Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Maryland's Montgomery County Council approved an additional $7 million to pay for construction work already completed at Silver Spring Transit Center, which is already two years behind schedule and about $80 million over budget.
The $7 million approved by county lawmakers has nothing to do with major design and construction problems detailed in a county report released two weeks ago.When it comes to who will pay to repair those problems, county officials say it will likely be determined in litigation with the project’s contractors.
“We will move expeditiously to make sure that we make the necessary repairs and that the taxpayers of Montgomery County will not have to pay for the flaws of the contractor,” says County Executive Ike Leggett, who has threatened to cancel the county’s contract with Foulger Pratt and other contractors and sue to recover any funds paid to fix the transit center’s construction issues, like inadequately thick concrete.
“Whatever we spend we will get back because we are going to pursue to the ultimate degree of the law and the legal process to make sure the county is reimbursed for anything we may have to put out in advance,” says Leggett.
Council President Nancy Navarro echoed Leggett’s vow to go to court, if necessary, to protect taxpayers but left open the possibility the county is also responsible for the mess at the transit center.
“I have not said at any moment that the county could not have some responsibility in this. It is possible,” says Navarro, who says the transit center could open to the public while any litigation proceeds.
No lawsuits have been filed yet.
Contractor Foulger Pratt has said the county’s design plan was flawed from the start. Company executive Bryant Foulger has said any safety issues concerning concrete and reinforcing steel bars are the county’s responsibility.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) If the effort to modernize D.C.’s taxicab fleet has moved at a snail’s pace, the snail crawled another couple inches on Wednesday.
Officials revised a proposal to install credit card payment machines in all cabs this summer at a special meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Barring any further setbacks, commission chairman Ron Linton expects the amenity that has been the norm in other major cities to start appearing in D.C. June 1.
“I thought originally by last November we would have had credit card machines in every taxicab. The big disappointment was losing the contract we had,” Linton said in an interview with WAMU 88.5.
In November the District's Contract Appeals Board overruled a contract awarded to Verifone Systems to install the credit card machines, setting the District's modernization plan back several months.
The new proposal protects cabbies by increasing customers’ fares $.50 to cover the costs associated with installing and maintaining credit card payment technology.
The base fare will increase from $3.00 to $3.25; the driver will keep that extra quarter. A proposed per-ride surcharge was decreased from $.50 to $.25, a fee that will be collected by the District. Drivers will be allowed to charge an extra dollar per ride if more than one passenger climbs into the cab. About 20 percent of all rides currently involve more than one passenger, Linton said.
”Numbers two, three, four, doesn’t make any difference how many you got, you only get one additional dollar for any additional passengers,” said Linton, who said the District will allow drivers to choose from one of nine possible payment processing vendors.
While most District residents have called for credit card payment options in taxis, some cabbies have resisted them.
“Because of the fee,” explained cabbie Solomon Nessibu as he took a break in Tenleytown. “The credit card company charges you and you have to pay for the machine, pay for repair, extra receipt. It's cost-related. Other than that it's no problem.”
If the taxicab commission’s new proposal clears the final regulatory hurdles, Chairman Linton expects every cab in the district to have credit card payment machines by the end of August.
- Smartphone App Offers What DC Cabs Can’t Yet — Ability to Take Credit Cards (link)
- Proposal Would Put Smart Meters In D.C. Cabs By End Of Year (link)
Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Additional morning rush hour service is coming to Metro’s busiest bus corridor in Washington after the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission took commuters’ complaints to the transit authority.
The S bus line on 16th Street NW, a historic gateway into downtown D.C., is struggling to meet ridership demand. Buses are often packed before reaching the southern stretch of the route and cannot squeeze additional passengers aboard, leaving rush hour commuters waiting in long lines at bus stops in Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and near Dupont Circle. Some commuters eventually give up and hop in taxis.
“I went out to the bus stops and I saw taxicabs pull up to the long lines, seeing a business opportunity and offering to take them downtown, because the buses weren’t working for our city,” says Kishan Putta, a commissioner on the Dupont Circle ANC.
Putta tried to solicit commuters’ concerns on Facebook and Twitter but drew his largest response the old fashioned way: he put up posters at bus stops asking commuters to contact him.
“We took those stories and those complaints to Metro and they agreed to meet us,” in January, Putta says. “They had to admit in public this is a big problem.”
