Council President Sally Clark convened a new committee this year with Bruce Harrell and Mike O’Brien to consider changes to the Taxi and For Hire regulations. Seattle is proving itself to be a forward-thinking city by trying to adapt to radical changes in the personal transportation market caused by technological innovation (apps) and by antiquated regulations that predate the current council.

As STB has pointed out in the past, taxis are one component of a sustainable transportation ecosystem. The demand generators, including the hotel and nightlife industry, testified about the need for more options. Seattle ranks very low in taxis per capita. We are currently at 0.36, even lower than our neighbor Portland at 0.71.

The council has commissioned an independent study to see if there is demand for more taxis. I suspect that study will prove what most Seattle and King County residents already know: there are not enough taxis in this city. Assuming the study shows there is demand, I would suggest the following changes to move our city in a greener direction:

Eliminate “Deadheading”

Deadheading is when taxis drop a passenger off and return with an empty cab. Data from Consumer Affairs shows that in their 2011/2012 time period, 55% of the 69,096,348 total miles driven by metered taxis were deadheaded. Even in a perfect world where every taxi was a Prius getting 45 mpg, taxis are wasting a minimum of 832,289 gallons of gas per year.

The main reason for deadhead trips is an outdated, 4-tiered license system that strictly regulates where certain licenses can pick up passengers. City licenses can’t pick up in the county. County licenses can’t pick up in the city. For Hire taxis can’t street hail. You can read about it here on page 6.

The solution is to allow all licenses to pick up passengers wherever they want. True, this may cause a flood of taxis into the city from the county, which could degrade service levels in the county. However the taxi industry has proven that they will rise to meet consumer needs. For example, when the city released 15 new wheelchair accessible licenses in 2009, there were 723 applicants. Which leads us to:

Lift The Cap On Taxi Licenses

Other than those 15 wheelchair licenses, the city has not released new taxi licenses in 23 years. Meanwhile there is no cap on limousine licenses which are regulated by the state. I agree with Vince Houmes from Sightline here, here and here (at the 63:36 mark) that a green alternative would be to lift the cap completely. Let the market forces find the equilibrium on the number of taxis and focus the city’s limited resources on ensuring public safety.

One negative effect is that you devalue the current licenses on the secondary market. Owners can legally sell their licenses to others. They just have to report what they sold it for to the city (honor system). Current licenses can sell from $50k – $360k depending on the type. In New York, they sell for over $1 million. In both cases, regulatory induced scarcity creates artificial value.

However, it is not the city’s job to regulate this secondary market or ensure a positive return for license holders. Anybody who made a bet on the city never issuing new licenses was making a bad bet, and shouldn’t stand in the way of changes that are better for both consumers and the environment.

Guy Palumbo is currently the Northwest market Senior Launch Consultant for HAILO, “a free smartphone app which puts people just two taps away from a licensed taxi,” a small business owner in unincorporated Snohomish County, and a Snohomish County Planning Commissioner. He is currently running for fire commissioner and once ran for State Senate.

82 Replies to “Making Seattle Taxis Greener and More Useful”

  1. Without stating my agreement or disagreement with the author’s conclusions, do you think you might want to put such a glaring conflict of interest as “Senior Launch Consultant for HAILO” at the top of the page?!

    1. +1 – Increasingly, Seattleites are gaining access to licensed “for-hire” drivers through alternative platforms like Uber or Taximagic. More controversially, ride sharing platforms like Lyft, Sidecar, and UberX allow vetted drivers subject to an Ebay-like rating system to give people a ride without the hassle and expense of obtaining a county “For-Hire” license. This allows people to occasionally share the empty seats in their car and opens up a huge number of potential rides for a reduced cost.

      I wish Mr Palumbo and his company well as anything that makes it easier to hail a cab can only be good for the industry. Additionally, I’d love to see the restrictions that cause needless deadheading eliminated.

