actual fuel use.

Hybrid vehicles that appear to be allowed under the regulations:
Lincoln MKZ (99cuft) - 45MPG/2.2gal per 100mi
Lexus ES 300h (100cuft) - 40mpg/2.5gal per 100mi
Infiniti Q50 (100cuft) - 31mpg/3.2gal per 100mi
probably others.

The question is, what is the point of the sedan classification. To the taxi commission, it is a class for premium service. For UberX, it seems to be a clever way to run a taxi service without having to pick up street hails.

The taxicab commission should just end the moratorium on registering new cabs and cab licenses and make it a free-for-all. Want to run an actual premium service? Great, you don't have to pick up street hails. Want to run a taxi service? Great, you can charge more if you pick people up with an app (via a dispatch charge and mandatory tip like Uber taxi), but you still have to pick up street hails because taxis are public transit.

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

On a side note, I find it interesting that people frequently think that replacing small cars with a Prius is more efficient and saves more gas than say replacing an SUV with an SUV-hybrid. Here is a quick quiz. Which one of these changes results in the largest (and smallest) decrease of gasoline consumption in gallons per 10,000 miles?
A. Changing a vehicle from 36 to 50 mpg?
B. Changing a vehicle from 18 to 28 mpg?
C. Changing a vehicle from 16 to 20 mpg?

The Answer:
B. 198.4 g
C. 125 g
A. 94.1 g

Did you get the order right? Why is it hard for Americans to sometimes to perceive the benefit of these changes? It comes from the way Americans express "fuel efficiency" in miles per gallon. It isn't linear as most Americans perceive it. It is frequently much better to replace the less fuel efficient vehicles (SUVs and trucks) with something that is only a little more fuel efficient.

by ArchStanton on Aug 21, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

My curiosity about Ethical Electric is eating at me. Do they have any connection with Uber? Why do they not reveal their physical location anywhere on their website? Where can I find a list of investors? I can't help but feel using the word "Ethical" in a company name is misleading. If the organization has an altruistic intent to promote activism and clean energy, why not incorporate as a non-profit?

Honestly I have no problem with cabbies using Prii in DC but I can't get behind this petition drive. My (admittedly cynical) gut is telling me there's more to this story.

by dcmike on Aug 21, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

Before you continue reading, I'd like to issue a disclaimer: Most people on this blog know me. I'm not typically the person who defends the status quo (I'm the guy who wants to torch both WMATA and the ATU). I'm certainly not a friend of the city's taxicab industry, which is, hands-down, one of the worst I've experienced anywhere in the world. I'm not associated with the taxicab industry or the DCTC. However, I have many concerns about Uber's plans and I think this whole environmental argument is just a marketing scheme developed by a very PR-wise company.

Uber wants to run what is essentially an unregulated taxi company and people are so unhappy with the current state of DC cabs that folks will agree to pretty much anything. My concern is that once Uber successfully takes down the regulatory system, especially in regards to price controls, that every other operator will follow suit. Who would be crazy enough to operate a regulated fixed-price cab when you could follow the Uber model?

People on this blog and elsewhere may be perfectly fine with a deregulated market and allowing taxi services to charge whatever they want as long as the fares are disclosed. That would essentially turn the taxicab market into one similar to airlines where cabs compete on availability and price. And, of course, just like the airlines, we shouldn't be surprised to see higher fares during peak times, extra fees, and a slew of anti-consumer behavior like the formation of cartels. Just think of what happened with Uber on New Year's, when supply and demand dictated prices far, far, higher than normal. Now imagine that happening every day after midnight, or at the airport/train station: "Who needs a ride home!? I'll take anyone who pays the highest price!"

And this isn't just idle speculation: every city that has deregulated its taxi market has seen prices rise. Seattle tried in 1980, and reversed course in 1984. The Netherlands and Sweden similarly tried in the early 2000s and experienced the same results.

But now we have smartphones to check prices and increase competition! We sure do, but the state of Connecticut found that most people didn't bother to price check multiple service providers. They also found an increase in drivers refusing to accept short-haul trips. Basically, the deregulated system backfired, prices rose, and consumers were left in a lurch.

I view taxicabs as a public service. What we have experienced with DC taxicabs is a failure to adequately regulate that service. It is my hope that such an era is coming to an end. I do believe that the new regulations the DCTC has proposed, including accepting credit cards, new dome lights that have LED text and individual ID numbers, new restrictions on how long a cab can be on the road, and new 24-hour enforcement, will improve the city's taxicab fleet. For anyone who thinks the DCTC is corrupt and simply accepts bribes from drivers, one need only to look at the vitriol spewing from some taxi operators about the new regulations. Certainly anything that makes bad operators this upset have to be a good thing.

In the meantime, Uber can still operate and compete with the traditional taxi market like they have been doing for years. And if Uber would like to start up its own taxicab service using Priuses or any eco-vehicle they'd like, more power to them. I am sure people will be happy to use their service, but they have to play by the same rules as everybody else.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 11:05 am • linkreport

Good to see you can still use a Bentley as a cab...

Remember folks, the DC Cab system is not about transportation, it is a jobs program, a way for a hard-working African American man to make a middle-class life for his family amidst the segregation of the American South. In related news, Have you heard about LBJ and his war on poverty?

Any attack on the nation's worst major city cab system is really just racism in disguise! Or so say the lackeys in DC government that prop up this system.

