Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cabonomics

Saturday was warm, sunny and despite the swampy D.C. air-- very pleasant.  That is, of course, until I decided to venture out of my Logan Circle apartment for the evening. Buckets of hard rain greeted me as I headed out to meet some friends for a beer at the Saloon. With a sigh, I rolled up my jeans flood-style and crouched under my umbrella.  Luckily, after walking a block from my doorstep and before the rain did too much damage to my new flip-flops, I hailed a cab.   A warm, dry cab with-- get this-- a nice cab driver.  

While I am usually the first one to complain about D.C. cabbies and berate the cab system that relies on zoning to determine fares, I am actually starting to feel bad for the drivers.  Somehow during the four-minute drive, my cab driver and I started talking about the inflated gas prices, which led naturally to a discussion about the economy.  "You know how much a gallon of milk costs now?" he asked.  "Three dollars?" I guessed (I cannot actually recall the last time I bought an entire gallon of milk, though I think it must have been back in college when I shared an apartment with four soccer players).  "It's five dollars!" he complained.  (I inquired whether he purchased this $5.00 milk from Whole Foods, but he said he hadn't).  He went on to say that its not the gas prices that make him feel the pinch, but rather, when he goes home with his pay and realizes that he cannot afford as much food.  

And I had always thought that high price of gas was what hurt cabbies the most. On the contrary, he told me, high gas prices help cabbies.  In a city with one of the highest ratios of cabs per residents (1 per every 1000), D.C cabbies have to fight each other for customers.  So when gas prices go up and more people use metro or some combination of metro and cabs, it becomes easier for cabbies to snag a fare.  They can also charge an additional $1.00 during this so-called gas crisis to soften the blow.  

But what is going to hurt cabs even more during this economic downturn-- and what I don't agree with-- is requiring cabs to purchase a $400 meter, as Fenty's deadline for mandatory meters is approaching.  I wonder why D.C. could not alleviate the burden on cabbies' wallets by trying to get corporate sponsorship for the meters in exchange for ads (for example, like NYC did when it mandated citywide TV installation in its cabs)? I think that the zoning system is definitely a step in the right direction, but requiring cabbies to pay for the installation themselves is a step backwards.  While I hate the old system of zoning, I still appreciate a dry cab on the occasional rainy night out. For a related article, check out today's Washington Post

1 comment:

Ian said...

New York's cabs do have advertisements on the video screens-- but part of that system required the mandatory acceptance of credit cards, which many cab drivers didn't want and protested. Indeed, many still violate the law by refusing to take cards and have been beating up passengers who want to pay with plastic. They claim the credit card fees eat into their pockets despite the fact that credit cards will probably increase their total take. For one thing, corporate travelers can now pay with a company card rather than use their own cash. And of course, there are all those drunk kids who spend their cash drinking beer before realizing they don't have money for a cab home-- but do have a credit card.

But another important thing New York is doing is moving to hybrid vehicles. Most of the approved models are over sized SUVs, but unlike in the consumer market where a hybrid SUV is still less efficient than a standard sedan, the hybrid SUVs are nearly twice as efficient as the old Crown Victorias they are replacing. For many New York cabbies, the cost of gas has been cut in half by driving a hybrid.

Oh, and of course, New York cabbies can cross the river and fill up in New Jersey where we have some of the cheapest gas in the nation.