Putta provided the following example of a typical commuter complaint about crowding on the S line.
“I actively chose to walk 45 minutes to work during every day this week rather than take the bus despite the temperatures in the teens and howling winds,” the commuter’s complaint said. “On the one day when I decided it would be better for my health and well-being to take the bus I waited at the bus stop for 20 minutes.”
“Just this week it has taken me 45-50 minutes to get from 16th & V to 14th & I, and anywhere from 4 to 6 buses have passed the stop each morning because they are too crowded to accept any more passengers,” another complaint said.
Metro has been aware of S line bus crowding for years but its efforts haven’t kept up with growing ridership. In 2009 the S9, which makes limited stops on 16th Street NW, was added during morning and evening rush hours to alleviate crowding.
“Bus ridership remains strong especially with all the new residents moving into the district,” says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. “There are new residential units along this corridor and so we want to make sure we are providing service for the folks who want it.”
Stessel says Metro has yet to decide on a name for the new S service, but says it will begin on Monday, March 25. An additional bus will arrive at 16th Street and Harvard NW every 12 minutes from 7:30 to 9:15 weekday mornings. A total of nine additional trips will go down 16th Street, then left on I St to 14th Street. Then the buses will head back to Columbia Road NW. The extra capacity will carry between 400 and 500 commuters on a busy morning.
“This issue didn’t just crop up two months ago. We’ve been working on the S line and broader issues related to the S line for more than a year now,” Stessel says. “That said, the relationship we’ve had over the last two months with the ANC has been nothing but constructive.”
“I will take my hat off to Metro,” says Putta. “They were responsive. We worked together on coming up with possible options.”
Still no answer to 16th Street traffic
Putta concedes that while the additional morning rush hour bus service will help move commuters south on 16th Street, the district faces a bigger task in mitigating the corridor’s notorious traffic congestion.
“As with a lot of these long-term solutions, you would need to do a transition so that you would hopefully get less people driving. And of course, the physical limitations of the road are definitely an issue,” says Putta, referring to the possibility of creating a bus-only lane on 16th Street during rush hour.
Metro’s Stessel says the transit authority is working on a solution.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue that we have not only with DDOT but with all of the jurisdictions,” Stessel says. “A major milestone will be achieved about a year from now when we launch what is true BRT (bus rapid transit) in the region for the first time. That will be on the Virginia side of the river in partnership with Alexandria and Arlington.”
The Route 1 Transitway will run buses every six minutes in dedicated lanes from Braddock Road in Arlington north to Crystal City.
“We hope that will spark other jurisdictions to consider, if not true BRT, perhaps traffic signal prioritization or more bus lanes,” says Stessel. “From a public policy perspective, if you have a vehicle that has 50 people in it, that really should get priority over a car that has one person in it.”
Friday, March 08, 2013
Taxi hailing apps may have a new ally. Amidst the national shake-up of the taxi cab industry, the Federal Trade Commission took the unusual step on Thursday of issuing written comments against a Colorado taxi regulation, and in effect, supporting smartphone applications for arranging taxi pickups, such as Uber and Hailo. The FTC said the proposed regulations "may significantly impair competition."
After the mobile app Uber, which allows its customers to hail a cab by showing drivers their location, launched in Denver last summer, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission proposed new rules for car services. Under the changes, car services would have to prearrange the price they charge passengers for every ride. Uber currently charges based on trip distance, and prices can fluctuate based on time of day and levels of passenger demand, a feature that has caused price shock to passengers when they learn how much they pay after the fact. Uber says this pricing method encourages more for-hire vehicles to stay on the roads when demand is spiking.
Under the proposed regulations, Colorado car services would also not be allowed offer service within 200 feet of taxi stands, airport pick-ups, restaurants, hotels--pretty much anywhere a taxi or private car service normally look for customers. Both of the proposals would amount to a significant competitive edge for the traditional taxi companies in the area over the more expensive car services category that include limousine rentals.
In its comments, the FTC addressed each of the proposed Colorado rules directly. "Demand-based pricing can be more responsive to consumer preferences than some traditional flat-rate models," and in regard to the 200-foot rule, the “CPUC should avoid unnecessarily restricting the ways that consumers can be picked up by passenger vehicle transportation services.”