      Full disclosure: I occasionally drive for Sidecar and use only Sidecar, Uber, and UberX for rides based on my universally positive experiences with those services.

      1. One source of cheap rides that is currently drastically under-utilized when demand is at its highest is empty seats in the cars of everyday drivers. Imagine if you could ride a rush-hour-only bus to an evening Mariner’s game, knowing full well that the bus would not be running when you need to get home, and with a few button presses on your phone, be able to confidently arrange a ride from someone in your neighborhood who drove to the game. Or imagine that you could ride the 554 bus to Issaquah and, using a smartphone, pay someone riding the same a few bucks to take you to your friend’s house in Sammamish on his way home. Way faster than waiting an hour for the 927 (if it’s running at all), or waiting for a conventional cab to pick you up. And way cheaper than renting a Zipcar for the entire trip. Or imagine that on your next flight into SeaTac, you could use your phone to arrange a ride home from someone on the same plane as you who drove and parked in the garage.

        Ideally, I would like to see our system evolve from a dedicated fleet of vehicles and drivers for hire to ordinary passenger cars offering empty seats for hire, whenever a passenger is willing to offer the driver enough money to make it worth the bother. It is much greener than a conventional taxi system, and has the potential to be much more scalable, as during temporary spikes of demand, higher prices would automatically induce more drivers to participate, etc.

        With regards to safety, I believe a user rating system and and a criminal background check should be plenty. For years, people have already rented couches and spare bedrooms in peoples’ apartments using nothing more than this (e.g. AirBnb) – renting an empty seat in somebody’s car for a few minutes shouldn’t be any more difficult. If anything, services like this actually increase safety because, often, the only affordable alternative is to start asking random strangers for rides that you really know nothing about.

        It is wonderful that Lyft and Sidecar are finally starting to force this issue into the mainstream, and are probably a big reason why the city is even considering raising the number of taxi licenses to begin with. However, whatever the city does, they need to encourage services like this, not tax or regulate them out of existence. I have read editorials in the Seattle Times proposing a “compromise” solution in which the limit on the number of taxi licenses would be increased (but not removed altogether), in exchange for services like Lyft and Sidecar being either banned outright, or taxed and regulated in such a way that would effectively force them to shut down. This is not a compromise at all, but a sacrifice of the public interest in favor of maximizing profits to the taxi industry (which primarily go to the cab companies, not the drivers) by limiting competition. Ultimately, the more ride services we have, the better the city and the easier living without owning a car becomes.

    2. Kyle,

      I am sorry that the disclosure was not in your preferred location on the top of the page. I fully disclosed my bias but I have no control of STB’s layout.

      I sincerely hope that it does not detract from the merits of the environmental policy argument.


  2. Washington, DC has no cap on the number of cabs licensed in the city. This avoids barriers to entry and manipulation of the political system by existing license holders, but comes with its own issues — a bunch of really marginal cab operators who are quite obnoxious about soliciting fares. When I lived there it was routine for me to get honked at or yelled at through a rolled-down window by 5-6 cab drivers on my 20-minute walk home from work. That probably sounds like paradise to cab-starved Seattleites, but it isn’t. And once I actually got in a cab, both drivers and equipment tended to be scary.

    Only New York gets cab regulation (mostly) right, but that model wouldn’t work in a less cab-dependent city. It’s a hard problem. I’m inclined to think the solution may be the Uber model — real-time for-hire cars.

    1. I’ve also heard stories of DC cabbies taking Byzantine routes to take advantage of the city’s zone-based fare rules.

      1. No more zone fares, thankfully; it’s been metered for a few years. Something about me apparently screamed “tourist.” When I lived there before the meters came in, every damn driver quoted me a fare that was higher than the applicable zone fare.

      2. I have occasionally gone as far as printing out Google driving directions and giving the driver turn-by-turn instructions, to ensure that the meter doesn’t run up more than it has to. In one case, the turn-by-turn involved taking back roads that shaved a good 2 miles or so off the more obvious, but longer, freeway alternative.