Its sad when Tijuana, Mexico has a better cab system than DC (which it does).

by dcdriver on Aug 21, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

"If the organization has an altruistic intent to promote activism and clean energy, why not incorporate as a non-profit? "

Probably they are for profit. Like the zillion for profit companies selling fair trade food items. Why should something that gives consumers the option to make a choice in accordance with the consumers values, not try to make a profit?

and since most priuses are not plug ins (and most that are plugged in will certainly use the market dominant sources of electricity) I think this is a distraction.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 21, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport

No Morning Links this morning?

by Moose on Aug 21, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

@MJB:I'm 6'6", and I can barely fit in a Prius,

Correct. I don't like Prius for that reason. They're tiny and worse, have low roofs.

Nevertheless, our size does not seems to be a concern for the DCTC. We're customers after all, and why would they care about us? Not their job.

by Jasper on Aug 21, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

@ Adam L: I'm certainly not a friend of the city's taxicab industry, which is, hands-down, one of the worst I've experienced anywhere in the world.

Been to Amsterdam?

by Jasper on Aug 21, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

@Jasper

I have. But I don't remember talking a cab there. Just got back from Rome though, and their cabs are a close second to DC in terms of awful cabs and crazy drivers.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 11:21 am • linkreport

Richard B- I think the difference in brands is that Toyota alone uses the strong hybrid engine which means that the electric engine is mostly used in the city and the gas engine only kicks in for extra power, like on the highway. Honda, Ford, and other brands use a mild hybrid which uses the gas engine in the city and only kicks in electric power at higher speeds.

The Prius gets 51 mpg in the city while most other brand hybrids don't get significantly better city mpg than many gas-only cars. (The Honda Insight gets 40 (maybe) and the Ford c-Max may get more, but those are exceptions).

At any rate DC excise tax exemption starts at cars that EPA says gets 40 mpg city.

Considering the huge ozone problem DC has, which shortens live expectancy, we need a LOT more encouragement for strong hybrids and electric vehicle use.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 21, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

Saying that a Ford Taurus is in some way more "luxurious" or "upscale" than a Prius is laughable. I've owned more than one Taurus in my life, and while I grant you they were earlier models and not nearly as snazzy as the ones they sell today, I don't think any model that had manual windows and door locks as standard equipment with power versions as options in the late 90s can count as a "luxury" model. I call BS on the Commission.

Besides, I think we can all agree that almost any car can be "luxurious" in it's best-equipped version (I've actually been in some *very* nice Hyundais and Kias lately), and that luxury has nothing to do with size. I would like to cite the very popular BMW Z3, Z4, and 3 Series, the Mercedes SLK, SL, C Class, B Class (available abroad), the Audi A3 and TT, the Lexus IS and CT models, the now-discontinued Jaguar X-Type, the Range Rover Evoque 2 door, Acura ILX, Tesla Roadster, anything Porsche makes but the Cayenne, the list just goes on and on.

Many of these cars cost $60k, $80k, or $100k+. I am sure that the luxury automobile industry would be very interested to learn that according to the DC Taxi Commission at least, huge chunks of their fleets have now been summarily demoted to "economy" cars because of their size.

And I also wonder... if I buy a $100,000+ roadster, can I pay taxes on it as if it is a pricey economy car when I go to plate it at the DMV now, since another DC agency has declared them equivalent?

by ShawGuy on Aug 21, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

Very well-reasoned, Adam L. I am as disgusted with the poor service of regular D.C. cabs as much as anyone else. However, the solution isn't to let Uber do whatever the heck it wants. If Uber ever gets a monopoly, they WILL raise rates so high that will make them unaccessable for most. We'll functionally lose the mobility option that standard regulated cabs provide.

The solution is to keep dragging the D.C. cabbies into the 21st century with card readers and better cab maintenence and to increase funding for enforcement of things like discrimination and refusing to take fare-paying customers outside the Georgetown-Adams Morgan-K St. triangle.

This new regulation banning Priuses is a step backwards among many other steps forward. Call it out for what it is but don't dare leave the entire city to a vulture like Uber's ownership.

by Cavan on Aug 21, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

@AdamL: you ought to consider turning your post of 11:05am into a full article. Most of the taxi deregulation talk here on GGW has been rather abstract, and a discussion of the results of other cities' deregulation experiences would be quite interesting.

by thm on Aug 21, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris
Tom, I said I like the Prius. I still don't like a law that gives the Toyota Prius (now and forever) some special advantage.
What if Ford or Honda changes the way they engineer their hybrids?
What if Toyota changes the way they engineer their hybrids?
You expect the DC government to pay people to rate and review the characteristics of every vehicle on the market and make updates every year or can we just make a simpler law that doesn't play favorites.

I also dont see why normal midsized cars like the Jetta, Elantra, Cruze or Focus should be restricted but the Prius allowed? A Focus is more fuel efficient than a Crown Vic right, so why not allow it?

by Richard B on Aug 21, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

@ Adam L

But what you are talking about is already being done to some extent (maybe not yet in DC, but other cities). In many places, cabs already charge extra during rush hour (they do in Manhattan). The Metro charges more during peak and weekend hours...considerably more.

I do understand what you are getting at though. We could descend into the world of unregulated gypsy cabs. But I don't think anyone is proposing anything near that. There could be caps and some regulations. I think you hit the nail on the head: people are fed up with the DC cabs and are looking for alternatives...any alternatives. In the last year, I have been in a number of cabs in which the credit card machine is "broken" but when threatened with a walk off it miraculously is functional again. That gets old. Hopefully the pressure from Uber and UberX will get the cabs to alter such behaviors.

by ArchStanton on Aug 21, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

I am sure people will be happy to use their service, but they have to play by the same rules as everybody else.

