I’m all with the D.C. cab drivers and I disagree with your post. Anyone with a not-terrible driving record should be free to operate a livery service that picks people up when they call and set whatever rates they think best. And, best as I know, that’s the case in most of the country and in D.C. as well. Without regulation, everything would turn into a livery service. I think this is a bad idea.
Taxicabs as we know them exist by virtue of government regulation. One of their main features is that they all charge the same price and–within each city–are all similar in size. Without some authority regulating taxis, it would be difficult and quite dangerous to simply hail transportation without a reservation. On-the-street transportation would dry up. A system that requires reservations will almost always decrease utilization and thus, the average price would rise without increasing profits. Again, our current system lets anyone who wants to opt out of fare regulation. So I don’t see why it’s really a problem or imposition.
D.C., unique among major American cities, let almost anyone operate a cab: Regulations existed but they were very permissive. So long as you weren’t an insanely bad driver, could speak English, and had $300 a year, and a non-compact car in good running order, you could drive a D.C. cab. The minimum cost of entry–which is over $150,000–in New York is maybe $2,500 to $3,000 in D.C. The lack of meters, which made it possible for cab drivers to work out a variety of business models (and, frankly, overcharge tourists), also helped increase competition. D.C. is the easiest large city to get a cab during rush hour and the only large city where the great majority of drivers’ own their own cabs.
The switch to meters portends a D.C. taxi system much like the system in the rest of the country: low sometimes profit-free fares for short trips (causing more cabs to cluster at airports), few cabs, and high barriers to entry. The meters alone more will add nearly $1,000 to the price for entry into the market. D.C. should keep its current system because it serves the city rather well.
D.C. is moving in the wrong direction. But abolishing taxi cabs won’t make things better.