    2. Good licensing standards should fix the scary equipment issue, but I can see abundance of hungry cabbies as a problem (see: any tourist area in Delhi, where they find tourists and follow them on their walk). A more active control of medallions could keep a good balance, but based on what standard? And how do you keep the people setting this standard safe from political forces?

      Maybe just regulate behavior. Charge a high fee for medallions, and if you have a complaint about a cab company, text their medallion number in. Enough complaints and they lose their medallion and have to pay the fee to reapply.

      1. Matt,

        Thanks for your comment.

        Certainly that type of aggressive solicitation would not be a welcome development. However, I do believe Seattle is a long way off from that tipping point.

        Brent does have an excellent point. Very often drivers have to deal with intoxicated customers. It is not far fetched that a given driver would get several bad ratings by customers who are not making sane judgements. I know HAILO and other app companies have dedicated customer service departments to deal with complaints from both customer and drivers.


      1. It’s like a pedestrian ring (vs. wedding ring)!

        Instead of relying solely on star ratings, which skew towards negative extremes, a system could monitor comment text for recurring terms, after throwing out irrelevantly common words. Not as good as human beings investigating every complaint, but a lot cheaper.

    3. Personally, I liked the way things worked in London, though I’ve never researched how it’s actually regulated.


    While the taxi looks and drives like an iconic London black cab, the Fuel Cell Black Cab is powered by an Intelligent Energy hydrogen fuel cell system hybridised with lithium polymer batteries; allowing the vehicle to operate for a full day without the need for refuelling. Capable of achieving a top speed of over 80 mph, refuels in about 5 minutes and produces no emissions other than water vapour.

    1. John,

      This sounds like a very cool £100,000 taxi. The owner can expect full payback in 23 years. As much as I’d like more people to undertake such an investment, hydrogen won’t be commercially viable until the shale gas is used up.

  4. It floors me that we have a lower per capita taxi number than other cities. I see them all the time, and am almost killed on a semi-weekly basis. Can’t wait for more.

    1. According to this chart we have only slightly fewer taxis per capita as NYC, a place that seems overflowing with taxis (at least in midtown Manhattan).

      1. I’m betting that the NYC per capita number doesn’t factor in the livery cabs–the ones that drive in the non white areas of the boroughs.

      2. 1) I don’t know much about NYC, but the airport there is not in NYC. There’s probably a lot of airport and suburban cabs that are not in that count. In Seattle, King County 200 of the 800 cabs are sitting at the airport right now.

        2) Speaking of the suburbs, since the Seattle count includes the city and the county, it might be easy to get a cab in the city. How easy is it to find a cab in Federal Way or Shoreline or Bellevue (away from DT Bellevue)?

      3. Cascadia, what are you talking about? Both JFK and LaGuardia are located in Queens, well within the limits of the City of New York.

    2. One interesting thing about the Chicago Dispatcher chart is that all of King County was included as “Seattle” (with a population of nearly 2 million) whereas in Portland apparently just the incorporated city was included (with a population around a half-million). The NYC, San Francisco, and Chicago rates are clearly just the incorporated cities (based on their respective populations).

      The Sightline chart includes just incorporated Seattle and gets a considerably higher rate. Of course, for a meaningful comparison to some other cities (especially SF) you might cut the boundary down further, cutting off everything north of 85th (and south of some other point that was annexed within a couple generations). Very few true taxis are seen in Seattle outside of a few central neighborhoods, so you’ll see more taxis “on Summit” than County-wide statistics would suggest.

      I’m not totally clear what each chart counts as a taxi. Do “for hire” and limos count?

  5. For service quality and safety, wouldn’t the best thing be to operate taxicabs as public transit- with the transit system owning and maintaining the cars, and training and supervising the drivers?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Taxis work as a private enterprise, there’s no reason to socialize it. Also, could you imagine a cab fare if drivers got paid what bus operators do?

