Give Taxicabs a Chance

Cars are great, but not everybody can drive. This is one justification given for taxpayer-funded alternatives to driving. There will always be some significant portion of the populace who simply cannot drive. Unfortunately, the government-provided alternatives are generally ones we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy, much less those people we'd like to help. Taxicabs provide the best alternative to driving, but their usefulness is limited by excessive regulation, licensing, and the fact that there are subsidies for inferior competing services.

In many areas there is a taxpayer-subsidized "paratransit" service that ferries handicapped people around at low or no cost to the rider. However, these services have limited hours and trips must generally be scheduled at least a day in advance. Pickup times frequently have a window of over an hour.

Another option for the non-driver is the bus. On average, buses use more fuel per passenger-mile and generate more pollution, because they must stop much more frequently than the average car (which is more likely to be driving on the freeway) and they are frequently mostly empty. They're also slow, loud, and dirty. Drivers have been known to discriminate against wheelchair-bound riders because they have incentives to be on time rather than to be accessible. "I'm late. Catch the next one!" Buses are an abomination that I'd like to see disappear.

Trains can be decent, and they even operate in some places at a profit. However, they require separate infrastructure on which cars cannot operate, and they're stuck on their rails, so trains obviously aren't a panacea.

All of these services, when funded by the taxpayer, compete with taxis and, along with excessive regulation, make it less attractive to entrepreneurs. Licensing also limits the number of cabs. If taxicabs are too expensive for what we'd like them to do, one has to wonder why we need to limit the number of competing cabs (other than to give cab drivers guild status).

If we are truly interested in giving people who cannot drive a similar quality of life to those who can, why are we limiting competition in the most convenient service that non-drivers can use? Why do we force them to take buses we wouldn't personally be caught dead on, and trains we don't want running in our own back yard? If you really support the right of the handicapped to have a decent quality of life, support taxicab service by opposing taxi regulation and taxpayer-funded, substandard "alternatives." If you think fares are too high, start a charity to provide taxi discount cards to the handicapped.

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If we are truly interested

If we are truly interested in giving people who cannot drive a similar quality of life to those who can, why are we limiting competition in the most convenient service that non-drivers can use?

Here in Austin, it's all about taxicab job protectionism.

Ya see, we've gotta restrict the number of competitors in the market 'cuz otherwise, there'll be HUNDREDS of competitors and that means they won't make dirt for income. It'll be a permanent regime of over-competition! Low wages! Damn the free market! Of course cabbies sick of weak pay won't leave the business to work elsewhere...what are you, stupid???

And let's not forget that

And let's not forget that many of the newer taxicabs operators are dirty furriners, and that makes regulation okay -- indeed desireable. If they weren't thoroughly regulated, they might terrorize us god-fearin Americans with their exploitatively low prices or something. All foreign-looking taxi drivers are terrorists, as I'm sure you know.

At least, that seems to be the theory mainly espoused here in Boston.

Why, any minute now, a scruffy-looking central asian guy might drive a taxicab full of people to a major downtown building. KABOOM -- low prices would destroy the towers of our socialized hackney economy. Thousands upon thousands of people would be devastated by more efficient economics and greater disposable income. If we see low prices from hard-working foreigners exploiting themselves for economic gain, the economic terrorists will have won.

And after all -- we don't let people sell milk or drive buses for low prices or without a license. Why should we let people operate taxis?
--G

The "significant minority"

The "significant minority" is probably more significant than many people imagine. In the UK, 30% of households do not have access to a car. Roughly, 23% of the population is under 18 and therefore too young to drive. And, despite only 12% or so of households being single occupancy, only about 20% of households have more than one car.

That's a lot of people who either can't get about at all by car or who are dependant on a family member giving them lifts or lending them a car.

Fortunately the UK is home to decent buses and pretty good trains so life without a car does not imply the same degree of social exclusion it might do in the US. But taxis are a key element of the transport mix; if travelling in a group, they can be cheaper than buses.