Be careful not to confuse disagreement with the rules proposed with an unequivocal endorsement of UberX. I think we could have a clear discussion about how to regulate their model and note that these rules proposed about car size are inadequate.

Moreover, DCTC isn't so much trying to regulate as its just trying to lock out anything different.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

@ Adam L:The Netherlands and Sweden similarly tried in the early 2000s and experienced the same results.

Not really. The problem in the Netherlands (Amsterdam) was that the cabbies were all a corrupt bunch of outlaws that would make the mafia blush. The monopolist license holder had created a nice market for itself with ridiculous prices for the licenses. When those were abolished, owners were pissed off and started burning down the cabs of newbies who got licenses through the new system. Because the government was not willing for crack down on the criminals intimidating the new-comers, potential new cabbies looked for other work, and the criminals kept their semi-closed market. This is what you get when your city council is a bunch of spineless weasels themselves.

The government is still trying to figure out what to do.

But to this day, Amsterdam cab drivers regularly refuse short trips, intimidate passengers, take extra-long routes and recently a clip showed up of cabbies refusing to take someone with a guide-dog.

by Jasper on Aug 21, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

ArchStanton
Did you get the order right? Why is it hard for Americans to sometimes to perceive the benefit of these changes? It comes from the way Americans express "fuel efficiency" in miles per gallon. It isn't linear as most Americans perceive it. It is frequently much better to replace the less fuel efficient vehicles (SUVs and trucks) with something that is only a little more fuel efficient.

Clearly making generalizations about 300 million people's math skills and then using those generalizations to make condescending remarks is the best way to get your point across.

Might I point out that your math is also flawed. Replacing or improving the fuel economy of the least efficient vehicles might not bring the biggest benefit if those vehicles do not drive equal miles as other vehicles. Taxis certainly do drive a lot of miles but many SUVs and Trucks do not. If they are drive 5000 miles per year instead of 20,000 per year replacing them will need 4 times the efficiency gain.

by Richard B on Aug 21, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

Richard B- I pointed out the legal distinction in DC is cars that get at least 40 mpg in the city. I think for perks that should be the level set (or 50, which would only be Prius and electrics).

But with the huge number of Prius cabs now and the amount of DC pollution coming from cabs, I can't fathom putting obstacles in their use.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 21, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

Unregulated competition in the taxi industry, under conditions where the federal government's austerity policies have created lots of unemployment, would drive wages down to starvation levels. Blue-collar workers who want a living wage deserve government protection far more than media moguls and drug company executives.

No one is arguing in favor of an unregulated tax industry. What I'm in favor of, personally, is a DCTC that focuses on the interests of the taxi-using public, rather than worrying primarily about protecting the incomes of the taxi industry.

If the current status quo with regards to taxi regulation doesn't serve the public at large, why should we be worried about maintaining it?

I'm in favor of very few, if any, limitations on the number and type of taxis (other than safety regulations, of course). I'm not even in favor of DCTC setting rates for taxis, but would be happy with just a requirement that taxis that pick up customers on the street post their fares prominently on in and in the vehicle. Services like Uber should be free to charge what they want, so long as inform you of those rates when you're ordering.

The government setting prices for taxi services is such an antiquated concept. If the average person can choose restaurants or clothing stores without such a system, why not taxis?

by Potowmack on Aug 21, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

@ArchStanton

Indeed. DC cabs (if anybody remembers) used to have a rush-hour surcharge that was replaced with meters that measure both distance and time. The point is that rush-hour fares on Metro and other cities are still regulated.

As for "there could be caps and some regulations," that all still relies on adequate enforcement; exactly the problem that we have today. Plus, we know how caps work out: just look at NYC where medallion owners rake in millions and the drivers work in feudal conditions. Not exactly and enviable system, either.

@drumz

Sure, we could come up with a completely new regulatory framework for UberX but that doesn't seem to be what the company is interested in. Their argument is that every car should be allowed to operate as a livery vehicle without restriction. This time their complaining about size/weight but I have a feeling that we'd hear their complaints about any restrictions the DCTC tried to impose on their service.

As for "DCTC isn't so much trying to regulate as its just trying to lock out anything different," I would submit that while the technology may be different, the basic economic model that Uber wants to use is as old as time. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I'm immediately distrustful of any company that views itself as a hero shining light on a dark world... at the end of the day their goal is to make money, and as much of it as possible. That's the entire reason cab regulations were set up in the first place.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

@Richard B

Condescending? Interesting that you were offended. I don't think the post was condescending. There is a large literature about how Americans erroneously perceive energy usage and policies. Is all of that research condescending?

And the math stands no matter the mileage. You have to pick something, so I picked 10,000 miles. You cannot change the mileage for each example (5000 miles A vs 20,000 for B). But even if you did double the miles for the 36 to 50 mpg gallon example, it would still just be equal scenario B.

by ArchStanton on Aug 21, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

"Honda, Ford, and other brands use a mild hybrid which uses the gas engine in the city and only kicks in electric power at higher speeds."

That statement is outdated. Honda, yes, others not necessarily, Ford definitely not. Ford's system currently is conceptually like Toyota's, as is Nissan's, Hyundai's, Kia's, maybe others who I can't think of. The last-generation Ford Escape proved itself very well in NY fleets. The current Ford hybrid systems will run all-electric mode up to speeds in excess of 60MPH IIRC. The only "mild" hybrids on the market are the Honda's and a few GM sedans (not including the Volt).