      1. That’s a little like comparing the wages earned by commercial small aircraft pilots vs. commercial jets. The skill sets/number of passengers at risk are completely different.

        Comparing wages/training requirements/quality of operations for drivers operating roughly similar equipment in similar jurisdictions would be far more productive.

      2. Well, I guess that’s really my point.

        Taxis and buses aren’t really comparable from a skill, operations, or licensing POV. Therefore, running taxis like public transit doesn’t really make sense.

        As an example, see cost of boarding for Access (which is really the closest thing to a taxi that metro runs, as far as I can tell). Not really the same, but close enough.

    2. Mark,

      I believe there have been cities that have tried this model. Publicly owned taxis, the drivers are city employees etc. Not sure how successful they have been or how widespread that practice is. I will see if I can find something on it.

      I might be wrong but I don’t believe the Seattle City Council is headed in that direction.


  6. Guy, I’m curious, did you interview any cab drivers for this post? Cab drivers would tell you the biggest problem is there isn’t a level playing field between cabs and other for hire car services.

    1. Sam,

      Yes, I have spoken with many of the industry folks. I have also reviewed all of your testimony in committee and found it to be very helpful. I hope you and I can chat in person soon. I sent you my contact info through your website.

      Regarding your comment, I believe I am advocating for the same thing you are – making licenses dual use.

      Not only is it a good policy to protect our environment, it also addresses the two main issues that both For Hire drivers/associations and the metered taxi drivers/associations have with each other. In the For Hire case, it allows you to make a living by servicing more than the ~20% of the market you are legally able to currently. And for metered taxis, it eliminates the problem they have with For Hire taxis illegally picking up street hails. Making the licenses dual use is a win, win, win. And we haven’t even touched on the win for consumers.

      One caveat is that if the city were to change the For Hire licenses to dual use taxi licenses, the For Hires would need to metered. Right now, For Hire sets their own rates and can undercut the metered rates set by the city. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to allow one group of taxis to make their own prices and dictate to the other group what they can charge.

      I look forward to meeting you.


  7. I couldn’t agree more that we need to lift the cap on taxi licenses. When in a rush I have consistently found getting a taxi quickly a challenge. Getting a taxi is easy enough when I can schedule a pickup, but on a return trip one of the great advantages to using a taxi is the flexibility for the user. That flexibility is eliminated when the number of taxis in the area is kept artificially low.

    There would be a level of near-term risk in eliminating pick-up requirements, but I think it would be a justifiable risk that would improve service over time. Tolling, for instance, has caused some near-term headaches for a lot of people, but is ultimately necessary in order to maintain the regional transportation system (cough, cough, where is our state transportation package legislature?).

    Good work to the author.

  8. Removing licence caps is not the only way to reduce deadheading. Making regulations bidirectional would also make some sense. For example, only operators allowed to pick up at the airport would be allowed to drop off at the airport. Only operators allowed to pick up in the city limits would be allowed to drop off in the city limits.

    This would make the existing licences more valuable, of course, and not address the artificially low number of cabs, but I just wanted to point out that there are other options than those that would most benefit companies lobbying to enter the market.

    At any rate, unidirectional regulations come with a high enough carbon footprint that they should go away, whatever it takes.

    1. Brent,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I think for your method to work, we would definitely need to lift the cap entirely. Otherwise the customers would suffer because they would be captive to a single company/dispatch to get to and from the airport. We would need to significantly increase the number of taxis who were “airport taxis.”

      Additionally, this method would cause even more problems in the industry with regard to enforcement. The city is already unable to enforce the existing regulations regarding street hails by unauthorized vehicles. By essentially doubling down on this by creating more barriers to where taxis can pick up/drop off, we would create even more need for enforcement. And I just don’t think the funding from the city or state to make this work is going to be a reality in the near future.

      If you watch some of those committee hearing videos, you will see what I am talking about. It is already a big problem in the industry:


      1. I agree with Guy. I already get passed up by plenty of cabs that can’t pick me up downtown because they don’t have a city medallion. I’d never get lucky enough to find an airport cab.

