Cabbies Shrugged

Lawmakers on the Hill may have to walk a little more than usual thanks to the taxicab drivers’ strike that began today. Maybe they’ll burn off some of that pork fat or maybe they’ll understand a little more clearly that businesses have no duty to the government or the public.

As most DCers know, the reason for the cabbies’ discontent is the looming April switchover from zones to meters. The reason for the switch-over, according to Mayor Fenty is the outcry from residents that the current system is confusing.

“The residents of the District of Columbia have said they want clearly visible fares,” Fenty said. “They want a sense that overcharging is not occurring, and they want a clearer relationship between a fare and the distance traveled.”

So like any good bureaucrat the only solution he can think of is more regulation and stricter mandates–treating cab companies as if they are public transportation.

But they aren’t public. Taxicab companies are funded by private capital and owned and operated by private businessmen. It is there livelihood at stake if their business fails.

But if the customers are truly demanding a less confusing system, what has stopped them from switching to something better? Only the DC Taxicab Commission and the Panel on Rates and Rules: aka the little regulatory dictators who determine how and how much cabs may charge.

DC gets points for having open entry and no cap on the number of cab companies operating in the city, but the problem with current regulation is the flat-rate system. The commission forces all cabs to charge the exact same rate and disallows them from adjusting to consumer demand.

If Fenty really wants to improve DC taxicabs, he’ll acknowledge that they are not his property and let them operate their businesses however they want. Some companies will keep the zones, others may choose meters, and some may invent entirely new ways to service customers. The result in the end will be greater competition among the companies on pricing and quality, lower fares and consumer choice.

But I doubt this will ever happen. Without the artificially high cab rates caused by regulation who would ever take the metro?