I will fully disclose that I hate the Prius, not because its a bad hybrid, but because its a lousy car. Bad ergonomics, stupid design, awful driving dynamics and characteristics. Favorable to the idea, but the execution sucks, and I've driven them for extended periods. But this is not Autoblog or Motor Trend so that's beside the point.

A hybrid cab fleet is a good goal and I'm in favor, but I think there should be size regulations since taxis are a form of public transport and when you call or try to flag down a cab you have to have a reasonable expectation that it will carry a certain number of passengers and luggage. I personally don't think the Prius meets such a standard as it is currently designed(Prius V, maybe, not sure).

by spookiness on Aug 21, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

The government setting prices for taxi services is such an antiquated concept. If the average person can choose restaurants or clothing stores without such a system, why not taxis?

Because consumers want to be able to stick their hand out and hail a cab and know how much it's going to cost without having to try again several times. Sure, when you are using a smartphone the equation changes a bit (easier to price shop). But price regulation for taxis sets the same kind of certainty in price that exists with restaurants, clothing stores, etc. You are thinking of each cab as a "store" but this is the wrong way to think about it - the cab SYSTEM is the store. One cab is not useful - having a network of cabs is.

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

@MLD

Even the ability to check prices on smartphones is limited. You'd require an app that's able to get the prices and availability, in real time, of every competing taxi service. Besides requiring a good deal of work by the consumer (which the Connecticut report said actually didn't work), such a system lends itself to natural (anti-competitive) cartels.

Using a restaurant analogy, it would be like rising the price of a particular dish based on how many people had ordered it that evening.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

Adam L,

I still think the article isn't making a positive or negative judgment on UberX overall but rather pointing out how the DCTC is preventing the use of hybrid cars out of an aim to prevent UberX from competing rather than a more objective position.

Meanwhile, if UberX came out and said they only want to operate if they are allowed to refuse fares to certain neighborhoods I think many here would cheer the DCTC for telling them to pound sand.

UberX may not be interested in regulation but I am. It's just that DCTC's seem more interested in protecting incumbent taxi companies than the customer's they serve.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 12:00 pm • linkreport

Because consumers want to be able to stick their hand out and hail a cab and know how much it's going to cost without having to try again several times.

True, and this is an excellent reason to have regulated taxi fares - consistency is important.

So, how does that relate to what UberX is proposed to do, and what does that have to do with the size of a Prius?

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

Using a restaurant analogy, it would be like rising the price of a particular dish based on how many people had ordered it that evening.

If you knew the price of the dish at the time when you placed the order, I don't see a problem. If the steak is too expensive, you order the pasta.

by Potowmack on Aug 21, 2013 12:04 pm • linkreport

A hybrid cab fleet is a good goal and I'm in favor, but I think there should be size regulations since taxis are a form of public transport and when you call or try to flag down a cab you have to have a reasonable expectation that it will carry a certain number of passengers and luggage.

I think it would be acceptable for Priuses to be in a special category that would allow consumers to simply refuse to hail a Prius in favor of a larger cab.

by JustMe on Aug 21, 2013 12:04 pm • linkreport

@drumz

It's all about barriers to entry. If UberX is successful in getting to use any car they want as a livery vehicle (which do not have price controls), then they will have successfully deregulated the taxi market albeit in a back-end way.

Instead of purchasing new cars, new meter equipment, and getting expensive paint jobs, traditional DC cabs will very quickly switch from being taxis to becoming a livery service. I can say for certain that almost all of the larger taxi companies (especially Diamond and Yellow cab) will follow Uber quasi-immediately.

What we will then end up with are several networks of livery vehicles because, as I said, who in the right mind would continue to drive a highly-regulated taxi when you could just be a livery driver instead? If DCTC really cared more about taxi companies, they would have permitted all of them to make the move to livery services already.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

Absolutely agree; I was trying to respond to the questioning of price regulation period. Price regulation exists so you can hail any cab and know how much it will cost. Without that the utility of taxis is diminished greatly AND there is much more opportunity for gouging.

I think the Uber Taxi service deals with creating an exception to the price regulation somewhat well - you know the price will be the standard ride +20% extra for the mandatory tip. It can lead to cartels but I think you just have to require those companies to also pick up street hails at the regulated base price.

I think it would be interesting if some sort of standard were developed that just alerted taxis to the presence of a customer. I.e. extend the range of "sticking your hand out." I have a friend who uses Uber Taxi in the late evenings often - she works in NoMA and basically that's the only way to get a taxi to come by. And it's not difficult to get one to do so, because there is tons of taxi traffic 5 blocks away at Union Station.

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

@Potowmack

Except with cabs you don't necessarily have the ability to order another meal, especially when you have to eat and you're down to only one, extraordinarily expensive item left on the menu.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

The real goal needs to be plug-ins, not hybrids.

DC could be a leader on this, as you can mandate zero emission cars. The PR effects would be enough to deal with the sales (see Fiat 500e). Clearly the Tesla is selling very well in DC.

Having a plug in tax fleet would help boost a charger network, which would move more private cars over, and you can also power food trucks off of them. Also car2go.

Now you just need to mandate that cabs have solar e-glass (as car2go) do and you're money.

by charlie on Aug 21, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

@MLD

Except that UberTaxi is basically the same thing as TaxiMagic or other services; they still have to accept the regulated fare, though the service provider can charge for the dispatch, which I think is entirely fine.

The problem is I don't know how you require any taxi service to accept street hails at a regulated price. The incentive, I would imagine, would be to not provide cheaper service and simply wait for a more expensive livery hail.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

Is there no way to separate the type of vehicle allowed vs. the way things are paid for? Taxi companies in Arlington use priuses. Again, I don't really know anything about UberX and their pricing structure because I haven't taken the time to look it up. I may agree or disagree with that.

