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Posts tagged Taxis

In twenty words or fewer: Comparative Politics edition

From a short article in the most recent issue of reason (Citings, p. 13) taking notice of recent changes in the Cuban government’s policies towards private taxicabs:

But in January, the Cuban government took a surprising step, announcing that it would loosen up the rules, even going so far as to let taxis set their own rates in the city. Rates are still capped, and the number of licenses will be determined by local officials, but it’s a pretty big step for Cuba, where nearly all aspects of commercial life are state-controlled.[1]

Taxi drivers and passengers in communist Cuba now enjoy freer markets for transit than their counterparts in hypercapitalist Las Vegas.

1 Katherine Mangu-Ward, Connecticut vs. Cuba, reason (2009.05), p. 13; originally appeared in Hit and Run (2009-01-13). Emphasis added.

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How local government in Las Vegas and Clark County deals with the worst joblessness crisis in a generation

  1. By trying to force working folks out of their jobs driving ice cream trucks, since it is far more important that a handful of bellyaching neighborhood grouches can avoid hearing Turkey in the Straw for 30 seconds around 8:00pm, than that working folks actually be left alone to make an honest living, using a few fittings to trick out a truck they may already own, by providing a cold treat to willing customers and a little bit of happiness to neighborhood children in the midst of a sweltering summer. (The Las Vegas Sun, apparently with a straight face, describes briefly hearing an ice cream truck pass by is akin to aural torture. If so, it may be the only form of torture that you can avoid by turning up your damned hi-fi for a minute or two.)

  2. By forcing working folks out of jobs driving taxis, by artificially limiting the number of taxicabs that can legally operate in Las Vegas, thus limiting the legal cab market to only 16 companies, cartelized into a controlled oligarchy protected from outside competition — notably from any possibility outside competition by independent cabbies, who might otherwise be able to set themselves up in one of the largest and most lucrative tourist markets in the world, with nothing more than a car they already own. As a result of all this, anyone who does manage to get work as a taxicab driver is forced to work at somewhere around minimum wage for one of the 16 government-approved taxicab companies; while lots of people who could otherwise make a living driving a taxi are forced out of work because, thanks to the arbitrary fiat of the Nevada Taxicab Authority, based on sheer guesswork about how many cabs Las Vegas needs, the only legal way to drive a taxi in Vegas is to rent yourself out to one of these big taxi companies — and the Authority, again based on absolutely nothing other than pure guesswork, tourist-industry gossip, and impressionistic first-hand observations about how many cabs Vegas needs, won’t even let those companies hire on any new cabs this year.

  3. And finally, rather than just getting the hell out of the way and let working folks make an honest living with resources the already own, by shutting them down at every turn, running them out of business for the benefit of neighborhood power games or established insider companies, and then, to crown all, by sticking their hands into working folks’ increasingly empty pockets, and grabbing out a million dollars while they still can, to hand over to the tax-funded Las VegasConvention and Visitors Authority, in order to run a bunch of ads on behalf of big casinos to beg other big businesses to send their executives on more trips out to Vegas, apparently on the theory that those poor ol’ casinos just can’t be expected to pay for their own damned advertising.

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Well, thank God #9: Income Taxi edition

Fellow citizens, you can rest easier tonight knowing that the Miami-Dade County Consumer Services Department is out there protecting the people of their fair city from a grave and gathering danger — the danger of Miamians getting a lift from somebody other than a permanent, full-time, government-licensed taxi service:

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — A man who said he thought he was just helping a woman in need is accused of running an illegal taxi service.

Miami-Dade County’s Consumer Services Department has slapped Rosco O’Neil with $2,000 worth of fines, but O’Neil claims he is falsely accused.

I ain’t running nothing illegal, O’Neil said.

The 78-year-old said he was walking into a Winn-Dixie to get some groceries when he was approached by a woman who said she needed a ride.

She asked me, Do I do a service? O’Neil said. I told her no. She said, I need help getting home.

O’Neil told the woman if she was still there when he finished his shopping, he would give her a ride. She was, so he did.

— Local10 Miami (2008-05-09): Man Accused Of Providing Illegal Taxi Service

Here’s the reward O’Neil got for daring to commit this heinous act of human kindness:

As it turned out, the woman was an undercover employee with the consumer services department targeting people providing illegal taxi services.

She said the reason she targeted him (is because) she saw him sitting in his car for a few minutes, said Ellen Novodeletsky, O’Neil’s attorney.

After O’Neil dropped off the woman, police surrounded him, issued him two citations and impounded his minivan. On top of the fees, it cost O’Neil an additional $400 to retrieve his minivan from the impound lot.

There are no prior complaints that O’Neil was providing illegal transportation for a fee.

It’s not entrapment because she didn’t expect him to provide her transportation, said Sonya Perez, a spokeswoman for the consumer services department.

O’Neil claims he was just being kind and providing a ride to a lady in need.

There’s all kinds of possibilities, but the fact of this particular case, what our enforcement officers witnessed — because we had several on the scene, plus a Miami-Dade police officer — and all the information came back the same, that this was a business transaction, Perez said.

O’Neil said he never even discussed money until the woman insisted upon it.

She asked me, How much you charging? O’Neil said. I said, Anything you give me. She said, No, I need a price.