Fortunately the UK is home

Fortunately the UK is home to decent buses and pretty good trains so life without a car does not imply the same degree of social exclusion it might do in the US. But taxis are a key element of the transport mix; if travelling in a group, they can be cheaper than buses.

In most of the US the driving age is 16, but we have easier roads for the most part from what I'm told. My wife and I share a car, though I have a motorcycle that I use when she really needs the car. Taxi service may as well be nonexistent here in San Jose because the cops here have a policy of revoking taxi licenses on the spot for serious violations such as too much mud on the floor during rains. The buses and trains here are a joke. I'd be less upset about the bus/train situation if they were so bad due to not enough money spent on them rather than the government's sinking money into projects nobody wants because they don't have prices to tell them which services are most valued.

I think you would find that without oppressive regulation of taxis and the crowding out effect of subsidized rail and buses, taxis in the UK would be cheaper than they are and provide even better service, and this along with the reduction in forced redistribution of wealth and the newfound ability of people to choose which service they want to use based on actual cost rather than the fact that they're already paying for the buses and trains would more than make up for the "loss" of taxpayer-funded bus and rail.

Hi Sean, I made my first

Hi Sean,

I made my first trip to San Francisco last week, so I understand why this topic is on your mind! The news was full of cost overruns on the bay bridge upgrade.

I picked up a free newspaper (wish I could remember the name) at the Ferry Building with a review of a book that made the point that nearly all publicly funded infrastructure projects were intentionally underbudgeted. "What are the taxpayers going to do--stop the project half way?"

I picked up a free newspaper

I picked up a free newspaper (wish I could remember the name) at the Ferry Building with a review of a book that made the point that nearly all publicly funded infrastructure projects were intentionally underbudgeted. â??What are the taxpayers going to doâ??stop the project half way?â??

The Space Shuttle is a perfect example of this. Columbia was completed both on time and under budget according to NASA and the Nixon administration's "internal" plans. Clearly this was neither the timeframe nor the budget that was presented to Congress or to the American people.

One word: PRT some

One word: PRT

some examples:
http://www.skytran.net
http://www.skywebexpress.com

a more confusing site at
http://www.megarail.com/MicroRail_Urban_Transit/

One word: PRT PRT is just

One word: PRT

PRT is just another technocrat pipe dream. The infrastructure required is massive. Their "million dollars a mile" figure is ridiculous, because it doesn't count land cost or the skilled labor required. It costs a million dollars a mile right now for CalTrans to build a sound wall next to a freeway. Clearly they are assuming taxpayer assistance setting this thing up, including almost certainly use of imminent domain to steal land from people. This makes the million dollars a mile figure make more sense, since once they start the project, "what are the taxpayers going to do, make them stop in the middle?" If it comes to pass through completely private means, fine. I'd bet good money that it won't, at least not in my lifetime.

Given, current tax structures for roads don't need to take into account land costs either, because most of the land for roads was stolen. They also don't need to take into account opportunity costs of other potential uses for the land the roads occupy. The simple solution to this is to privatize the roads and let all potential uses compete in the market.

There is absolutely no reason cars couldn't be going 100 mph on freeways right now, except that the freeways are maintained by a monopoly with no incentive to keep them safe and in good repair. The monopoly also makes money by charging people "fines" (really special extra taxes for the unlucky) for exceeding their arbitrary posted speed limits.

In addition, internal combustion engines get more efficient, cleaner, and quieter every day. We've only just begun scratching the surface of what hybrid technology can bring us. Diesel hybrids or hybrid microturbines could be giving us over 100 mpg within a decade. I would imagine the 200 mpg figure cited by the PRT folks completely neglects power transmission losses, while cars are forced to account for every loss involved.

While you're giving taxis a chance, why don't you give cars a chance too?

Excuse me? PRT costs do

Excuse me? PRT costs do include land costs. They just happen to be very low compared to most other forms of transport with fixed rights-of-way because most of the land used will be for small stations. The actual guideways need no dedicated land themselves - they only need air- and support-rights over existing owned land instead.