      2. We already are captive to a single company when we want a cab from the airport. And that company can’t give rides to the airport. This is probably the single biggest cause of deadheads, and my own personal taxi pet peeve.

  9. There may be unintended consequences for allowing a “free for all” market and one of those would be a continued and perhaps exacerbated and that is discriminatory service practices to outlying or lower economic zones.

    A reasonable regulatory scheme is to require operating taxi/for hire firms to keep a minimum percentage of their fleet in such zones. For example, have a taxi waiting area at the Mt. Baker Transit Center or Othello Station.

    1. Charles,

      It is certainly a valid idea. To make it work, it would at minimum require many new taxis (lift the cap) and many new enforcement officers to make sure the quotas are kept.

      And I don’t know the answer to this but I suspect that it would not be a viable business model for companies. If there is not enough business in any given location, then it would be hard to sustain the costs of staffing it.

      And the way the industry works is that, in most cases, a driver leases a vehicle from an owner and pays a lease fee, dispatch fee, cashier fee and gas before the driver makes $1. So if you are a driver stationed at a low traffic location mandated by the city, you would not be able to make a living.


    2. (Disclaimer: I’m a taxicab driver.)

      One of the issues I see when I am seeing some of the arguments here is that there should be a certain number of taxicabs in certain places in the city and county. A lot of these arguments presume that the Taxi companies (associations) or the city have some sort of control over where their drivers take the cabs.

      While the public sees “Yellow Cab” or :Farwest Taxi” or so forth, the taxicab drivers are all independent contractors who all either own their cab and license or who lease a cab for the day or week from one of those cab owners. So, if we direct that a certain number of cabs need to be in certain locations, there is not really a way that we can ask these associations to do that. The person that I lease a cab from is in the business of leasing taxicabs. The person that I lease a cab from does not really have control over where I decide to take the cab today to find fares.

      That being said, my own business plan is that I do work generally in a (particular) under served part of town. For the most part, I don’t work Downtown unless I happen to have taken someone there and somebody then flags me down. This works for me, admittedly it doesn’t work for most others, and if everybody did the same as me then I would probably end up back downtown. After all, most of the cabs ARE where most of the business is.

      I also do get a fair amount of business sitting at one of a couple of transit centers in my usual area. I serve some people there, but would certainly not be able to make a living from doing that. It’s unrealistic to ask a driver to sit at one cab stand all day. (Although having a legal cab stand at the Transit Center would make it more likely that I might sit there occasionally.)

      1. Bryan,

        Excellent feedback. Thanks!

        If you don’t mind me asking, are you in a dual licensed taxi?


      2. Yes, both city and county.

        There are some county-only drivers who do just fine serving one or another suburban city, it would certainly be a drag to not be able to pick up someone in Downtown Seattle (or even just inside the city limits) when I end up there.

    3. If regulation doesn’t get in the way, prompt rides should available anywhere for the right price. In areas where demand is lower, prices would naturally have to be higher for drivers to be willing to do either more deadheading to get to you, or more sitting around between passengers.

      The fixed, county-mandated price formula is part of the problem. By creating a situation in which downtown->airport runs are far more profitable Columbia City Link Station->house near Seward Park runs, drivers behave accordingly and chase the most profitable trips first.

      If the rate formula involved a higher initial charge, in exchange for a lower per-mile charge, the behavior you would see might be different.

  10. I think it’s important to look at both sides of the “free for all” market with respect to greenhouse gases. Go too far, and you get far more taxis trolling the streets for fares – something that can add up to more greenhouse gases than deadheading.

    So how do we remove deadheading and increase taxis on the street without ending up with too many taxis on the street? I propose a per-mile tax on taxis, going to whatever city and county they’re driving in (GPS-based). Set high enough this will limit trolling, and if we make these statewide rules we could get rid of deadheading. Proceeds go directly to fund public transportation.