But if we don't want UberX to operate because we disagree with how they do fares and would harm the public transportation aspect of taxis (rather than the "lets make money" aspect of the taxis) then regulate it directly. Not indirectly by declaring the cars they want to use verboten, especially when we already have taxi companies using the same vehicle.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

@ArchStanton
I have no problem with expressing things as litres(or gallons) per 100km(miles), but I think that anyone who is actually considering it sits down looks at their driving, their mileage per year, their fuel costs and does the calculations when purchasing a new car to see how much the car is truly going to cost.

I can make generalizations(based on studies) about mainland Chinese auto consumers that Chinese don't look at the fuel efficiency at all when considering buying a car, but again, no matter the trends I wouldn't ask questions on public forums about "why is it so hard for Chinese to understand that fuel costs money?"
And the math stands no matter the mileage. You have to pick something, so I picked 10,000 miles. You cannot change the mileage for each example (5000 miles A vs 20,000 for B). But even if you did double the miles for the 36 to 50 mpg gallon example, it would still just be equal scenario B.
So my father has an old pickup truck that gets an impressive 12 miles/gallon(8.3 gallons/100miles). My wife has a small sedan that gets 30 miles/gallon(3.3 gallons/100 miles). I agree that there is more to be gained replacing the pickup if driving habits are equal, but they are not. He uses the pickup as a farm vehicle, driving it less than 100 miles a year, while my wife drives her car about 15,000 a year. Replacing her car with something more fuel efficiency will likely mean less gasoline used even if the efficiency increase is only minor.

by Richard B on Aug 21, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

And, of course, just like the airlines, we shouldn't be surprised to see higher fares during peak times, extra fees, and a slew of anti-consumer behavior like the formation of cartels.

Airline de-regulation has led overall to a transfer of wealth from airlines to consumers. Airlines used to be a very profitable industry but since deregulation, prices have been cut at the expense of airline profitability.

There's a good chance that if we had never broken up the government backed telephone monopoly in the 1980s, we wouldn't have smartphones or VoIP today.

However, as with most things, there is no ideological solution. You can't simply say that "regulation" or "de-regulation" is the answer. It all depends on how well you regulate or de-regulate. There are plenty of examples of both reg and de-reg going well and going horribly.

I agree that allowing something like Uber presents risks to the system. Perhaps they drive all other taxi service out of business and become a monopolist and take advantage of consumers. There have been no indications that they're going down that route but it's a possibility.

However, there's also the possibility that Uber adds another dimension to taxi service that complements existing service and nudges existing service to improve. It seems worth experimenting with allowing Uber-like services, closely monitor how it's working, and take remedial action if needed.

Making a blanket statement that Uber leads to a less regulated market and less regulation is always bad, so it should never be tried, greatly reduces the possibility of innovation.

by Falls Church on Aug 21, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

The real goal needs to be plug-ins, not hybrids.
plug-ins are not viable for taxi use as they do not have the range. A taxi may drive over 300 miles in a day, especially if it is being shared by 2 drivers. Plug-ins take too long to charge. In addition, taxis put on a lot of miles, and over time the batteries degrade to the point where in winter, getting 150 miles on a charge can be difficult.

A Fuel Cell fleet would be a viable option as you can refuel one in 5 minutes. A few fueling stations would need to be added, but this would help the whole metro area convert to a hydrogen economy.

by Richard B on Aug 21, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

Using a restaurant analogy, it would be like rising the price of a particular dish based on how many people had ordered it that evening.

There are no regulations I'm aware of that prohibit restaurants from pricing meals this way. And, the lack of such a regulation doesn't seem to be a problem.

by Falls Church on Aug 21, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

@drumz

"I don't really know anything about UberX and their pricing structure"

And therein lies the problem.

There are basically two forms of "for-hire" transportation:

1. General taxis that have a standard fare set by the government.
2. Livery cars: luxury services that can charge whatever they want.

Uber operates a network of livery services, which up until now have all been luxury vehicles like large expensive towncars, SUVs, and limos. The idea is that these services can charge whatever they want because they're a luxury service and people who want them can pay a premium for their services. Furthermore, those vehicles can only accept dispatched rides (i.e. they cannot pick up passengers off who randomly hail them off the street).

Regular taxis are generally non-luxury cars. Taxi companies in Arlington use Priuses, and so do taxi companies in DC. Priuses have always been allowed to operate as taxis. Those vehicles can accept dispatches or street hails and, as a result, have fares regulated by the government as well as a number of other restrictions.

UberX would like to use any vehicle to provide a livery service so that they can charge whatever they want. In this case, it's a $5 base fare and $2.50 per mile, higher than the government-mandated rate of $3 base fare and $2.20 per mile. The government, which has an interest in keeping taxi rates uniform, denied Uber's request for smaller, cheaper vehicles to count as luxury livery services. Now Uber is complaining.

As I've said before, if Uber gets its way and is able to count any vehicle as a livery service then every cab company would follow suit because they'd be free from the price restrictions. Since higher fares are generally not in the interest of consumers, the DCTC wants to regulate what can and cannot be a livery service. DC law does not allow for price controls on livery services (something Uber fought for and won), so the only other way to differentiate between the two services is on the size/type of vehicle. That leaves us where we're at today.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

I'm certainly not in favor of all regulation, but the distinguishing factor for me is that taxicabs provide a necessary public service. Making sure that such service should be regulated by the government to ensure availability and consistency, regardless of what forms those regulations take.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

Agreed with you about taxis hailed from the street. I don't see livery services as the same kind of public service.