This broad phrasing is being hailed as a victory by the e-hailing app makers. The FTC's comments are somewhat unusual in that they target a particular industry in a specific region of the country. But, taxi and limousine companies and state and local governments are likely to keep a close eye on what transpires in Colorado. Uber and other apps like it have caused legal battles in other markets, such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and New York City.
Here's the FTC letter to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and the official FTC release.
Thursday, March 07, 2013
A pilot program allowing New Yorkers to hail taxis via smartphone will not begin Friday after all.
On Thursday afternoon, New York State Supreme Court Justice Carol Huff issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the city from implementing its e-hail app program while she considers the case. She is expected to make a decision on March 19.
Livery car companies sued the city last month, saying the e-hail program violated the law. They got a boost Wednesday when two New York City council members filed amicus briefs in support of the suit.
A representative for two of the groups suing the city -- the Black Car Assistance Corporation and the Livery Roundtable -- issued a statement saying the groups were "relieved," adding: "This is the first step in sending a clear message that no one is above the law. We now look forward to presenting our case in court."
NYC Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said in a statement that "passengers can wait ten days to enjoy the latest technology.” Michael Woloz of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a coalition of fleet owners siding with the city, said e-hail technology will "potentially make hailing yellow taxis more modern and more efficient." He also dismissed the livery car companies' argument as "pure nonsense."
For more, read this.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Listen to a conversation about why NYC Taxi innovations so often result in litigation.
The latest effort to reform and remake New York City's taxi industry has met a similar roadblock as previous efforts: a lawsuit. Livery cab drivers have filed suit to block a rule change that was set to go into effect Friday permitting yellow cabs to accept passengers through smartphone apps.
But city officials say they're reviewing apps as planned and hope to have the system up and running soon.
In New York, yellow cabs have the right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street, but can't be dispatched by phone. Livery cabs are a different category of taxi that can only pick up passengers who call ahead to pre-arrange a pick up.
If the city's 13,237 yellow cabs are allowed to pre-arrange pickups through apps like that, it amounts to a violation of Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations that distinguish yellow medallion cabs from livery cabs, the lawsuit filed Thursday alleges. (Lawsuit is here)
The spokesperson said the apps could go live after March 1 when a contract expires with the companies that provide the in-cab credit card processing and other technology--a suite of services known in the taxi industry as TPEP for Taxicab Passenger Enhancements Project. The TPEP contract would prohibit payment through a third parties, like the smartphone apps. That contract was set to expire today, but has been extended to March 1.
The TLC says four smartphone app companies have already submitted apps for approval and are being reviewed for features like integration with the meter and usability by drivers so they aren't dangerously distracted by their phones while on the road.
So called e-hail apps can make finding a cab easier and driving one more profitable, according to Anil Yazici, a Research Associate at the University Transportation Research Center. "This will bring some efficiency to the search process," he says.
Yellow cabs in New York spend 40 percent of their time empty looking for fares, especially during off-hours and outside the city center. Yazici says apps "won't eliminate empty trips, that's for sure. But surely it will reduce the empty percentages."
It could also reduce business to livery cabs. In the past just about every change in taxi rules that could cut into the business of one category of cab has resulted in court battles. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan was blocked to add a new category of outer borough "green" cabs that would have a meter and be allowed to pick up street hails outside Manhattan's central business district. (Ruling) Another plan to convert all yellow cabs to a single new car model known as the Taxi of Tomorrow is also facing a court challenge.
The latest legal challenge against yellow cab e-hail apps goes to court on February 28th.
NYC yellow cabs are a $2.5 billion industry and carry over 500,000 passengers a day.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
(New Tech City - WNYC) New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission is starting a one-year pilot program February 15 that will bring e-hails to Manhattan for the first time.
Ki Mae Heussner is a staff writer at GigaOm who has reported on smartphone apps that people can use to hail taxi cabs.
"Half the cabs going around the city don't have passengers in them and investors have put millions of dollars into this space because they think they can make a lot of money by better pairing drivers and passengers," Heussner told New Tech City host Manoush Zomorodi.
Read the fine print of NYC's e-hail resolution here.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
(San Francisco Bay Area) Back in December, KALW ran a story about Uber, the app that matches users to the closest town car or taxicab. Uber gets its money by charging its own rates for livery cabs, which can cost much more than a typical meter.
Listener Mark Gruberg called in to let the station know that they missed something: that regular cabs are using apps, without the extra cost.
