Posts about Taxi Commission
Councilmember Mary Cheh wants to split up the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and reorganize transportation-related functions in the government. Is this a good idea? Many of you responded positively to her proposals around taxis and parking, but worried about splitting transit away from the rest of transportation.
Would such a split create turf battles around how to use each road? Who decides what gets priority for scarce road space and limited funding? These are questions that the plan will have to answer as it evolves, if it's to improve transportation in DC.
Taxi, parking proposals preliminarily popular
The Taxicab Commission seems to serve two roles: deciding policy around how taxis work, and licensing and monitoring taxis. Cheh wants to move the policy and regulatory role into the new District Transit Agency, and move licensing into the Department of Motor Vehicles. Most of you thought that was smart.
For parking, most of our commenters felt it made sense to consolidate the three parking-related functions into one place. Right now, DDOT sets parking policy and rules, DPW writes the tickets, and DMV enforces them. A few people worried about one agency being "judge, jury, and executioner" (according to Cheh, that fear is a reason the functions were split in the past), but most of you feel that with parking functions all in one place, DC will be able to manage parking more adeptly.
But who defines the priorities and plans?
One area that caused the most concern was also an area Cheh's proposal hasn't thoroughly fleshed out: Who decides the purpose of each street, and how to prioritize projects? In short, who plans our transportation network?
Right now, even a unified DDOT does not have a good answer to this question. It has a planning group, which can make lots of long-term and short-term plans, but those planners then have to hand plans over to the engineers, who primarily control the capital budgets and the projects themselves. The engineering group often decides to change or ignore a plan, even one that has gone through a lot of community input.
Also, the bicycle and pedestrian programs are part of planning. You'd think that the bike planners could plan for where a bike facility goes and what type to use, hand it to the engineers. Then they would design the specific details of that project and build it. But as Shane Farthing has documented, that doesn't happen.
Farthing wrote, "In theory, PPSA [the planning group] plans and IMPA [the engineerng group] implements. That, however, assumes that PPSA also has the authority to set the order of priority for IPMA's implementation. It does not." Instead, the planners actually manage most bicycle projects from start to finish.
It's not just bikes. There are no project managers working on implementing bus lanes right now. Meanwhile, there is a whole group of people in IPMA (the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative) dedicated to building bridges and roads around the Anacostia River, so those projects keep happening, even if (as with the Southeast Boulevard) what they design doesn't fit with community desire or the mayor's sustainability plans.
Who decides under Cheh's plan?
A lot of you worried about how this would work in Cheh's new organization. There would now be a "transit" authority that has control over transit, taxi policy, and Capital Bikeshare. Cheh's diagram places "multimodal planning" in this bucket as well.
Would the District Transit Agency decide which streets get a streetcar, a bus lane, a bike lane, a truck route, wider sidewalks, and so on? How does that agency then ensure that the rump DDOT carries out its requests? Which agency prioritizes capital projects, the DTA or DDOT?
If DDOT, then wouldn't DDOT just keep picking and choosing its own priorities and largely ignoring the DTA? If the DTA, is that still really a transit agency, or is it now more of a Transportation Commission and DDOT just a construction department? And then, why not just make DDOT part of DPW or the Department of General Services once more?
If the DTA is still just transit, would you get turf wars between the two about whether to put a transit line or something else on a road? Already, a big obstacle to projects like bus lanes is that WMATA wants to speed up buses, but DDOT might have other ideas for the same roadway, or want to put dollars elsewhere. Will this continue?
Plus, DDOT is an official state Department of Transportation. Every state has to have one, and that's the agency which receives federal money and works with the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration. One agency has to define what goes into the regional Comprehensive Long-Range Plan. If DDOT plays this role, then DDOT is still in the driver's seat about overall transportation priorities, but with less responsibility for "multimodal planning."
Here's what you said
A lot of you worried about this issue.
Abigail Zenner wrote, "I worry about more siloing, turf wars, and not treating all street users equally."
Splitting off transit, bikeshare and multimodal planning and making that a separate agency on the level with DDOT could lead to problems. First, it can make each side more entrenched—fonfong echoed the same concern.
DDOT will now be "roads and highways." You'll have one agency making the plans and another agency tasked with putting those plans in place. Which plans will get priority— DDOT's or the "multimodal" plans?
There is also a big benefit to be gained from having the agency that controls the streets and the agency that plans for transit be the same thing. Especially with how transit-focused the city should be, the transit agency shouldn't have to go begging to the roads people to get plans implemented.
Also, if you are going to create an independent board, go whole-hog and just make it a transportation board in charge of the whole thing.
Having the bike/transit stuff in a place different than roadway stuff seems to be a recipe to repeat the same dynamic. I'd prefer that it not take an act of Congress, or in this case the new Authority's board, to force the road folks to implement new infrastructure changes.jeff said, "Given how difficult it has been for the multimodal planners to coordinate their efforts with other divisions within DDOT I imagine that moving them to a different agency is going to simply make that worse."
Jasper wrote, "The problem with breaking up a large institution is that you break up the complexity of scale with walls that people will hide behind, causing conflicts between the different agencies. See the issues with parking. "
BTA said, "Separating cars from "everything else transportation" is only going to further the disconnect in planning for multimodal systems."
What could work?
A lot of you were skeptical about splitting up transportation, but it's not a foregone conclusion that a transit agency wouldn't work. However, at the very least, there needs to be a very clear answer about who sets priorities.
Another possibility, Cheh's staff say, is putting planning into the Office of Planning. That could strengthen that agency, or it could create even more seams between agencies. One obstacle: OP is right now under economic development, making its planning still subordinate to other objectives. Fixing that is possible and even desirable, but would require a larger-scale reorganization (and multiple council committees).