DC law does not allow for price controls on livery services (something Uber fought for and won), so the only other way to differentiate between the two services is on the size/type of vehicle. That leaves us where we're at today.

You can differentiate based on whether you hail on the street or must call/text/app them.

by Falls Church on Aug 21, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

As I've said before, if Uber gets its way and is able to count any vehicle as a livery service then every cab company would follow suit because they'd be free from the price restrictions.

And yet, there is likely a limit to the number of UberX fares out there. Similarly, there is definitely a market for street hails.

The entire reason UberX even has a market is because we do not have a systematic dispatch system in the city. If I need a cab to DCA, I call one of the Arlington cab companies because they actually show up. Every time I've tried to schedule a dispatched cab in advance in DC, they never show.

No one doubts that there were reasons for regulating these things in the past and that many of those reasons still hold true today. However, it's definitely worth a reassessment of the purpose of the entire regulatory system we have.

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church "You can differentiate based on whether you hail on the street or must call/text/app them."

@Alex B "And yet, there is likely a limit to the number of UberX fares out there. Similarly, there is definitely a market for street hails."

These statements both assume that street hails will still be available. If a good number of taxi operators switch to livery service, as I believe they will, then there will be fewer street hail cabs available. Once you get tired of unsuccessfully waiving your arm on a street corner for 10-15 minutes, you'll eventually get on your phone and order an Uber. At least, that's what I believe the company is betting on.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

These statements both assume that street hails will still be available. If a good number of taxi operators switch to livery service, as I believe they will, then there will be fewer street hail cabs available.

Perhaps the market for street hails will collapse. Perhaps it won't because street hails are at lower fares and are more convenient (assuming you don't have to wait long to find one) so there will always be a significant market for them. I don't think there's sufficient evidence that Uber will cause the street hail market to collapse to not allow it. And, if we start to see a problem with insufficient street hail capacity to meet demand, changes to the regulations can always be made.

by Falls Church on Aug 21, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

These statements both assume that street hails will still be available.

Because they will be! Not everyone will use Uber. Far from it. Thus, some might switch, but not all will because there won't be enough fares from Uber users alone to get them the business they need.

It's also worth noting that I'll waive my hands for 10-15 minutes at peak times as it is for a cab - it's not like the current situation is great for users.

Alternatively, there's no reason for the DCTC not to allow UberX to operate with existing cab drivers as a dispatch service, and allow some sort of premium for that service (I believe there is already a $2 surcharge for dispatch).

UberX proposed fares:

$5 base, $2.50/mile, $0.50/minute wait time.

Current DC taxi fares:

$3 base, $2.16/mile, $0.42/minute wait time.

Add in the $2 dispatch fee, and those are pretty damn close to the same rates.

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

"Alternatively, there's no reason for the DCTC not to allow UberX to operate with existing cab drivers as a dispatch service, and allow some sort of premium for that service (I believe there is already a $2 surcharge for dispatch)"

You mean like UberTaxi? Yeah, they're already doing that and it's perfectly legal. If that is all Uber wanted to do then there'd be no reason for them to be fighting this hard for UberX.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

If that is all Uber wanted to do then there'd be no reason for them to be fighting this hard for UberX.

And conversely, no reason to deny them the opportunity because of the size of a Prius.

They want to offer that kind of service to a broader market. There's a realization that the quality of the cabs stinks. And I'm struggling to find a reason they shouldn't be allowed to operate this kind of service.

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Alex B
Alternatively, there's no reason for the DCTC not to allow UberX to operate with existing cab drivers as a dispatch service, and allow some sort of premium for that service (I believe there is already a $2 surcharge for dispatch)

And conversely, no reason to deny them the opportunity because of the size of a Prius.

Umm, the DCTC isn't denying them the opportunity to do what you described. They already can and do with Uber Taxi. They could call that service whatever they want.

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

If the issue is that Uber has exhausted the supply of good licensed taxis/drivers (non livery cars), and want more licensed taxis/drivers, how come they aren't pushing the DCTC to lift the moratorium on licensing new taxis/drivers?

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

Mostly because I believe their ultimate goal is to release themselves of government control using the "but we can be so much better than if we're free to do what we want" line that so many other industries (banks, airlines, utilities, etc.) that have had mixed results.

I hope that you and Falls Church are right and that we'll ultimately end up with a better taxi system with cheap, omnipresent traditional cab service and premium instant-dispatch services like Uber... they will almost certainly win this fight using the emotional argument that they're the good guys try to fight the evil cab drivers. But I have learned that too often deregulation of vital public services tends to create some combination of higher overall prices and worse service but maybe we'll be wrong this time.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

Umm, the DCTC isn't denying them the opportunity to do what you described.

Sorry, I meant for Uber to do as they propose with UberX, not with Ubertaxi.

If the objection is about the rates, then they at least need to be intellectually honest enough to object based on the rates and state a reason why, rather than complain about the size of the vehicles.

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

I don't think so, Adam. You're correct. Skepticism of Uber makes as much sense as skepticism of the cabbies. While I recognize that their service is currently better, I don't trust Uber to stay better if they get their way.

by Cavan on Aug 21, 2013 1:47 pm • linkreport

If the objection is about the rates, then they at least need to be intellectually honest enough to object based on the rates and state a reason why, rather than complain about the size of the vehicles.

The objection is that in order to charge higher rates, you must provide a premium service. And one of the requirements for premium service is cushier vehicles with more passenger space.

What is the difference between UberX and UberTaxi service?