In any case, since PRT is

In any case, since PRT is supposed to be able to be built and operate without any taxpayer support, then its proponents should support ending taxpayer subsidies for public transportation as much as I do. Then all of the solutions, including PRT, can battle it out in the marketplace.

Which is the bigger pipe

Which is the bigger pipe dream? PRT implementation or privatization of all roads? Hmm... I honestly don't know. That said, the 2 are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think most PRT people would be in favor of privatization of all roads.

Most PRT people are ideologically neutral on how they would get their funding. However, the presence of a subsidized transit industry that lives off the public teat has made it difficult for PRT to attract BOTH public and private money. Public money is hard to attract because of entrenched interests suppressing it. Private money is hard to attract because of the uncertainty of government intervention.

I didn't mean to suggest that PRT would be a replacement for less restrictive taxicab licensing. I meant to suggest that it would be a good complement to less restrictive taxicab licensing.

With regards to 100 mph cars, I don't think it would be desirable for cars to go 100 mph today. If my memory is correct, studies have clearly shown that accidents increase fairly dramatically when speed differentials between cars increase. In other words, going 100 mph isn't that dangerous if every car next to you is going 100 mph, but it becomes dangerous when the car next to you is going 65 mph. A lot of people with junky cars simply are not able to drive that fast. Also, people tend to drive as fast they are comfortable driving, which may not be 100 mph. This would also contribute to the problem of vehicles going different speeds.

With regards to transmission losses and future improvements in combustion engines, the 200 mpg figure that Skytran cites is a conservative figure. Their actual figure is 360 mpg. In addition, that figure is calculated using technology offered today, not in the unforeseen future.

In summary, PRT is a superior system to cars that uses the technology available today. The main obstacles to its implementation are legal and political, rather than technological in nature. As such, privatization of roads would only be wonderful for PRT.

Carnival of the Capitalists

Carnival of the Capitalists - September 6, 2004
Hello, and welcome to the Labor Day edition of The Carnival of the Capitalists, a weekly roundup of some of...

Sean contends that, "[t]he

Sean contends that, "[t]he simple solution to this is to privatize the roads and let all potential uses compete in the market." This strikes me as a hard statement to justify.

Granted, markets tend to ensure capital is allocated most efficiently when they are free and open, but the market for roads would not be open; it would have significant barriers to entry. Let's say the street out the front of your house was privatised. You choose not to pay the access fee of $500,000/yr (low interest loans with monthly instalments available.) What are you going to do now? You can't even go home to collect your property and leave, because using the road without permission would be stealing. Worse, unless you can find a helicopter pilot who wants to buy it from you, the owner of the road effectively owns your house, too.

Letâ??s say the street out

Letâ??s say the street out the front of your house was privatised. You choose not to pay the access fee of $500,000/yr (low interest loans with monthly instalments available.) What are you going to do now?

Give me a break. My mom lives on a private road. The only access to my dad's house used to be private, until they sold it to the city, and his driveway crosses his neighbor's property. I used to have to traverse 15 miles of private road when I lived out in the boonies. Strangely enough, nobody ever asked me for any ridiculous access fees. This is called right of way, and it dates back at least to English common law. I can't see why right of way would suddenly be suspended if public roads were privatized.

I also lived on a private

I also lived on a private road in South Africa for 12 years. Even the right of way was not registered; the guv-mutt wanted thousands of $$$ for surveys. Instead, neighbors were motivated to keep roads open because they didn't want to risk either legal fees or less subtle retribution if they shut off access to others' properties. A few times during the period the road was moved; signs were posted and informal meetings held among the ~30 property holders to see if anyone had any objections before significant money was spent.

There were disagreements, and sometimes hard feelings, and the free riders who weren't willing or able to pay for maintenance or improvements always had to be factored in to business plans. But the high barrier of doing things legally meant that people made their informal agreements work.

Taxicab Regulation

Taxicab Regulation Stultifying Taxicab Use
"Carnival of the Capitalists" points to a post by Catallarchy arguing that taxicabs are a better option to individual automobiles than most other options proferred.