    1. Matt,

      I think the problem would work itself out pretty quickly. There might be a glut in the short term but if there is not enough business to sustain a car, it will be eliminated. The taxi owners/drivers are very smart and hard working but if there is not money to be made, they will shut it down.


      1. But what’s that limit? If you own a licensed car, at what point do you give it up and get another job? Somewhere near that limit there will surely be plenty of trolling for fares.

      2. Matt,

        I just don’t know the answer to the right number. And, as Sightline pointed out, neither do regulators. I would bet the ranch that the current numbers are way too low. That is really the point of letting the market find the equilibrium. I don’t believe there is a model that will accurately predict what the right number of taxis should be. We can pick any arbitrary number, like the current cap, or we can let the market find a way forward.

        Regarding drivers, the estimate on page 15 has drivers making $100 net per shift pre-tax. If you are that driver and you have too many weeks in a row of losing money, I suspect you will quit pretty quick.


      3. Is the $220/shift a real number? Does it come from meter data? The slideshow isn’t clear.

      4. Matt,

        Good question for staff. Not sure. I assume that is based off metered taxi info that consumer affairs collects and council staff used in their presentation. I am confident that it doesn’t include data from For Hire and Limo categories who are not metered.


      5. I’m just surprised they only make $9.80 an hour (average of 10.2 hours per shift). Sure, this can be optimized some with a more open market (less money going to the cab companies, more to independent operators), but it doesn’t bode well for a large increase in number of cabs on the street. At least without increasing fares.

      6. Matt,

        One of the reasons they make so little is that they can only pick up and drop off in certain places. Hopefully the study that the city commissioned will shed some form of light on the true demand. What is unaccounted for in that $9.80 is the number of customers who don’t bother calling dispatch for a cab, have moved into other markets like rideshare and apps, who drive their car instead, etc. Until people see taxis as a viable option for their transportation needs, we won’t have a clear picture of the true market demand. But if you look at the growth of rideshare, car 2 go and other apps, it’s clear there is demand that is not being met by the small number of taxis.


      7. From the experience of one taxicab driver (me), the $220. per day and around $10. per hour are pretty close to true. Some days you just cover expenses and some days are great, of course. But week-to-week and month-to-month it is pretty consistent and that works out about right.

        I tend to work somewhere between 10.5 hours per day and the city-imposed maximum of 12 hours per day. Less than 10 is a luxury, since after the lease is paid, everything is gravy other than a relatively small extra amount for gas.

      8. Regarding drivers, the estimate on page 15 has drivers making $100 net per shift pre-tax. If you are that driver and you have too many weeks in a row of losing money, I suspect you will quit pretty quick.

        If you get too many drivers and they start to quit, you will be left with the drivers who live in their cars, don’t have a regular place to bathe, and are willing to work long hours for less than minimum wage.

        Sure, “let the market decide” has a nice ring to it. But we need to ensure that drivers who have the incentive to care about the quality of the ride are encouraged to continue working. Just ask the door-people at the hotels downtown. Standards mean something — we want the right people to stay.

    2. It is important to remember that on a per-mile or operating minute basis, ordinary private cars create just much congestion and greenhouse gases as taxis do. It is not logically consistent to make taxi drivers pay any time of “congestion charge”, while a friend doing pick-up-and-drop-off in what is effectively like a volunteer taxi service, doesn’t have to pay.

      If we’re going to have congestion prices, everybody who drives needs to pay. Whether it’s a taxi or an individual driving himself shouldn’t make any difference.

  11. Regarding taxi clustering in downtown if you remove boundary rules: isn’t this a self-healing problem? It seems to me that we want the most taxis in the areas with the most people, and fewer taxis in areas with fewer people. And taxi drivers will figure out for themselves how to do this.

    1. Matt,

      I agree.

