Posts about Taxis
The DC Taxicab Commission today officially released their latest proposal for a uniform citywide taxi paint scheme. What do you think?
This new design follows 4 previous options that they proposed in December, to widespread criticism.
Here's another view of how a Toyota Prius might look in the new scheme:
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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?
A few years ago, the only way to get a taxi was to hail one on the street or call a phone number with sometimes-uncertain results. Now there are a wealth of smartphone-based options like Uber's UberTaxi, myTaxi, and Taxi Magic. Have you used them?
Left to right: Taxi Magic, Uber, and myTaxi renderings on iPhones.
Images from the app manufacturers.
I've recently been trying out Uber's new UberTaxi service, which calls regular taxis rather than black car sedans. You can see how far away the nearest taxis are from the app, and easily request one.
The best elements of Uber's service are that the cabs are in very good shape, compared to many DC cabs, and when you get to your destination, you just step out without worrying about money at all. Uber emails a ride receipt with a map of your trip so you can be sure you weren't swindled.
I've used it 3 times, from home to a destination downtown, then back from downtown, and another late night from an area near downtown. Even though I could have often walked a few blocks to find a cab, using Uber the cab came right to me; only one time did the cab have any trouble, when I was at the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue) and he had to call to figure out which side of the building I was on. But he was easily able to call, so the Uber system clearly makes it simple to work out these kinds of confusions.
Uber charges an automatic 20% tip,
though one driver I spoke to said Uber keeps all of that as their fee. Update: Erik Weber (now working for Uber) says this is incorrect, and 100% of the tip goes to the driver (though the driver does pay Uber an undisclosed amount).
UberTaxi is only available inside DC right now, while its original black cars can pick people up in the suburbs. There seems to be little reason not to pick the taxi mode over the sedan mode, unless you really want extra luxury or there aren't taxis around. (For example, on a recent trip to Uber's home of San Francisco, coming back to the hotel from the ballpark neighborhood, there were sedans but no taxis.)
When I need a taxi to National Airport, I've been using Taxi Magic, which lets you request a DC Yellow Cab, Arlington Red Top, Montgomery Barwood, or Alexandria Yellow Cab. You can also pay by credit card, though you take the step of paying from the cab (or pay the driver directly).
My experiences with DC Yellow Cabs via Taxi Magic were not so great, so I've been calling Red Tops instead, which work fine. Taxi Magic lets you request a cab for a time in the future, which is good for airport rides. The one thing that could be better is that when the taxi arrives ahead of time, as it often does (that's a good thing), the system calls you and you can press a key to tell the cab you're on your way out. But if the cab is 15 minutes early, it'll just keep calling every couple minutes.
myTaxi launched late last year; it is affiliated with car2go and has been doing cross-promotions for people to use both services.
I started to download the app but am uncomfortable with the fact that on Android, it wants access to all of my contacts. Android has dealt with security by making apps disclose which permissions they need, and you can choose to download the app or not. Unfortunately, a lot of apps need some fairly intrusive-seeming permissions for minor features of the app that you might never use.
There's no way to decline just one permission (and if you could, it might crash the apps unless developers always accounted for that possibility) and app developers don't have much incentive to provide a core app with few permissions and then separate add-ons you can download.
Have you tried myTaxi? What about Uber, Taxi Magic, or something else? How has the experience worked for you?
All taxis in the District of Columbia will be red by 2018 if the city adopts a recommendation from a DC Taxicab Commission committee, Martin Austermuhle reports.
The commission had unveiled a number of more detailed designs in December to almost universal scorn. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who had written the legislation mandating a uniform color, said she had meant a single color, not some complex design.
Before the garish designs came out, many spoke in favor of the red color. After all, the Circulator is red, as are Capital Bikeshare bikes, and streetcars will be as well. Others worried that the sometimes bad experience of DC taxis might harm the brand identity of these other modes if taxis are also red.
Will Sommer writes that drivers of the "Yellow Cab" company don't like the idea because their cabs won't be yellow any more. The commission reportedly did not consider yellow as the universal color because of Yellow Cab. Would the company have preferred to have all taxis match its color or to have to paint its taxis something other than yellow?
Personally, I'm not sure we really needed a single color at all. It's not really hard to distinguish taxis today, and even if they're all red, people will have to differentiate them from solid red private cars. This feels more like regulating for the sake of regulating rather than to solve a specific problem, just like with the Uber situation.
If DC must have a single color, though, solid red is definitely better than the previous taxicab commission schemes. What do you think?
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.
What do you think is better
DC has unveiled 4 options for a uniform citywide taxicab paint scheme. DCist's Martin Austermuhle is live-tweeting the presentation.
Here they are:
Although it's not online yet, officials say there will be a survey on dctaxi.dc.gov asking for feedback. After that, the city will presumably pick a livery and set a timeline for adoption.
It's a little unclear, but while this shows both 4 liveries and 4 possible vehicle types, all vehicles will have the same livery.
What do you think? We have differing views.
Choose red for a consistent brand
by Dan Malouff
Back in 2009, I said that by not having a uniform color scheme, DC is losing out on an important branding opportunity. New York's yellow taxis are one of the strongest images associated with that city. Since DC has as many cabs per capita as New York, the same could be true here.
Red is the natural choice. We want something distinctly different from New York, and clearly associated with DC. Since red is already the primary color of DC Circulator, Capital Bikeshare, and the future DC Streetcars, it makes sense to use the same colors on taxis. Doing so evokes a uniform brand for the city's entire transportation system, across multiple modes.
Two of the options released today use red. One of them, pictured here, uses the same shade as Circulator and Bikeshare, and includes a similar yellow stripe down the side. Of the 4 options, this is the best. But it would be better with red and white reversed, so that red is the dominant color.
Ideally I'd prefer a simple solid red, with maybe some yellow highlights. But since there are a lot of solid red private cars out there that aren't taxis (which isn't a problem for New York's yellow), I'm willing to concede that something a little more complex is necessary here. If we want red, it may need to be multi-colored.
Make it more professional, or choose none at all
by David Alpert
Dan is right that it's not a bad idea to evoke the Circulator and DC Streetcar branding. However, where the Circulator and streetcar are elegant, this looks amateurish.
The Circulator and streetcar have delicate, curving yellow lines, while this has a thick, straight one. On those, the yellow line is the interface between red and white; here, the yellow line is its own separate piece with white between it and red, giving this far more interfaces between colors.
Dan is right that red and white is better than the other set of colors, yellow and green. That is Arlington Transit's color scheme; why should DC taxis look like Arlington buses?
Having the white on top means that from the front, most taxis will just look white, which defeats much of the purpose of giving them a uniform color. The Taxicab Commission could fix this one point by flipping red and white, as Dan suggests, but that won't make the design attractive.
I generally don't think we need a uniform brand at all. This push for a uniform color seems to be regulating for regulating's sake. If we are set on it, though, either the design has to look more professional, like the Circulator, or be much more simple, such as one color or two in a simple configuration.
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