Taxis are an essential feature of an urban transportation system where travelers must go from point to point but lack automobiles. This mainly occurs in two situations: first where travelers do not possess a car, and fixed route transit is nonexistent or inadequate; second, where travelers are coming from out of town, and do not wish to rent a car, or did not want to store one at the airport or train station. Taxis complement transit in an urban environment, and a fleet of taxis is indicative that one can survive without private vehicle ownership. The convergence of (driverless) taxis and carsharing with autonomous vehicles is my vision of the future of urban transportation in the mid 21st century.
Taxi drivers in some cultures are held in high esteem. London taxi drivers must learn “The Knowledge”, before getting licensed, which allows them to deliver travelers safely to any location in London without consulting a map. The Knowledge has been required since 1865, and typical drivers practice for 34 months and take the test 12 times before passing. It has been shown the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with navigation, is larger for London cabbies than the average person.
In Minneapolis-St. Paul, it is clear that airport taxi cab drivers are required to lack The Knowledge about the street network. Actually knowing where things are must be disqualifying. The only qualification is that one arrived at the airport yesterday oneself, without transportation, and in exchange for volunteering to drive a cab, they let you. The only locations airport cabbies know are downtown Minneapolis, (which I can reach by transit), and perhaps St. Paul. The only roads they know are limited access.
I have yet to meet a cab driver who knows where Southeast Minneapolis or Prospect Park is. I have yet to meet a cab driver who can find my house without a long set of directions or resorting to a GPS system that requires the use of freeways (doubling distance, and greatly increasing fare) without saving any time. I have yet to meet a cab driver who has been on more than half the streets I use to get home. The most recent 2 out of 3 didn’t know where Cleveland Avenue was. (One intelligently asked which city, as Cleveland discontinues into Roseville, though I am not sure that’s why he asked.)
If I land during the daytime, I try to take transit, where at least the extra distance comes without extra cost and without my having to give directions. But when I land at night, transit is not a practical option (off-peak, the nearest operating bus stop is about 1/2 mile away, despite living in the city).
I do have a regular cab driver, who is quite good, who takes me to the airport at odd hours. He is not allowed to pick people up at the taxi stand, that is a separate class of taxi. (He can pick people in the regular pickup area). I don’t want to hire him from the airport since I don’t know in advance when I will land, given the vagaries of air travel.
I don’t envy the life of a cab-driver, waiting in a car all day, for a few round trip fares. But that is the life they chose.
I question the licensing of taxis in such a way that (1) Knowledge is not required, or (2) Knowledge is not rewarded (i.e. it cannot be used as a competitive feature). If you want to allow fresh-off-the-airplane immigrants to drive cabs, fine, so long as they don’t kill people. However if someone actually knows the network, they should be allowed to use that as an advantage in recruiting customers. One imagines they take a test like The Knowledge, customized for the Twin Cities, and can post their scores in their window. I can go for the smart cabbie and pay a higher per mile rate, but have a shorter time, or go with the new cabbie at a discount. Instead, the airport taxi whip routes travelers to taxis in a first-come, first-serve process where taxis are assumed to be identical commodities (differentiated only by the size of the vehicle).
If we hope to have a world-class city, we need world-class taxis.