Posts about Taxi Commission
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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The vast majority of cars being driven around the city have empty seats. Why not let people sell some of them, make some money, and provide more transportation without more traffic? One of the obstacles is that these services often run afoul of regulations designed to protect consumers.
A few companies are trying to make private ride sharing a reality. SideCar lets anyone sign up, undergo a background check and other reviews, and then become a "community driver" who can offer others rides through the service for a "donation."
This is part of a wave of startups providing what's called "collaborative consumption," where people have an economic arrangement to share a resource. There have been services like time share vacations and Zipcar car sharing for many years, where a company owns some resources and sells shares in them, but the newer trend is companies that try to help individual people sell unused capacity in stuff they own.
Airbnb, for example, lets you rent out your apartment when you're not there for extra cash, and makes it possible to find a much more affordable place to stay in busy cities where there aren't that many hotel rooms.
Regulations, however, often don't really account for individuals renting out their own stuff. They usually assume that anyone providing such services is a company that does so as its business, and can undergo inspections, file for permits, and so on. Plus, these regulatory processes try to ensure that the products are safe and healthy, that nobody's getting scammed, and so on.
The new-style collaborative consumption startups are solving the consumer protection problem in a bottom-up, social-media way: people rate buyers and sellers, and a strong reputation replaces a regulator's review. This is what eBay did to give people confidence in buying things from strangers instead of from stores or established catalog companies.
There are the occasional horror stories, but then, regulators miss things, too. But Airbnb is illegal in most cities, and some cities are cracking down, often at the behest of the hotel industry or neighbors who don't like strangers coming and going. Mainly the transactions happen outside the law's blessing, it's making buyers and sellers happy, not causing a lot of trouble, and eventually cities will probably adjust laws to come to terms with it.
What does this mean for ride sharing? Taxi rides are a particularly heavily-regulated area, with powerful driver lobbies that want to restrict the supply of rides. They weren't happy about Uber, and really won't be happy with ride sharing.
Plus, regulators have some legitimate fears. Cars can be really dangerous. Is it important to give people assurance they're riding in a safe one? You're under the physical control of another person. How can we be sure that person isn't going to do bad things? A woman has accused an Uber driver of raping her; police investigated, but prosecutors aren't pressing charges.
Are these roles the government should play? With Uber, many people argued that regulators ought to ensure the driver is well trained, properly licensed, and not a threat. They should ensure the car is safe and well-maintained. But don't regulate the prices, since people can choose to ride Uber or not and don't need the government to decide how much it should cost.
Now, ride sharing companies are essentially trying to take the next step. Must the drivers all have commercial licenses and commercial vehicles? Or can we let anyone sign up to give others rides? Can the companies, like SideCar, self-regulate?
Certainly it's in SideCar's, and Airbnb's, and Uber's interest to be sure everyone is safe. SideCar has extensive safety information on its site. One theory is that these companies will make sure it's safe, or else go out of business. After all, it's easy to spread a bad experience on Twitter, so even a small number of problems could earn the company a bad reputation.
The DC Taxicab Commission isn't ready to embrace this. Having just created regulations for sedan drivers that regulate much less than they are used to, they'll need more outside pressure if they're going to let ridesharing get an even lighter regulatory touch. And should they?
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You'll be able to use credit cards in DC taxis by March 30. Instead of one single credit card machine in all cabs, drivers will get the freedom to choose their own technology. But they'll still have to install an in-car display screen that regulators will choose; is that necessary?
The DC Taxicab Commission (DCTC) went through a long bidding process to pick a single piece of technology to go in every taxi. This would take credit cards, show GPS information and ads (whose revenue the taxis would get a cut of), report taxi locations back to the DCTC, and more.
Verifone's bid won, and DCTC started requiring taxis to install Verifone's devices. But a challenge by rivals blocked the process, and on Friday the DCTC partly threw in the towel. Instead of forcing every cab to use Verifone's device, they are instead going to just require that every taxi accept credit cards in some way; the specific technology is up to the driver.
Ron Linton told the Post's Mike DeBonis that their approach changed because the marketplace changed:
"A year ago, when we came up with the 'smart meter' concept, it was a way to get credit cards and the other kind of technological things we wanted in the cabs quickly," he said. "We couldn't say, 'Do this,' because where would the drivers go? What would they get? Since then, there are six, seven, eight companies coming in here offering credit card services. .. They also are offering electronic reservations, which we want."If the DCTC picks a single piece of technology, everyone's stuck with that choice, whether they made the best call or a bad one, and even if technology evolves.