— Local10 Miami (2008-05-09): Man Accused Of Providing Illegal Taxi Service

Well, thank God, says I. The last thing that the dedicated public servants of the Miami-Dade County Consumer Services Department should permit is for consumers to actually get services. Some might say that they ought to let consenting adults alone, to make their own decisions about whether to get the transportation they need by calling a full-time professional taxi service, or by making arrangements with friends, or just by finding a nice old man who is willing to help you out that day on an informal basis, in return for a little bit of money for the gas and the time. That the county government has no business at all trying to force people into a particular business model of highly formalized, full-time professional transit businesses, if they would rather make other arrangements on their own time and on their own dime. But, really, since we already have a bipartisan caucus of legislators, regulators, and professional bureaucrats running behind us all, yelling You’ll put an eye out with that!, Don’t drink that; it’ll stunt your growth!, You’re not going out like that, are you?, and You keep your mouth clean, son, or I’ll wash it out for you with soap! — well, what could be more natural than for them to add a shout of Don’t you get in a car with that stranger! to the chorus?

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Free Riders

Governments — local, state, and federal — spend a lot of time wringing their hands about the plight of the urban poor. It’s never hard to find some know-it-all with a suit and a nameplate on his desk who has come up with a government program that will eliminate, or ameliorate, or at least contain, the worst aspects of grinding poverty, especially as experienced by city folks, and especially as experienced by black people, brown people, immigrants, or other people marked for the special observation and solicitude of the State bureaucracy. Depending on the frame of mind, these programs may be more aimed at doling out conditional charity to deserving poor people, or they may be more aimed at bringing more at-risk poor people under the surveillance of social workers and medical experts, or they may be more aimed at beating recalcitrant poor people up and locking them in cages. (Most programs involve a combination of at least two, and possibly all three.) But one thing that they will never, ever do is just get the fuck out of the way and let poor people do the sort of things that poor people have done from time out of mind to help themselves scratch by.

There are too many ways to list them all here. But one notable example is the way in which city governments constrain and control taxi cabs. In principle, anyone who needed to make some extra money could start a part-time cab service with a car they already have, a cell phone, and some word of mouth. That’s good money for honest labor providing a useful service to willing customers, all under the direction and control of a single independent worker, who can put as much or as little into it as she wants to in order to make the money she needs. And so what do the statesman in city governments do? They create tightly regulated, tightly restricted cartels on taxi service, impose arbitrary numerical limits and financial barriers to entering the cartel, and hit anyone they catch operating outside of the cartel with exorbitant fines or jail time.

One of the worst offenders is New York City, in which all taxi service are regulated by a central city commission, and the city enforces an arbitrary cap on the number of taxi cabs that can pick up passengers off the street. The licenses (medallions) for serving willing customers without John Law punching your head are closely controlled by the city government; a handful of new ones are occasionally auctioned off by the city, and existing ones can be bought and sold by existing license holders — usually at a cost measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lots of poor people have a car laying around that they could use; not a lot have a few hundred thousand dollars.

Just in case those expenses and legal barriers to entry weren’t enough, I find that Mayor Bloomberg has decided that your taxi needs high-cost high-tech GPS and payment systems — whether or not you, as a driver, wants to lay out the time, money, and lost work to install and maintain it, and whether or not you, as a rider, want to pay the fares needed to cover the expense. Why would they need that? Well, hell, why not? Bloomberg knows what you need or want to pay for better than you do, anyway.

Right after Labor Day, a slew of New York City taxi drivers protested plans to roll out credit- and debit-card payment systems in the back seats of all 13,000 medallion cabs.

They feared they would lose money on tips if passengers didn’t pay in cash.

But proponents, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, outnumbered the protesters.

Supporters say the ongoing program will better serve customers and actually help bring in more money for cabbies.

— Investor’s Business Daily (2007-09-06): Wireless, Cashless Payments Come To The World Of Taxi Drivers

So, thanks to the supporters, the cabbies will be treated like imbeciles who do not know how to conduct their own business, and also like conscripts who do not have any say in the conditions of their own labor. Well, in any case, somebody is sure to get a sweet deal:

It certainly will help bring in more revenue for San Jose, Calif.-based VeriFone Holdings (NYSE:PAY) PAY. The company is a leading maker of point-of-sale terminals and wireless systems.

VeriFone — in partnership with MasterCard’s MA PayPass — was the first firm approved to provide the wireless systems in New York’s cabs. The systems make use of an ATM-style interface to accept credit and debit fare payments.

The company’s back-seat screen monitors also deliver news, weather and tidbits on restaurants, night life, hotels and other attractions. An extra bonus: Like billboards, they bring in revenue-generating ad money.

Every year, we find a free ride on a new segment of the economy that is going electronic, said Doug Bergeron, VeriFone’s chief executive.

— Investor’s Business Daily (2007-09-06): Wireless, Cashless Payments Come To The World Of Taxi Drivers

In this case, it is a free ride indeed. Who needs to actually go out and sell a product when you can get government cartels to force clients to come to you?

I wish the independent cab drivers well. If Bloomberg shoves this corporate welfare screwjob through, I would encourage them all to go on a permanent strike from officially-licensed cab driving. New York City already boasts a vibrant and growing fleet of gypsy cabs, and an influx of new labor and resources into the counter-economy would be something to welcome.

(Link thanks to Austro-Athenian Empire 2007-09-07: Unto Him Who Hath.)

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