      The industry is effectively doing what you suggested right now. When you are a driver working a 12 hour shift and you start out your shift in the negative due to paying a car lease fee, a dispatch fee, cashier fee and gas before you make $1, you are going to probably be near hotels for the $40 flat fee to the airport. Accepting the $5 fare doesn’t make sense as you might spend more on gas. That is why tourist groups tell their customers to walk to a hotel stand to get a cab.

      The problem is that leaves a tiny number of cabs (with the current caps) in the rest of the city for customers.


      1. Sure, and this works currently because there are so few cabs. But double the number and you have cabs waiting in line for a significant part of their day. Smarter drivers will head out into SLU, the CD, Uptown, and SODO for fares. If there are too many cabs there as well they’ll start driving out further.

    2. Not always. It may be natural human behavior to seek this, but it does not benefit the city in total. The objective of any regulatory scheme should be to ensure that all parts of the city have reasonable (say 12 minute) response times, and minimize deadheading/non-revenue movement.

      It may take intelligent technology like that that powers Uber etc. so that cabs are distributed and they park until needed.

      If cabs are better distributed through out the city, and people become aware of their ubiquitousness, people may start choosing to use them for that last mile problem.

      1. Charles,

        You make valid points. Couple of things:

        – the problem with using the current average response times to evaluate the success of a given regulation is that it doesn’t capture the number of customers who simply don’t bother to hail a cab because they have a low expectation of success. It also doesn’t capture the number of passengers who move out of the taxi market into other options like the apps and rideshare. So we might get a 12 minute response time from the metered taxis in x area based on their data, but it’s missing another big piece of the puzzle.

        – If taxis were ubiquitous, then it would further the goals of reducing car ownership. I would argue that the problem is not just the distribution (which HAILO helps to solve) but also the amount. Due to the contract with the airport, ~400 taxis are stationed there. That leaves a tiny number of taxis left over for the rest of the city. To get to the level you speak of, and I support, we need more licenses.

      2. What if all dispatchers were required to provide data to the city about time from call to time of pickup, and then the city could add surcharges for pickups in certain overserved zones?

      3. Taxis at their current $3/drop, $2.50/mile are not a solution to the last mile problem. That’s $6 – $17 per day on top of transit fare, and that’s assuming you only leave the house once a day. That can easily add up to $1500+ a month. This is why I haven’t taken a taxi for thirty years, except for a handful of times when i was with people who insisted, or I was in a strange city with anemic transit. Changing the taxi drivers’ incentives to get them to serve all parts of town will help with taxi coverage, but it’s not a solution to the last-mile transit problem except for occasional use, like a few times a year or a weekly grocery trip.

        Solving the last-mile transit problem requires a taxi system with fares in the $1-2 per trip region. How to accomplish this with a fair wage for taxi drivers? One option would be to subsidize it from transit funds. Another would be to create small last-mile districts (e.g., Beacon/Rainier) and have a special fleet of taxis that operate only within a district. These taxis could be small cars like golf carts. Another would be for the transit agency to own the taxis or contract for a bulk number of taxis (including drivers); this would presumably reduce overhead costs and gain a bulk discount.

      4. The best solution for this is to get the labor component out of the pricing equation as much as possible. Long-term, a computer-driven automated taxi fleet is the solution. Shorter-term, we need a carpooling system in which you could spontaneously arrange a ride from someone who happens to be driving your route at the time you need to go, in exchange for a few bucks. Even if just 5% of drivers were willing to participate, this would result in 1-minute average wait times along a street with traffic volumes of 20 cars per minute – a far cheaper and far superior level of service to a conventional cab.

  12. Didn’t Seattle experiment with cab deregulation in the 80s and isn’t the current situation a response to how that didn’t exactly work out?

  13. Breadbaker,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I am not sure as I didn’t live here back then. Any links are appreciated. Also when you say “deregulation” do you mean all regulations such as vehicle inspections, background checks, metered rates, etc? Or do you just mean an open entry market for new licenses?

    Also in terms of population, Seattle has grown by over 140k in that time frame.