MARK GRUBERG: "One significant thing that was left out is that the cab industry is using the same kind of app as Uber – services like Cabulous and Taxi Magic put you directly in touch with a driver from your cell phone, the driver picks you up and charges you a taxi rate, not an Uber rate, which is approximately 70 percent higher than taxis at best. Then because they use surge pricing, it could be astronomically higher at busy times."
KALW asked Isabel Angell, who reported the original story on Uber, if she had anything to share.
ISABEL ANGELL: "So here’s the deal with Cabulous. It’s now called Flywheel, and it works a lot like Uber. It’s the same idea of using an app to match the passenger to the closest cab. But here’s where it’s different: unlike Uber, Flywheel doesn’t mess with the meter. They just take 60 cents from the driver off each Flywheel-generated cab ride. You can pay the driver in the car or use the app, like Uber. A third of SF cabs use the app – that’s about 580 taxis. So right now, I have the app pulled up on my phone, and I can see all the cabs using Flywheel around San Francisco. Currently, they’re mostly centered around Downtown, the Mission, and the Marina, with one lonely cab in the Inner Sunset. So maybe I would have to trek back to the Outer Richmond to see if it really stands up to the test!"
Uber's "surge pricing" system means that when livery cabs are in high demand, the price of a livery cab spikes. This is designed to encourage more drivers to stay on shift when cabs are needed most, like in the rain or on holidays, according to Uber. In New York City for instance Uber issued a warning to the press and users before New Years Eve that prices could be five times the rate of a normal Uber ride, which is already more expensive than a yellow cab ride. They even added a "surge sobriety test" that required users to confirm that they understood how much they were paying.
Monday, December 31, 2012
The Washington D.C. metropolitan region saw major developments in transportation that included progress toward completing the largest public rail project in the country, the opening of a new highway on the Beltway, and an update on D.C.’s coming streetcar system. 2012 also raised questions critical to the region’s economic future. In a region plagued by some of the worst highway traffic congestion in the nation and a public rail system crowded to capacity, how can transportation planners and real estate developers maximize the region’s economic potential in a climate of finite funding for major projects.
1) The Silver Line
When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the county’s involvement in the $5.5 billion project that will connect D.C. to Dulles International Airport, lawmakers removed the last major obstacle to completing the Metro rail line by 2018. Outstanding issues remain, however. The most controversial issue is the Silver Line’s financing plan, overseen by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Without further federal or Virginia state funding, motorists on the Dulles Toll Road will cover half the Silver Line’s costs.
2) I-495 Express Lanes
A new highway is big news in this region. After six years of construction, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes opened on Nov. 17 on the 495 Beltway between the Dulles Toll Road and the I-95 interchange in Fairfax County. Drivers using the HOT lanes may get a faster ride, but the project raised questions about the wisdom of highway expansion as a method of solving congestion as well as the pitfalls of funding megaprojects: without the public-private partnership between Virginia and the international road building company Transurban, the road would not be built. Virginia gets a $2 billion road, and Transurban gets the toll revenues for 75 years.
3) Transit and Gentrification
Washington, D.C. is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States. While rising property values, economic development, and a growing number of residents living a car-free existence are transforming the District for the better, gentrification has its costs.
4) The Uber Battle for the Ages
After months of contention, the D.C. Council finally approved legislation legalizing the popular sedan car service Uber. This battle was strange -- and it got personal. Legislators and regulators seemed to tie themselves in knots figuring out to handle the unregulated Uber while the district’s own taxicab industry struggled to modernize. In the end Uber won. And so did smartphone-using, taxicab-hailing residents of D.C.
5) MWAA’s woes
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates two major airports, rarely caught the public’s attention. But after the authority took control of the Silver Line, however, the public’s attention intensified – and not for good reasons. Audits by the U.S. Department of Transportation and news reports unearthed a litany of shady contracting, hiring, and travel policies and practices. Critics have relentlessly pressed for changes to the plan to raise tolls significantly to pay for the Silver Line. MWAA is making changes but has not yet recovered the public’s trust.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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Thursday, December 13, 2012
(Isabel Angell -- San Francisco, KALW) The e-hail concept might have just cleared legal hurdles in New York and D.C., but in San Francisco, it’s faced heated opposition from taxi drivers who say they’re being cheated out of fares to city officials worried about regulations and safety.
