No Cab For You!

In New York City, like in many U.S. cities, the number of licensed taxi cabs is strictly controlled. In order to operate one, you need what’s called a medallion – a little metal shield you affix to the hood of your cab so that the regulators know you’re official. At one time, this was a relatively inexpensive formality – in 1937, when the system began, a medallion would only have cost you $10, or approximately $140 in 2006 dollars. My, how times have changed.

A recent sale of new medallions earlier this month set a new record: $600,000 for one of a pair bought by “a large corporate fleet operator.” With prices like that, it makes it very difficult for a humble cabbie to aspire to own his own ride. Some individuals do still purchase medallions today, except now it requires financing more akin to opening a corporate franchise than the registration fee is started out as.

Why so much you ask? An unhealthy connivance of taxi drivers and corporate medallion owners who have both short and long term reasons for limiting the number of medallions and thus the total number of cabs on the street. They’ve been so successful over the years that, according to Bloomberg, not a single new medallion was issued in the 60-some years between in mid-1940s and 1996.

Contrast that to DC, where the costs of becoming a street legal taxi driver seem to add up thusly: a mandatory training course ($375), an oral exam ($60), a written exam ($30), a fingerprint card ($35), and a one-year license fee ($85). That brings me up to $585. There may be some other hoops to jump through that aren’t spelled out on the DC Taxicab Commission website, but at least the system doesn’t set its barrier to entry at over half a million dollars.