Taxis Should Not be Social Welfare

I love Sam Smith’s “DC CITY DESK.” It’s a great shot of progressive thought into my email every week. Commentary on DC that usually finds me nodding my head in agreement. Well, except when it comes to the DC taxi system.

Sam seems to forget, in his pro-cabbie missives, that taxicabs are not a welfare to work social program, but a bona fide service to DC residents. Sam says:

In a decision that effectively dismantles the best urban cab system in the country, Mayor Fenty has ordered local cabs to install meters. No other city has so many cabs per resident and at a reasonable cost. In no other city is the cab business such an important factor in upward economic mobility.

Now I question exactly how those two statements can equal each other. If a cab system is affordable, just how can it also be a path to upward mobility?

Sam seems to say that it’s possible because DC cabs are not cab company owned. That the myriad independent drivers gain from direct, often unrecorded payments without cab leases from cab companies. But exactly how does that translate into decent service?

I know that when I am in a London taxi, the driver has “The Knowledge”. I know that when in NYC, I can I can track my ride by GPS. In DC, I only have a semi-literate driver, following a crap map, who often doesn’t know Petworth from Pentagon City. And I’m expected to pay at least $6.50 for the privilege for a ride to nowhere.

If we want the DC cab system to be a step up, then let us have the government, not riders, pay for that service. If we want to have a decent taxi system, then let’s have free markets, and meters, prevail. But no matter Sam’s hope, we cannot have both.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

Married, mortgaged, and soon to be a father, Wayan Vota is in the fast lane to mid-life respectability – until the day his brood finds his intimate journal of global traveling and curses him with the ever-eternal reply “I’m gonna be just like you, Dad!”

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