In that case, doesn't this same logic apply to other features as well? DeBonis writes that Linton plans a new procurement for the system that will have "an interactive screen, GPS navigation and 'panic buttons' to hail authorities." Why should DCTC pick a single piece of technology to do this? Most of this is nice to have, but really not that central to a taxi rider's experience.
One argument for a centralized technology choice, which Councilmember Mary Cheh made when passing the original bill which mandated these credit card, GPS, interactive screen, and panic button systems (and a standard color scheme for taxis), is that taxi drivers are often not the most cutting-edge when it comes to technology. Plus, since most people pick taxis based on whichever one shows up rather than choosing a company ahead of time, there isn't really much incentive today for a taxi to install a better but more expensive system. It probably won't draw more riders.
Therefore, that thinking goes, drivers will just install cheaper systems that could work poorly or break down a lot, and DCTC would spend a lot of effort monitoring and inspecting them, when it could just pick one system and ensure a baseline of quality.
But this also closes the door to innovation and opportunities for different vendors to compete. Any contract will likely run for a number of years, during which the manufacturer will have little reason to add features or make the devices better.
DCTC could just mandate outcomes rather than means, as it's doing with the credit card readers. Drivers could just pick any screen vendor, so long as its display meets certain requirements, like showing the rider the current location and sending GPS data back to DCTC. Drivers can keep the advertising revenue as an incentive to install a screen.
On the other hand, this could mean an incentive for drivers to pick a screen that gives them the most money (maybe by being most intrusive with its ads) rather than being most useful for the rider.
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Late yesterday afternoon, the DC Taxicab Commission (DCTC) announced that taxis could charge an extra $1 per passenger when Nats playoff games are in town. Confusion and outrage ensued, and within 2 hours, Mayor Gray rejected the plan, and the commission has rescinded it.
Ironically, this move has a lot in common with Uber's "surge pricing," which proposed regulations from the Taxicab Commission would forbid. It would apply from 2 hours before games start until 4 am the following morning.
The Taxi Commission posted a short notice last Thursday about the surcharge, but with few other details. It did not notify the media at the time.
The PR snafu, short notice, and poor timing sank the proposal, but had the commission handled the rollout better and avoided the firestorm, would this charge have worked?
What did the commission want to accomplish? Linton said in the news release,
We expect multiple riders to be using taxi services. The additional fare provides a fair compensation to drivers. It will also offer an incentive to deal with the increased congestion around the ballpark that could otherwise depress service, as well as assure service in other parts of the city.At first blush, these reasons seem nonsensical and contradictory. The commission wants to encourage drivers to operate around the ballpark, so they have a surcharge to create an incentive for drivers to head to the ballpark. But then, they want drivers to not all cluster around the ballpark, so they have a surcharge for drivers to go elsewhere. Don't these just cancel each other out?
Commenters online seem to feel the same way. On the City Paper post, commenter "One City!" wrote, "I love this city so much. Whenever you think we've reached the height of absurdity, the DCTC is there to show you we still have room to grow." RedLineHero said on the Washington Post site, "What the H-E-double-hockey-stick kind of harebrained idea is that? a surcharge during the playoffs? You have GOT to be kidding me. Good on Mayor Gray for shooting that down."
Uber "surge pricing" gets more drivers on the road
This surcharge is actually a lot like popular car service Uber's "surge pricing." If demand gets high, Uber increases its fares, first to 1¼ normal, then 1½, and so on. Anyone who books a car gets a notification about the higher pricing before the car is dispatched. All of the extra money goes to the drivers.
At the recent hearing, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick defended the practice. He said that the primary reason is to increase supply. They don't want riders unable to book their cars. At busy times, by raising the price and giving drivers the money, he said, it encourages more of their drivers to get out on the road and serve customers.
By that logic, the surcharge makes some sense. Many drivers work at different times of day. A bonus for working at this likely busy time could actually encourage drivers to switch their schedules around if they can, and be available during games. Some could go to Nats Park and serve fares there, but since the surge price applies all around the city, it will also encourage drivers to serve other neighborhoods.
DCTC's explanations don't hold water
If this was the DCTC's thinking, they certainly didn't make it clear. Will Sommer at the City Paper wrote, "Taxi Cab Commission spokesman Neville Waters says the extra charge has two functions: ensuring that the city's cab drivers don't just swarm Nationals Park, and making trips more profitable for drivers who are stuck in stadium traffic." He quoted Waters saying that without the surcharge, drivers would only drive to the ballpark and nowhere else.
