Who will raise my Taxis


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.

6 thoughts on “Who will raise my Taxis

  1. Sarah

    That is my exact experience. I ask them to take Cleveland to University and they don't have a clue what I am talking about.

  2. Daniel

    If you know where you're going, can't you just direct them? In my personal experience, Twin Cities cabbies have known their way around well. I've had other issues, but navigation hasn't been a problem. But then again, I wouldn't ever get in a taxi without knowing exactly where I'm going.

    This post is very snarky, though. It's as if you scribbled this rant in a frustrated haste following an exhausting out-of-town trip. Could you please keep the venting about East Africans (um… I mean.."fresh off the airlplane immigrants") to your personal blog?

  3. Evan RobertsExiled Antipodean

    "Fresh off the airplane immigrants" does not equal East African. It's an accurate description of who drives a lot of the cabs in a lot of cities, including the Twin Cities.

    Many taxi drivers are new immigrants because it's a job with low formal education requirements, and where you can work relatively long hours, and perhaps share an asset (the cab) between people in the same family to get high utilization of capital. That is common to places here and elsewhere.

    But new migrants (of whatever national background) to a region typically don't know their way around a city that well.

    In other places the regulatory set-up is such that new immigrant does not imply "no incentive to learn their way around". David's point was that the regulations around taxis in the Twin Cities mean that we get the same kinds of labor driving cabs, but no upgrading of their skills because meter rates are capped by regulation, and a major pick-up point (the airport) shields the drivers from any meaningful competition.

    There's an easy answer to this problem: state-wide (not city) regulation of taxis that allows drivers to charge whatever fares they like, with appropriate provision for criminal background checks of who gets a taxi drivers license, and inspection of odometers to ensure there is no tampering. Consumers should be allowed to choose whatever cab they like at any designated pickup point, and cab drivers should be allowed to pick up wherever (St Paul cabs can't pick up in Minneapolis. Why?!)

    In foreign countries where they regulate this stuff well, rates have to be visibly posted on the outside of the cab, which goes a long way to ensuring that people aren't ripped off.

  4. BB

    I have the same issues in the winter time. My bus stop is 3 miles, and then I have to take a bus and a train.

    What I do is have a friend or rent a motel room near the airport to sleep over.

    That why I can break the trip down to something easier.

  5. Xan

    I avoid taxis like the plague, but I have been investigating other taxi systems. Here is what I found out so far about Barcelona. It has a Metropolitan wide taxi system, administered by The Metropolitan Taxi Institute (L'Institut Metropolità del Taxi). Yes, that's right, a taxi institute, which is part of what is their equivalent of Metro Transit. http://www.taxibarcelona.cat/tabid/2099/Default.a

    This is what they say they do:

    The Metropolitan Taxi Institute (IMT) is an independent body that has been dependent on the Metropolitan Transport Body (EMT) since 28 May 1992. Its work resides in the administration and management of the taxi service of the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona.

    The IMT is the institution that regulates the provision of taxi services in Barcelona and the metropolitan area. In this sense:

    It authorises taxi driver aptitude certificates and the taxi driver permit.

    It establishes the rules and terms for the transfer of licenses.

    It determines the disciplinary system applied to the service.

    It authorises the vehicle models for use in the provision of the taxi service.

    It regulates metropolitan inspections.

    It proposes the annual taxi fare rates to the Price Commission of the Catalan Government, after consulting the associations that represent the sector.

    I will investigate more, but most of the juicy details are in Catalàn, though there is some info in Spanish that I can figure out. It is very interesting looking around their site. It is not nearly as chaotic a system as here. The site also claims there are over 10,000 taxi licenses and 272 taxi stands, with 225,000 rides a day. (!) Fares are slightly less than here, but distances in the densely developed city are going to be much shorter than here. (The metro area is about half the size of Henn County with 1 million more people than the Twin Cities.)

    There is a language test and a license test. The license test cannot be that easy because the site lists 20 independent "taxi schools".(!)

    Get thee to taxi school!

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