Meanwhile, hailing a taxi in San Francisco can be nearly impossible if you’re not downtown. Calling ahead isn’t a guarantee either – often, the cab is late and sometimes it never comes. Of course, there’s an app for that, several actually. The most prominent one, Uber uses GPS to match town cars and taxi cabs with people who need rides. The app figures out where you are, shows the cars near you, and sends the first free one over. You pay with a credit card on file, and the charge includes a tip.
Since 2010, the company has launched its service in 23 cities around the world. It contracts with car companies and individual drivers, and gives them free iPhones to run its software. Because Uber doesn’t go through traditional licensing channels, it’s running into trouble.
An Uber dilemma
I stood on the corner of 48th and Cabrillo, and with no cab in sight I opened the Uber app on my phone. It was eight minutes from the time I pulled out my phone to the time my Uber car showed up. Half an hour later, I arrived at the 16th and Mission Bart station in style – $50 worth of style, actually. I got the email with the credit card charge, a few minutes later.
Now, I did take a town car, instead of the cheaper yellow cab option. It was the closest car when I requested my ride. And we did hit some rush hour traffic. Still, that’s a pretty big chunk of change for a drive through the city, but maybe the convenience is worth it. Uber’s tens of thousands of San Francisco customers seem to think so. I decided to repeat my ride – same time, same corner – but this time, just calling a regular cab.
And instead of seeing a car rushing to pick me up, I got stuck on hold.
Two years ago, Ilya Abyzov found himself in a very similar situation to mine. He had just moved to San Francisco from New York. It was late.
“And I found myself sort of stumbling out of a karaoke place at 2 am in Japantown and wanting to go home to the Mission, and my prospects were either to walk for half an hour or to seek alternatives, because there were no taxi cabs around,” Abyxov remembers.
Uber got him home that night.
“I thought it was amazing,” he says.
So amazing that he applied for a job with the company, and now is the general manager of Uber’s San Francisco operations. Clearly, Abyzov is a fan, but he says Uber fills a real need in the city.
“There’s a lot of excess demand for transportation that cabs can’t fulfill,” says Abyzov.
In most cities, the taxi industry is heavily regulated – it’s considered part of the transportation network. San Francisco is no exception. Part of the reason Uber is so efficient is that it sets up shop first, and asks official permission later, essentially skirting a lot of those regulations. The company has been expanding rapidly, though, and it recently hit legal walls in several cities. Here in SF, two local taxi drivers are suing Uber. Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission slapped Uber with a $20,000 fine, calling its rule-bending “a matter of public safety.”
City officials are concerned about safety as well. Christiane Hayashi is in charge of the taxi division at San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA).
“We make sure that a San Francisco taxi driver has shown us a ten-year driving history, as well as a criminal background check to make sure that there is no crime in their background that would [make] them dangerous when they are alone in a vehicle with somebody,” explains Hayashi.
Uber says it’s just a middleman: a tech company that helps people find cars, but not a car service itself. Still, Ilya Abyzov says the startup does take safety seriously – and that it verifies whether all its drivers are licensed and have insurance.
“We only work with people who satisfy those conditions, we gather and track all those documents, and we verify their compliance,” says Abyzov. “So I think the biggest misconception about Uber is that we’re going rogue, but really we’re working with entirely regulated entities.”
MTA’s Hayashi says she doesn’t buy it.
While it’s not yet clear how the legal cases will shake out, the idea of Uber – or something like it – seems to have taken hold.
San Francisco already has an app that helps people find available parking, using data provided by the city. MTA’s Christiane Hayashi says it’s a model San Francisco is embracing: “I think that’s the next step in making this technology really effective, to get all the city’s taxis in one sort of data stream that then private application developers can use to make taxi service more reliable.”
In other words, to make all the city’s cab information available to companies like Uber, but to keep control over what that information is, and how it’s used.
Steve Webb is a taxi driver in San Francisco. He’s been driving his cab for 25 years. It’s how he put his daughter through college. He shares some of the city’s worries about Uber’s safety, but he says his biggest problem with Uber is something he thinks will bring them down: the price.
“I’ve had numerous people tell me they were standing on a corner, they were very very cold, there was four of them, and Uber charged them sixty dollars for a $12 cab ride.”