These reasons don't match the policy. If DCTC is worried drivers will only drive to the ballpark, why would a surcharge that applies in all neighborhoods have any effect? It doesn't make trips around the ballpark more or less appealing compared to others.
As for the second argument, compensating drivers for traffic is why the rates include both time and distance. The playoff games probably won't cause traffic jams any worse than other events in DC, and the commission doesn't authorize surcharges every time there's a motorcade. If the DCTC believes that large traffic jams cause drivers to unfairly lose money, then they should raise the per-minute idling rate instead of using surcharges.
However, if the DCTC actually just wants to get more cabs on the road, this surcharge isn't a bad way to do that. It would just help a lot for them to actually articulate the economic reasons.
Wakehead commented at the Post, "How about they have more taxis work for the Nats games? Or is the target service model 'lines and surcharges'?" A rational answer to this could be, "Actually, the surcharge does get more taxis to work the games; it's lines OR surcharges, not lines AND surcharges, and we chose surcharges over lines."
We don't know what was going on inside the Taxi Commission's heads, but they are behaving as though they have some vague and general sense of the economic levers they have at their disposal, but aren't able to actually discuss it in clear terms.
The same dynamic played out at the recent taxi hearing, when people like Kalanick seemed to be speaking one economics-based language, and Linton and members of the DC Council a different law-based language. Ultimately, they agreed with one another, but it took hours (and some taxi drivers who didn't speak in economics) to break through the language barrier.
DCTC might actually want to consider trying a surcharge at a future event, like the Inauguration, but explaining it better. Trying a surcharge could also help them gauge how much supply it adds; Uber is able to monitor their supply and demand in real time and adjust prices accordingly, but the Taxicab Commission can't do that.
If the commission does come to recognize that it's using demand-based pricing, perhaps that will also make it less hostile to practices like Uber's "surge pricing" and other innovative pricing arrangements from mobile apps and sedan services.
Update: Uber DC manager Rachel Holt wrote in with some helpful information from their surge experience:
From what Uber has seen, during big games demand during the game is usually extremely low. Most people in DC are watching the games
The DC Taxi Commission (DCTC) has proposed new regulations for "sedan" services, rides you pre-arrange instead of just hopping in a cab driving down the street. Uber, a popular service that uses sedans, says the new rules will make their business impossible in DC, but DCTC Chairman Ron Linton says Uber is misreading the regulations.
In a letter to elected officials, Uber continues its aggressive rhetorical stance against regulators. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick writes:
These rules are not designed to promote safety, nor improve quality of service. They are intended to shut Uber and similar technology companies down. ... The rules, which the DCTC has published and coordinated to present at Mary Cheh's hearing on Monday, are a blatant attempt to shut small sedan companies down and therefore Uber's business. Our position is that any additional DCTC rule-making around sedans must be severely restricted.
Linton vehemently disputed that the commission is trying to attack Uber's business model. "I think [Kalanick]'s figured out that by being a bad boy he gets more attention, more publicity and more customers," Linton said. "We not only don't want to shut them down, we're trying to create a condition in which he and competitors" can compete. "We don't want to limit the competition, we want to have an open field."
The emotional intensity certainly has worked well for Uber thus far. A heated email about Mary Cheh's proposed regulations stirred thousands of residents to write the Council, even if the actual facts still remain in dispute at best. Maybe this is indeed a good lobbying strategy for startups in regulated fields: Build a great service that might be in the gray area of the law, accumulate a lot of happy customers, object loudly when lawmakers or regulators take unfavorable action, and channel customer energy to get better regulations.
As with the the last few rounds of the Uber battles, the folks from the government argue Uber is reading the laws wrong. Uber's letter alleges, for instance, that one of the provisions limits all trips to start and end within DC, but a closer look (§1405.1) shows that it also exempts trips that comply with the reciprocal agreements DC has with surrounding jurisdictions.
This provision changes nothing in the law, Linton said, except requiring the dispatch company, like Uber, to ensure that it's dispatching a vehicle allowed to make that trip. If it stays within DC, it has to be a DC-licensed sedan, but someone going to Virginia could use a DC or Virginia sedan.
Companies need a minumum of 20 vehicles
§1401.5 of the rules says that any "sedan company or association" must have 20 or more vehicles. In a telephone interview, Kalanick said that such a rule would "shut down pretty much everyone we partner with." Uber's sedan drivers are individual operators who own a single sedan, or in a few cases, a handful of cars.