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

Mostly because I believe their ultimate goal is to release themselves of government control using the "but we can be so much better than if we're free to do what we want" line that so many other industries (banks, airlines, utilities, etc.) that have had mixed results.

And, if that is their goal: so what?

The existing situation, heavily regulated, also has mixed results.

This isn't about whether we should or should not have regulations; rather, it's about whether our regulations actually make sense and actually accomplish what we want them to accomplish.

Technology has changed this space enough that we can't simply assume the status quo is the best available option.

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

Perhaps the market for street hails will collapse. Perhaps it won't because street hails are at lower fares and are more convenient (assuming you don't have to wait long to find one) so there will always be a significant market for them.

If there is a market for street hailed cabs, companies will fill that market. If there isn't, well, so be it. DCTC shouldn't be in the business of trying to preserve a business model that isn't attractive to the public (though I think there will always be a market for street hailed cabs, at least in the denser part of the District).

by Potowmack on Aug 21, 2013 1:56 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

I would submit that the current DC taxi system is not heavily regulated. Cabs were allowed to exist for years with not accepting credit cards, not having meters, not being forced to get newer vehicles, etc. And on top of that the extremely minimal enforcement and you had an industry operating essentially out on its own.

Now that the DCTC is actually putting in stronger regulations and is stepping up their enforcement, we're starting to see improvements. Uber's answer to the poor regulatory environment that allowed these awful taxi service to exist is that they should be allowed to operate, only with even fewer regulations. That just doesn't fly for me.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

The objection is that in order to charge higher rates, you must provide a premium service. And one of the requirements for premium service is cushier vehicles with more passenger space.

That at least sort of makes sense. I don't see that justification anywhere else though (article or comments).

I don't think it's right though.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

The objection is that in order to charge higher rates, you must provide a premium service.

No, that is not the objection to UberX. The DCTC objects to UberX because the rates are too low - e.g. they are competitive with regular cab rates.

By regulation, the only way you can operate a dispatch service in DC is to either a) operate a cab with dispatch, or b) operate a sedan or a limo. The regs require sedans be luxury vehicles.

The regs associate sedans with higher fares, but I'm still failing to see what the public purpose is for that connection. If Uber were proposing to use these low fares with large, luxury vehicles, the DCTC would have no grounds to object.

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport

I would submit that the current DC taxi system is not heavily regulated. Cabs were allowed to exist for years with not accepting credit cards, not having meters, not being forced to get newer vehicles, etc. And on top of that the extremely minimal enforcement and you had an industry operating essentially out on its own.

Sorry, you can say it's not as heavily regulated as other taxi networks in other cities, but that doesn't mean there aren't regulations.

A truly unregulated market would be like the Dollar Vans you see in other cities, or the illegal cabs you see operate in DC at night.

The very act of mandating meters and a rate structure is a pretty big regulation. It's hardly a case of drivers making up their own rules.

Now that the DCTC is actually putting in stronger regulations and is stepping up their enforcement, we're starting to see improvements.

True, and those regulations are good! They're in the public interest.

Uber's answer to the poor regulatory environment that allowed these awful taxi service to exist is that they should be allowed to operate, only with even fewer regulations. That just doesn't fly for me.

Why doesn't it fly with you? The question shouldn't be about the number of regulations (more regs or fewer regs), but about the purpose of the regulations.

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

"The regs associate sedans with higher fares, but I'm still failing to see what the public purpose is for that connection."

So that other services can't come in to undercut the established market and then use their dominance to develop an unregulated monopoly, which often has higher prices and worse service.

by Adam L on Aug 21, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

So that other services can't come in to undercut the established market and then use their dominance to develop an unregulated monopoly, which often has higher prices and worse service.

How would this lead to a monopoly?

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 2:16 pm • linkreport

Almost half the cabs I see now are Prius. Will those have to be taken out?

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 21, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

Almost half the cabs I see now are Prius. Will those have to be taken out?

Not if they are licensed as a taxi with a meter.

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

It's not like people couldn't see this coming. Read the Federal Trade Commission's comments on the proposed rule making, date June 7, 2013:

http://www.ftc.gov/os/2013/06/130612dctaxicab.pdf

Staff recommends that DCTC consider the extent to which the above
requirements may impede competition, or are necessary to ensure safety or some other
important consumer benefit. Proposed 1299.1 facially restricts the types of vehicles that
can be operated as limousines or sedans, which may be an important consideration for
some consumers and a valuable component of competition. For example, the 3,200
pound weight requirement for sedans might exclude certain lighter-weight, more fuel
efficient, and more environmentally friendly vehicles from being used for sedan services,
including lighter-weight alternative fuel vehicles, that are currently available or that may
become more widely available and popular in the future

(sorry for the wonky formatting, cut and paste from a PDF doesn't work too well on line breaks)

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport

So that other services can't come in to undercut the established market and then use their dominance to develop an unregulated monopoly, which often has higher prices and worse service.

Uber may be one of the first companies to establish this business model, but I doubt it will be the last. There's a fairly low barrier of entry to the online taxi business, and it's really doubtful that Uber will be able to establish any type of monopoly.

by Potowmack on Aug 21, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

94 vs. 95

This all boils down to the commission setting the required interior volume to 95 cu.ft. while the Prius since 2010 has 94 cu.ft.

The Prius has 36" of leg room in the rear seats and is plenty big for a cab. The commission needs to get the requirement changed to 94 to save the hundreds of Prius cabs if nothing else. (the pre-2010 Prii are smaller).

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 21, 2013 5:47 pm • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris
The commission needs to get the requirement changed to 94 to save the hundreds of Prius cabs if nothing else.