That sounded familiar. I asked Webb what he thought of my $50 ride from Ocean Beach to the Mission. He guessed that would have been a $14 meter.
I did my own calculations based on the cab fares listed on the MTA website. Taking traffic into account, it looks like that cab ride would have cost me more like $20 or $25. Unfortunately, I never got to test either calculation with a real ride, because the cab I called from Outer Richmond never showed up. Instead of forking over another $50 for an Uber car, this time, I took the bus.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
The Taxi and Limousine Commission adopted Thursday, by a vote of 7 to two abstentions, a year-long pilot program allowing taxi drivers and passengers to use taxi-hailing apps on their phones.
Smartphone hails will override street hails within a half mile in most of Manhattan, or a mile in a half in Northern Manhattan and the outer boros.
Current rules prohibit apps like Uber, Hailo and GetTaxi because drivers are forbidden from using devices while driving for safety reasons.
TLC rules also forbid payment through a third party system, which is how Uber processes transactions, taking a cut for itself and why the company stopped operating in yellow cabs.
Under the new rules to allow e-hail apps up for a vote, New York would require e-hail apps here to be a bit different from the ones operating in other cities already... albeit with lawsuits and political battles in many cases.
TLC commissioner commissioner David Yassky said Thursday the city risks falling behind. "We can look at other cities and see that passengers are using these products and benefiting from them, and when you have new technology that's available that can benefit passengers, regulations shouldn't stand in the way."
The apps would still not be allowed to process payments independently in NYC. They'll need to be integrated into the meter to prevent overcharging. In order to be approved under the proposed rules, apps would also need to be programmed so that a driver can't accept a ride while in motion -- that's possible using GPS data or even the accelerometer in a smartphone.
The non-yellow cab car service industry opposed the idea, fearing that it will pull yellow cabs out to places normally dominated by car services, which can be requested by phone call and apps currently. To mollify some of that fear, today's vote may not be on whether to permit e-hail apps in yellow cabs, but whether to run a one year pilot program.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
D.C. could eventually have one cab color to rule them all. Or stripes.
Mayor Vincent Gray unveiled four new color schemes on Monday, one of which will be chosen next year as the new paint job for the district’s 6,500 taxicabs, a process that will take years to fully implement. The multicolored striped patterns are one piece of a larger modernization effort that is coming together slowly -- too slowly for D.C.’s top taxi regulator.
“I’m a very impatient person and I would like to speed it up,” said Ron Linton, the head of the Taxicab Commission.
Although district lawmakers passed a taxicab modernization bill this year, the most important changes have yet to come to fruition: GPS smart meters, credit card payment machines and touch screen monitors for customers in the back seat.
The new paint jobs will be introduced when taxi drivers replace their aging vehicles; by 2018 no cab on Washington’s streets will be older than 7 years, as per a new regulation, Linton said.
“The people who ride in the cabs were pushing and pushing for a modernization program,” said Linton, referring to a survey undertaken by the office of D.C. Council member Mary Cheh that found widespread dissatisfaction with the current conditions of taxicabs. That survey also found the public’s preferred color to be yellow (38%). Red was second (15%).
Linton’s office will choose the winning color scheme next year, taking into consideration public opinion. The public may vote for their favorite inside Verizon Center through January 7 where two sample future taxicabs are on display, or choose designs online.
(UPDATE, 12/11/12 1:30pm: Two D.C. city council members -- one of whom said he was "appalled" by the color choices - say they will consider legislation to end the public vote so a new color scheme can be chosen.)
Last month a panel of administrative law judges killed the district’s plan to install credit card machines in cabs because of problems with the contract awarded to VeriFone, which beat out seven other tech firms. Linton says the matter is still being resolved by the District Office of Contracting and Procurement.
“We selected Verifone on the basis of what was, in my judgment, an honest evaluation and a cost analysis,” he said.
At a news conference to unveil the proposed color schemes and encourage the public to vote on their favorite, Mayor Gray said changes to the district’s taxis are necessary not only to improve the hospitality industry but for the cabbies, too.
“The changes have to come,” Gray said. “This industry has got to change to be competitive. I actually think the cab drivers will make more money as a result of this.”
Gray said touch screen monitors that offer riders the option of tipping 15, 20, or 25 percent will induce larger tips.
“As opposed to what you have now where people in a cash business sometimes give nothing or give a meager sum, I think the cab drivers will ultimately do better as a result of the changes we’re proposing.”