  14. How would Seattle ‘make right’ the fact that drivers have sunk great sums of money into purchasing the right to drive a taxi (franchise), then be told they are worthless?
    I’m a free market guy as much as the next one, but you don’t just change the rules overnight and say screw you to a guy mortgaged to the hilt to support a family on $10.00 and hour.

    1. I think this is a real concern, but there are certainly better ways than capping the licenses. The optimum solution is of course to buy out existing license holders at the prevailing market price. But assuming they don’t want to appropriate the money for that:

      What I would suggest is that the city figure out what the current market price is (or perhaps at a slightly higher level) and announce that it is willing to release an unlimited amount at that price. That puts a cap on the expanding price and allows people to retain the value of their investment while not strictly limiting supply.

      In a perfect world the fixed price would glide down towards zero over a period of decades.

      1. In Stock market terms, that would be considered diluting the existing shareholders value – on the gamble that the market will expand and enhance everyone’s holdings. The aforementioned consequence of putting severe downward pressure on earnings is the likely result.

        This is a also a case where economic signaling has significant lag and the cost of exiting the market is high. The “Free Market” works in theory, but in practice, is very messy and often fails humans.

        In this realm, public interests could be defined as:

        1) enhance transportation options
        2) augment public transit
        3) reduce congestion
        4) reduce contention for parking
        5) provide economic activity/wages for the public
        6) reduce carbon expenditure

        I think it’s appropriate to have a regulatory scheme that meets these criteria.

      1. Well, it took several decades to establish the Taxi Cartel, so 20 years to unravel the mess wouldn’t be outrageous, especially if the alternative is to maintain the status quo.
        Maybe start by selling X additional licences at say a 10% discount, then in 5 more years at 25%, then 50%, and 25%.
        That way nobody gets too screwed all at once and they have certainty about what the future value will be, if they elect to sell at one of the price points.
        Deregulation of the rules is a good thing, but that also devalues the licence, so maybe 10% is not enough to start.
        Just a thought.

  15. As long as they don’t mess with Uber I don’t really care. I use them about once a month to get home when it’s super late and I’m at a friends place. Have never had a bad experience and I would hate to see the City screw up such a great product. I took the cab survey a little while back and found the tone of the survey towards the app based services a little disconcerting.

    1. Hear, hear! I hardly care what they do with the city cabs because I don’t really use them anymore. Uber’s cars show up when you ask for them and take you where you want to go with no fuss. Sure, the service costs a bit more but you get what you pay for. The long waits and unreliable service you get with a conventional cab just aren’t worth saving a couple of bucks.

      1. In the vast majority of cases Uber is way cheaper than a cab that has to amortize the cost of it’s medallion. The cab lobby isn’t fighting it because they want to provide a better value to the consumer!

      2. Funny, I just looked at their website and Uber’s prices seem to be exactly the same as a cab, down to the penny.

      3. In practice, I can tell you that UberX’s fare for Capitol Hill to Ballard ranges from the same price to a couple bucks cheaper than a cab. And it includes the driver’s tip, so it’s consistently $4–$6 cheaper than a cab.

  16. Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft need to start supporting the Windows phone. Many people, including myself, are currently locked out of all of these services due to lack of an IPhone or Android.

    1. Agree with this. The mobile websites are often crippled compared to the apps, if available at all. Fortunately, Car2Go has an open API so there are several apps available for WP8 (my favorite is Phone2Car). I’m considering starting to send letters to the companies asking for a WP8 app. We’ll see.

      1. I do, but the Uber Mobile webapp is less featured that a native app. For instance, the webapp doesn’t feature mapping.

      2. Sidecar and Lyft have nothing on their web site beyond general instructions and a link to their IPhone and Android apps. If you don’t have a phone running one of these two platforms, you are effectively blocked from using their services.

      3. Go look at Windows Phone market share and get back to me. Writing and supporting yet another native app doesn’t pencil out or they would be doing it.

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