Except these rules don't prevent Prii (ugh) from being cabs.

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 5:55 pm • linkreport

Even if present Prii are grandfathered in, cabs turn over fast and taking the Prius out of the cab-approved list would be really bad.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 21, 2013 6:05 pm • linkreport

No, the regulations do not prevent Priuses from being cabs at all. They are not taken out of the cab-approved list.

The regulations prevent Priuses from being used as livery sedans.

3rd time's the charm?

by MLD on Aug 21, 2013 6:14 pm • linkreport

The regulations prevent Priuses from being used as livery sedans.

Which I have to say is ridiculous. The reasoning behind strict regulation of approved cabs is that consumers do not have that much choice when it comes to street hails-- they generally have to take whatever they get. That's why street hails need strictly regulated standards of service and price. However, in the case of livery sedans, you have your choice of which company you want to call and can arrange for a specific type of sedan to pick you up if you choose.

by JustMe on Aug 21, 2013 6:26 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see cabs required to be EPA listed as minimum 40 mpg city, rising to 50 mpg city in five years. Our ozone level justifies that in a "regulated" transit mode. It would more than halve the ozone coming from a significant segment of traffic.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 21, 2013 8:15 pm • linkreport

My takeaway from this story is that the taxicab commission needs to be disbanded and replaced with something else.

by grumpy on Aug 21, 2013 10:34 pm • linkreport

The plural form of Prius is Prius. "There are a lot of Prius on the road today." Thank you for your time.

by Pennsy on Aug 22, 2013 3:14 am • linkreport

The Taxicab Commission lost me completely on the color scheme. I'm sympathetic to Yellow Cab's petition drive. Completely. This commission, which once had two reporters arrested at a meeting, is systemic mess of incompetence and ignorance.
Councilmember Mary Cheh wanted all taxis be one color. That's not the commission's fault.

by Turnip on Aug 22, 2013 5:38 am • linkreport

I subscribe to the view that Taxis are not a public service, or a jobs program, but rather just another regulated industry (perhaps over-regulated).

I live in San Francisco, and Ive probably taken 200 trips using the various eHail services available here. Here's what's happened in San Francisco since the inception of Über and uberX based on my experience in taking eHailed cabs:

- Average wait time has gone from 15+ minutes using a traditional taxi to 5 using eHail, 10 minutes in peak times.

- the driver always shows up. Always.

- some city cab companies are now also moving to eHail, and offering nearly the same service (pay online, rate driver, accurately gauge arrival time). There are typically more cars available on this service, but they are not always as eager to pick you up.

- there seems to be a new eHail service launching every 6 months or so. Someone seems to think there's room for more competition, not less.

- since switching costs for the consumer are zero, I typically check 2-3 apps for the nearest car. I'd expect a service to instigate a loyalty program any day now to keep this from happening.

- about half the drivers for Über used to be cab drivers, and are now working for themselves on Über or similar services

- the cars are almost all Priuses, almost all new, and seemingly all well maintained.

- anecdotally, the drivers seem to be better rested, and more careful. They don't appear to be in as much of a hurry.

All I can say is that, from my experience, it works so well that I would consider ditching my car if I didn't have a garage. This may change over time as the system matures, or some lobby introduces legislation to kill the competition, but for now, it's the golden age.

by SFUser on Aug 22, 2013 8:29 am • linkreport

I guess the question in my mind is, does the DCTC have a mandate to protect/provide for the availability of street hails in the city? Most here seem to think no, that it's OK if smartphone-only services are allowed to expand and potentially crowd out the availability of street hails.

by MLD on Aug 22, 2013 9:13 am • linkreport

I guess the question in my mind is, does the DCTC have a mandate to protect/provide for the availability of street hails in the city?

I actually think yes. Taxis are a an integral part of the transit system. However, I don't see any credible threats to street-hailing from smartphone-based apps, anymore than the dispatch system represents a threat to street-hails.

by JustMe on Aug 22, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

@JustMe
However, I don't see any credible threats to street-hailing from smartphone-based apps, anymore than the dispatch system represents a threat to street-hails.

Won't a service that charges a marginally higher price for the advantage of a smartphone hail and the company guarantee of a well-kept cab capture a portion of high-value (profitable) trips? And since those cars don't have to pick up street hails between jobs, then won't that mean less availability of cabs that do accept street hails?

I see this as different from dispatch, or even uber taxi, in that the cars aren't obligated to pick up street hails. To me that means a number of cabs will switch from being registered street hail taxis to being these dispatch-only taxis, because there is an advantage in that when you go smartphone dispatch you are discriminating towards high-value trips.

by MLD on Aug 22, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport

@Tom
94 vs. 95
This all boils down to the commission setting the required interior volume to 95 cu.ft. while the Prius since 2010 has 94 cu.ft.
The Prius has 36" of leg room in the rear seats and is plenty big for a cab. The commission needs to get the requirement changed to 94 to save the hundreds of Prius cabs if nothing else.

I like this better than just saying 95 but having an exemption for the Prius. Still why can't it be 90 or 85 or no size restriction at all? In general smaller cars are more efficient and less costly to maintain. I would gladly take the smaller car.

I'm 6'2" and don't often take Taxis in the US but when I do I feel kind of lost in the huge back seat.

by Richard B on Aug 22, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

Richard B.- I'd say DC's new 95cf rule is a targeted attack on the 94cf Prius since UberX plans to use them. That's a bad fight to pick since many environmentally conscious users would choose that vehicle (along with the lower fare) over using a Town Car.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 25, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

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