When those changes ultimately arrive is unclear, although Gray and Linton said it will take years to fully implement the new color scheme. Roughly one-third of taxicabs have installed credit card machines on their own, Linton said.
As for D.C.’s cabbies, some have been reluctant to accept changes that are commonplace in other cities. A common complaint is credit card processing fees will bite into a day’s pay. Others say GPS smart meters are an invasion of privacy. As for the proposed color patterns, one cabbie waiting for customers outside Union Station on Monday was not impressed.
“It looks ugly. It’s no good for the city color,” said B.K. Anthony, who drives a light blue SUV. “It looks junky.”
For the record, Mayor Gray called the colors “funky.”
: The multi-colored patterns of yellow and green OR red and white are – in the words of some D.C. councilmembers – appalling! And now two lawmakers say they will consider legislation to end the public vote so a new color scheme can be chosen. Councilmembers prefer a solid color like yellow or red to the striped patterns unveiled by the D.C. Taxicab Commission yesterday, which would have the final say on a color regardless of what the public picks. A survey conducted by Councilmember Mary Cheh on the state of the district’s cab industry found that 38 percent of respondents want all-yellow cabs, 15 percent want red.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The battle between Uber the taxi hailing app and the District of Columbia is over.
After clashing for months over proposed regulations that Uber's CEO once claimed would cripple his business, the D.C. Council voted Tuesday to approve legislation creating a sedan class of vehicles-for-hire – separate from taxis – that will allow Uber to charge its customers fares based on distance and time as "digital dispatch" vehicles.
D.C. had been one of the more drawn out and contentious efforts to expand for Uber, and that says a lot. Uber has taken a confrontational approach to growing it's business from it's start in San Francisco a few years ago. Chicago sued the company for violating local regulations on pricing disclosure and safety. San Francisco has fined the company for breaking regulations on driver insurance. This summer Boston issued a cease and desist order to Uber. New York chased the company out of it's iconic yellow cabs saying it violated safety regulations among others. Taxi unions in several cities have also filed suit against the upstart tech company.
The D.C. ruling isn't likely a harbinger of amity between those other cities and Uber. The D.C. council created a separate class of cab that can use Uber. Official metered city taxi cab drivers still can't use the app to snag passengers. New York, for example, already has such a category for non-metered livery cars that are permitted to use Uber all they want.
The ruling is, however, is certain to embolden Uber's confrontational growth strategy.
“Today was a fantastic victory for Uber but also for innovation, for our consumers here, and the drivers that partner with us,” said Rachel Holt, Uber’s general manager in Washington, D.C. She thanked customers for helping convince the council as well as the District’s taxi cab commissioner to back away from more stringent regulations CEO Travis Kalanick once described as “from the draconian to the inane.”
“It's not about anything we did or won. I think what really won was that the fact that we have a passionate consumer base here,” she said. Over the past several months Uber customers flooded council members with complaints about proposals that threatened the company’s business model.
Uber’s black sedans are not hailed on the street. Instead, customers use Uber's smart phone app to order a car to their location using the phone’s GPS and pay with a registered credit card number.
The new legislation requires greater pricing transparency.
Friday, November 30, 2012
To be a good taxi driver in New York, you have to look ahead and think ahead. "You see a garbage truck in the street, you don't go into that street. It will take you 20 minutes to get out of there, and time is money." Another tip: "When you get in an accident, don't panic... The less you say the better."
Those sagacious gems of advice to a new taxi driver are captured in a documentary from Weinstein Film Productions about life as a cabbie called "Drivers Wanted." The filmmakers hailed rides around the city to interview mechanics, owners, and fiesty office clerks in a long-established cab company in Queens, NY and deliver a deeper look at an iconic, and "slightly seedy" NY institution: the yellow cab.
The highlight of the film, at least based on the early tid bits we've seen, is “Spider” a 93 year-old cabbie who just retired. To drive 12 hours a day for 45 years you have to have an unusual relationship with the city's 6174 miles of road, and "Spider" does: "I love the traffic. The worse the traffic, the better I like it. It keeps me alert."
The film opens in NYC tonight and to wider release in the coming weeks. Find theaters here.