Cheh's staff say that they are hoping the public input process and working group meetings deal with these kinds of questions. That's fine, as long as there is a clear answer by the end, or they are willing to lengthen the process until this is firmly resolved. If transit splits off but this problem isn't fixed, then transportation planning in DC could get much worse, not better.
This is an issue that needs fixing, regardless. A conversation about reorganization can present a great chance to solve this problem. Maybe reorganization would also spur actual change in a way that wouldn't otherwise. But this part of the reorganization can only be worthwhile if we know the new structure will create a clearer chain of command from plans to action.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has gotten too large and unwieldy to carry out all facets of its mission, says DC Councilmember Mary Cheh. Cheh has introduced a bill to reorganize transportation-related functions, create some new agencies, and abolish one.
Cheh, who chairs the council committee that oversees DDOT, says there is precedent for slicing large agencies into smaller ones. Before 1998, all transportation-related functions were part of the Department of Public Works (DPW).
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was formed that year by splitting off driver and car licensing-related functions. Then, in 2002, DDOT was created. Finally, the District Department of the Environment split from DPW in 2006.
Cheh feels that it's time again for a too-large District agency to split into several. She has proposed a possible set of changes, below. But her staff emphasize that this isn't the only possible approach. More than the specifics, they want to put out one option for discussion, and foster a broad conversation about what to do.
The current version of the bill would make a few significant changes.
Centralize parking functions in one place. Today, three separate agencies handle parking issues. DDOT determines parking rules and posts signs. But officers who work for DPW are the ones who actually write tickets. If someone contests a ticket, it's the DMV that reviews the case.
This creates significant confusion when DDOT policymakers want to solve one problem, but information can get lost when trying to get DPW ticket-writers to focus in that area, and DMV hearing officers might interpret rules entirely differently. The bill would form a new agency, the Department of Parking Management, to handle all of these matters: policy, enforcement, and adjudication.
Establish a new transit authority. Cheh says that DDOT seems unable to really manage transit planning amid all of its other responsibilities, and groups like the Downtown BID have been complaining that DDOT does a poor job of with and coordinating with them about transit.
In many cities, the transit system is its own authority with a separate board. Cheh's bill would create such an authority for DC. That authority would supervise the Circulator and DC Streetcar, and be the point of contact between the District government and WMATA. It would also handle taxicab policy (see below) and "multimodal planning," but Cheh's proposal is not clear on what exactly that means.
To govern this authority, the mayor would appoint four members to a board, including a chair. The directors of DDOT and the Office of Planning, the DC Chief Financial Officer, and the councilmember who oversees transportation would each serve on the board or designate staff members to represent them.
The board would also include the head of DC Surface Transit, a private nonprofit made up of various local Business Improvement Districts, the convention authority Events DC. DC Surface Transit was involved in pushing to launch the original Circulator. The organization now helps market the Circulator, advises DDOT on operations and routes, and is advocating for the streetcar program.
Cheh's staff say that a transit authority, versus just an agency, could also be more transparent about transit planning than DDOT has been, by having a public board with open meetings. Furthermore, they say they have heard feedback that a separate authority could attract higher-caliber people than a mere government agency.
Abolish the Taxicab Commission. The DC Taxicab Commission has an unusual and, many say, dysfunctional structure. It has a board whose members the mayor appoints and the council confirms, but the chairman of the board also manages all of the agency's staff. Under Mayor Fenty, the Taxicab Commission chairman sometimes just ignored the board entirely. The agency has had problems with transparency and more.
Besides, does it make sense for one agency to only consider issues about taxis completely in a vacuum? Taxis are one of many transportation modes. People often choose between taxis, Metro, buses, driving, bicycling, and more. But having a separate agency make taxi policy means there's usually no overarching thought about how to help taxis fill a void other transportation modes leave, or vice versa.
Cheh's proposal would dissolve the Taxicab Commission. Instead, the District Transit Authority would make taxi policy and set taxi regulations, while the DMV would actually handle the day-to-day of registering, inspecting, and licensing the drivers and vehicles, just as it does for other drivers and vehicles now.
Move trees to DDOE. DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration handles street tree issues. Cheh's proposal would make this part of the District Department of the Environment, an agency that split off from DPW in 2006 to handle environmental protection, energy, and similar issues.
Cheh says there isn't a good reason for tree management to be part of DDOT. It's originally there because tree boxes are part of the roadway area, but there's also good sense in putting trees with the agency primarily focused on the District's environmental quality.
With these changes, DDOT would continue to have:
- Its engineering arm, the Infrastructure Project Management Administration (IPMA) that builds and maintains roads, bridges, sidewalks, alleys, and other infrastructure;
- The Traffic Operations Administration (TOA), which handles traffic lights, streetlights, crossing guards, and road safety;
- The Public Space Regulation Administration (PSRA), with oversight over sidewalk cafés and other private uses in public space; and
- Some or all of the Transportation Policy, Planning, and Sustainability Administration (PPSA) which devises long-term and short-term transportation plans, and works with communities to devise proposals to improve transportation. The pedestrian and bicycle programs are part of PPSA today, and PPSA is also handling the moveDC citywide transportation plan.
Cheh and her staff want to have a series of conversations on the various proposals, through some combination of public forums and a smaller working group. Based on that, hey might decide to change their recommendation, maybe reallocate which functions go to which agencies, or even decide that something shouldn't get split out and should stay where it is.
The forums will take place in June and July. Cheh hopes to then have final hearings in September, mark up the bill, and pass it at council sessions in late September and early October so that it can take effect by January. That would mean that the next mayor, whoever it is, would appoint new agency heads under this new system.
Is this a good idea?
What do you think about Cheh's plan? Tomorrow, I'll give some of my own thoughts.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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