But Linton said Uber "needs to have some lawyers read the regulations who know how to read regulations." He explained that this rule doesn't apply to individual operators, who aren't part of a "sedan company or association." Linton did say that such an operator wouldn't be allowed to have 2 or 3 vehicles under this rule, which has long applied in DC to all "public vehicle for hire" companies. "We don't accept anything between 1 and 19," Linton said.
Why is this? Linton said "it's historic," and added that changing it would make the commission's workload too great. They have 116 taxi companies now, and don't want 2-300. Workload is also a reason they have not been authorizing new sedan operators for some time, one reason Uber drivers' cars are registered outside DC.
It seems that this rule should change. But the commission's workload is not a good enough reason to refuse business licenses to anyone. Our economy usually does not, and never should, operate on a principle that you can't engage in smaller-scale economic activity because the government is too busy to review it. Some reasonable approval process may be appropriate, but if the regulatory agency is too busy to handle approvals, they ought to either get more budget or authorize more applications without such detailed review.
Sedan drivers will need a handheld printer
The rules also require each taxi to contain a "handheld device," with the capability to to print a receipt, send a receipt electronically, and/or audibly read out the fare. It also has to track vehicles using GPS and upload that information to DCTC.
Kalanick said it would be prohibitive for Uber to create a compliant device. Given that that their current system of using an app or text messaging is working well for its users, he asked, "what problem are they trying to solve?"
Linton said the problem is to ensure that drivers don't scam customers. He noted that drivers already have devices like these that they are using today. When the trip is done, the drivers have to hit "complete." They could hold it in front of the passenger to show they've hit complete, but it would be easier, Linton said, to just have the device print out a receipt.
Is that technically difficult or expensive? Linton said, "I understand it's no big deal to be able to have a printing device on them." What if Uber's devices are functioning well without these requirements? Linton said that Uber will surely claim that, but they have gotten a few complaints, it's the commission's job to ensure that riders get charged fairly.
Kalanick, though, worries that every time Uber wanted to add a new feature, they would have to change the physical devices and get the commission's approval. That would hinder innovation, he said.
Dispatch services need to have a place of business in DC
Another potentially problematic rule is §1403.1:
Each person operating a sedan company or association in the District of Columbia and each person operating a sedan vehicle reservation service operation in the District of Columbia or offering reservation services to any sedan vehicle licensed in the District of Columbia, whether by central dispatch, mobile phone or other electronic device communication or other form of digital dispatch shall maintain a bona fide administrative office in the District of Columbia.Uber has a place of business in DC, so this wouldn't affect them, but why should DC require this for reservation services? Linton said that every company that does business in DC needs a business license, and this is no different.
What about an Internet e-commerce company that ships goods here? If I buy something from them, they don't need to be a DC-licensed business, even though I am doing business with them. A taxi dispatch service seems more analogous to that.
Taxi Magic is in Alexandria. Do they need a DC office just to have an app that lets you reserve DC Yellow Cabs? Linton said, "That is good enough, they are in Alexandria, we don't fuss with them about that. We're talking about companies that are located in San Francisco, Boston, or New Orleans. We can't reach them."
However, the regulations don't explicitly exempt Alexandria businesses. Having DCTC just not enforce the rule against some companies is not a good approach. And why is the ability to "reach them" the issue? DCTC could set up rules for such services that work with DC-licensed sedans whether or not they have an office in DC.
Debate will continue Monday
Councilmember Mary Cheh (ward 3) is holding an oversight hearing on sedan services Monday. I'll be participating, and plan to repeat the points I've made before. There's a role for regulations, but we should err on the side of less prescriptive ones, rather than more.
Uber is bringing more choice to District travelers. Whether or not you use their service or not, we want to foster more options rather than fewer. We want to enable other companies to create taxi dispatch services. Linton wants that too, but making it succeed requires making the barriers to entry as low as possible, and sometimes the regulations get in the way.
Do these? Linton said that he's talked to the heads of several other current or aspiring taxi dispatch companies, and they don't have a problem with the regulations. Taxi Magic Director of Marketing and Communications Matt Carrington said, "Our platform is reforming the taxi industry through technology (as opposed to disrupting it)."
Kalanick agrees that regulators have certain legitimate goals, listing "safety, accessibility, and transparency." Rules which ensure that cabs are safe make sense, as are ones that guarantee that services won't discriminate against people in certain parts of the District.
If regulations don't directly advance those ends, or if they put up barriers to Uber or new services, DC should steer clear. But some regulations will serve an important goal, and then it will do a disservice to District riders if Uber rallies its customers to oppose them without all the facts.