NYC residents you might want to head over to Re:Bar in Brooklyn tonight for a live event moderated by WNYC reporter, and occasional TN contributor Kathleen Horan. Taxi drivers, get in touch with Kathleen Horan for free entry. She's @KathleenHoran on Twitter.
Watch the trailer:
And meet Spider:
Thursday, November 29, 2012
The question of "is that taxi free or not?" could soon be easier to answer in New York. On Thursday, the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to do away with the off-duty lights. Here's a visual:
Whereas once there were two categories of lights, with four combinations:
The city's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to just have this -- the medallion number:
David Yassky, the TLC commissioner, said off-duty taxi lights "are a relic of bygone days" and that the rules change will make the system easier to understand.
"The only purpose it serves today is to confuse the passenger," he said, adding that the TLC hears complaints "all time" about rooftop lights. "Taxi roof lights should be simple. If it's on, it means you can flag the cab down. If it's off, it's unavailable."
Yassky said people hailing cabs don't care about the particulars of the lighting system. "The passenger only cares if the cab is available or not."
He said he hopes the new system will do away with another perennial vexation -- the way some cabbies use the off-duty light to cherry-pick customers. "It's a source of frustration (for passengers)," he said. "Sometimes they see drivers with the off-duty sign on go from person to person asking 'where are you going' and we don't want that to happen."
That's currently possible because the switch controlling the lights is manual. But when the off-duty lights fade away, so will the driver's control over the roof light.
According to the minutes of the May 2012 public hearing on the rules change, the single light roof light would eliminate the manual switch that controls the off-duty light. Instead, it would be controlled automatically and synched with the meter. So when the meter is engaged, the medallion number light will automatically turn off, and when the trip is over, the light will turn back on.
The new rule technically takes effect 30 days after being posted in the city record. But there could still be off duty lights on top of cabs until April, which is the end of the first quarter inspection period.
Monday, November 26, 2012
In the days following Hurricane Sandy, when New York's regional transit systems were either completely shut down or barely limping along, commuters still found a way to work -- by biking more, embracing ferries, temporary "bus bridges" and HOV lanes, even leveraging social media to find rides or temporary office space.
"In many U.S. cities, which are limited to cars, buses or other singular transportation modes," the report states, "the disruption caused by Hurricane Sandy would have, at least temporarily, crippled the economy." Not so in New York, where residents "displayed impressive inventiveness to maintain their mobility. Individuals created new routes and combinations of modes to get to work, using a variety of systems."
The report surveyed 315 commuters about modes of transport and commute times. That's a small sample considering the millions of people affected. And asking a commuter to estimate how long they took to get to work can invite exaggeration, the Rudin report is an impressive attempt to quantify the chaos of ad-hoc mobility choices during the storm.
While almost everyone saw their commutes increase, Staten Islanders fared the worst. For residents of that hard-hit borough, commute times in the days following Sandy nearly tripled.
The report also praises New York's MTA for keeping the public updated about service changes, and recommends the agency maintain its adaptable subway map. But other transit providers don't come off as well: "During the Hurricane, the Port Authority [which operates the PATH train system] and NJ Transit provided remarkably limited information throughout and following the storm about their service."
Monday, October 22, 2012
(Alec Hamilton -- New York, NY, WNYC) One month after the city launched a program to let disabled passengers use cellphones to hail a taxi, some riders say there aren't enough available cabs.
The Accessible Dispatch program allows riders to use phone, text or app to summon one of the city's wheelchair-accessible taxis. There are over 13,000 yellow cabs in New York City, but only 233 of them have ramps.
Anne Davis is on the board of the Center for Independence of the Disabled. She said when demand is low the service is pretty good, but as the day progresses delays tend to grow. "Sometimes you can get a taxi within minutes," she said, "(but) one of my friends waited two and a half hours in the rain. The major problem with the system is that there aren't enough taxis."
According to the program's website, "if the closest available taxi does not accept the job within 120 seconds, the job request automatically jumps to the next closest available cab — and so on, until the job is accepted by a driver."
NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman David Yassky said an effort to put another 2,000 accessible cabs on the streets is currently held up in court as part of the five-borough taxi plan. But he said service has improved.
"We're getting somebody a wheelchair accessible taxi in average of about 20-25 minutes," said Yassky. "We've never done that before. That's really good."
The system is operated by Connecticut-based Metro Taxi and uses GPS to locate and dispatch the nearest accessible cab. Rides must originate in Manhattan.