Do We Have Enough Cabs?

A post at Sightline looks at comparative taxis per capita, and taxi fares. Portland has a relatively low number of cabs per person, and relatively high fares.

Would we benefit from looser restrictions on the number of taxis in Portland? How would we arrive at the optimal number? Do we need a limit at all? How might removing the limit change the transportation picture here?

15 responses to “Do We Have Enough Cabs?”

  1. Taxis are a great form of public transit because cabbies are really good at figuring out where and when the demand is in a way that public transit is not so good at. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for Trimet to run extra buses just to serve some concert letting out at 1am, but taxis will line up to grab drunken revelers. However, this only really works if you aren’t artificially restricting the number of taxis and keeping prices artificially high. This is a public safety and health issue, too, since it cuts down on drunk driving.

    There is no reason for any limit, it’s just a case of restricting competition. It’s like a government-sponsored guild system, where the whole point is to protect already established cab drivers by making it really hard to start out and to provide a system for cab companies to exploit people for profit. Cabbies have to pay huge amounts of money (millions in NYC) for the right to operate a taxi, so they usually borrow the money directly from a cab company and then work it off. This is a form of indentured servitude. It’s inhumane and bad public policy.

  2. There is some risk of taxi drivers working excessive hours to make a living if the limits are removed. In many poorer cities in Latin America, for example, there are tons of cabs at low prices, but driver training and safety are a little lacking, and fares are often negotiable.

    However, as long as each driver is limited to, say, 12 hours a day, and is required to have 10 hours off between shifts, and the vehicles are inspected for safety, why not allow more competition? This seems to work well in DC, according to the article.

  3. I can now add New Orleans to my list of cities where cabs are cheap, omnipresent and convenient. There is a fixed rate from/to the airport, which is clearly displayed. And cabbies are a lot more entertaining than most bus operators, unless they don’t want to chat. One of our first cabbies was a wealth of information and opinions, and had what is probably the filthiest mouth I’ve ever heard.

    And, like those other cities, New Orleans does not restrict taxi cabs to cab stands and phone calls, but allows flagging. If cruising cabs is the problem, electric vehicles sounds like a great solution.

  4. When I lived in DC the cabs were about 3$ anywhere in town , you flagged them at any corner , and there were plenty of them.
    [low fares were ordered by Congress , for themselves]
    I can tell you there were no DUI’s because cabs were cheap and plentiful.
    But heh , if the City wants to restrict operators , lets start by getting rid of most of the Architects , and I will enjoy the sweet monopoly…

  5. I hate taking cabs because I never know how much it is going to cost me, or if the cab driver is going to be honest and really take the shortest route to my destination. It doesn’t really matter to me if the distance is short, just the sense of uncertainty with the fare is enough to dissuade me from taking one. I’ll take the bus (if it’s running) instead or carpool.

    @billb: I lived in the DC area myself and having Metro run until 3AM on weekends does A LOT more to discourage drunk driving than cabs do. Just look at the public outcry after WMATA recently threatened to curtail weekend evening service to midnight in the face of budget cuts.

    Even with rush-hour fares, Metro is much, much cheaper than taking a cab especially if you are coming to DC from the suburbs.

  6. The Sightline article implies a connection between cost and supply, but remember that fares are regulated. If fares are high it is because Portland sets high rates. Supply has nothing to do with it.

  7. I’d say the optimum might be the level at which each driver has just enough work to keep busy, where everybody who wants a cab can get one in a reasonable amount of time but drivers don’t have to spend a lot of their time waiting and not making money. Basically the equivalent of Donald Shoup’s philosophy on parking.

  8. bjcefola, you are wrong. Portland is able to set high rates because they restrict supply and competition. If there were tons of cabs around and they set a high rate, many cabs would figure out that if they charge a lower rate, they will get more customers and make more money. No one is going to report a cab for charging them less than the official rate!

  9. [Personally directed remark removed]

    Maybe if the city stopped regulating the price of taxis they should also stop doing criminal background and competency checks on taxi drivers. Next time you get murdered on the fare, blame yourself.

  10. zefwagner, the city ordinance sets a max, there is no prohibition against charging less.

    More to the point, how often have you shopped for a cab based on price? It’s hard to picture someone hailing a taxi, getting in, checking the prices and saying “no thanks, I might be able to save 10 cents a mile with someone else”… Not saying the world wouldn’t be a better place if people did that, just that they generally don’t.

  11. It’s hard to picture someone hailing a taxi

    I’ve been told they’re not supposed to stop and pick people up in Portland. Is that not correct?

  12. There are too many cabs in Portland. They should limit it to just 1 taxi at a time – the 3 major cab companies can each get an 8 hour segment of the day. Say 12am-8am, 8am-4pm, 4pm-12am.

  13. I’ve been told they’re not supposed to stop and pick people up in Portland. Is that not correct?

    It is correct. They can wait at assigned taxi stands and dispatched after a phone call. They are not allowed to pick you up if you’re flagging them.

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