DC taxi fares will soon rise, but many surcharges which annoy riders will go away. A pending bill would also bring more modern technology to DC taxis to improve customer service. Riders overwhelmingly support many reforms, though they only like fare increases if service also improves. Drivers are skeptical that such changes are unnecessarily expensive.
Today, the DC Taxicab Commission approved a set of fare changes that increase the per-mile charge by 14% and the waiting charge by 67%. However, the per-passenger fee, the fees for large bags and small animals, the $1 fuel surcharge are all going away.
These aren't the only changes that may come for DC taxis. Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced legislation in December to require credit card readers with printable receipts, security alert buttons, and GPS tracking devices in every cab. It would also require taxi companies to adopt a uniform citywide color scheme, purchase additional fuel-efficient vehicles, and provide drivers with customer service training.
The commission plans to fund these initiatives with a surcharge of 50¢ per trip. Ron Linton, chairman of the commission, sees the new surcharge as a critical element of the proposed bill. "The creation of the Consumer Service Fund insures that funds obtained through a passenger-paid surcharge will be used to improve the quality of services for passengers," said Linton.
Other items in the bill would allow the taxicab commission to upgrade the fleet, carry out more inspections, provide incentives for drivers to purchase fuel-efficient cabs, and expand taxi service to all areas of the city. The commission also plans to add more robust tracking systems to monitor overall taxicab performance.
Survey showed public support for reforms
Cheh's office conducted an online survey about the provisions of the bill and taxi service in general. Responses by more than 4,000 metro area taxi riders showed that only 22% of respondents thought that the quality of taxi service in the District was good or excellent. 69% said it is worse than other major cities. The proposed taxi reform legislation and the requirement to accept credit cards found overwhelming support with 94% and 93% positive responses respectively.
In the survey, a majority of respondents supported higher taxi fares only if the quality of service improved. Belinda Li, a Chicago-based management consultant, testified at the hearing on Cheh's bill that the additional costs to hail a cab would put a burden on riders and potentially drive people away from riding taxicabs.
The hospitality industry supports the reforms as well. According to industry data, the District hosts over 17 million visitors a year, generating roughly $6 billion in expenditures in the city. An improved taxi service would allow visitors to get to their hotels and other destinations safely and efficiently.
"This is something we have been working on for quite some time," said Solomon Keene, President of the DC Hotel Association. "DC is a world class city so we want to make sure that we provide a world class taxi service."
Drivers less enthusiastic
Though the public supports the reforms, taxi companies have expressed opposition to the bill, citing cost concerns. The industry generally opposed the change from a zoning system four years ago to a meter system, and sees this new proposal as further undermining their ability to make a living.
At a public hearing earlier this year, drivers testified that they felt the effects of the bill on the industry were not fully taken into account before the bill was drafted. They questioned how the fund will be managed and whether drivers will be compensated adequately for expenses incurred to retrofit their vehicles. It is also unclear how soon the reforms can be implemented, since funding from the surcharge won't be available right away.
Other proposals may also affect taxi service in the District. In addition to Cheh's bill, Council chairman Kwame Brown introduced a bill to require that 10% of all cabs be wheelchair-accessible within 4 years.
Long-term questions remain
Beyond the short-term issues of fare increases and who bears the costs of implementing the reforms, there are unaddressed long-term concerns about the management of the industry. When Tommy Wells chaired the council committee with oversight over taxis, he expressed interest in making more major structural changes, possibly abolishing the taxicab commission and moving responsibility into DDOT and/or DCRA. However, Cheh has not pursued this approach.
In addition, the Council also considered and dropped the concept of a medallion system. Taxicab systems in major cities like New York and Chicago restrict the number of licenses issued and allow for licenses to be transferred between owners. In an open system like the District's it is relatively easy to operate a taxicab. As a result, independent operators saturate the market, making it easier for people on the street to get cabs, but driving down earnings for each driver.
In testimony at the public hearing, Belinda Li said that the District has one of the highest taxicab per-capita ratios in the country (12 per 1,000 residents), compared to Chicago (2.6 per 1,000 residents) and New York (1.6 per 1,000 residents). "The proposed bill," Li said, "does not restrict new cab drivers and does nothing to address the current oversupply issue." Not all residents may agree with Li about whether there is an "oversupply" today.
By choosing to put off addressing these fundamental challenges, the council will likely be forced to revisit taxi reform in the not-too-distant future. Until then, the reforms in the current bill will modernize the taxi fleet and make for a more pleasant cab ride in the nation's capital. Riders will be paying more, but should find that fewer surcharges make the final price less confusing as well.
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