These 6 articles appeared in the Dayton Daily News in June 1997, as a series exploring Dayton's taxicab industry.


Taxi! Taxi?!

A Call Oft Unheard Dayton's Situation
Comes As Surprise To Many Visitors

by Martin Gottleib
Dayton Daily News
15 June 1997

A 14-year-old boy from the suburbs of Dayton was flying to New York with his mother a couple of years ago. On the plane, they were talking about what they would do immediately upon landing. The mother said something about getting a cab, and the boy said, `What's that?'

The mother explained, and the boy said, `Oh. Neat. We don't have anything like that in Dayton.'

Well, yes, actually, we do have cabs. But the unawareness of the boy tells you something about how many.

Many Daytonians seem to take the low profile of taxis in Dayton for granted. But complaints and expressions of surprise at the local situation are common in a couple of categories of people.

People, for example, who have spent much of their lives in bigger cities are always shocked the first time they have to wait an hour or even a half-hour for a cab to pick them up.

Then there are the companies that are dependent upon cabs, especially the hotels and restaurants. Not all of them are critical of the cab situation. Indeed, a spokesman for the Miami Valley Restaurant Association says the issue has never even come up at its meetings. But some of the establishments that cater to travelers do have complaints.

The owner of the Pine Club on Brown Street, not really far from downtown, says he often feels obliged to provide transportation himself for his customers. He drives them back downtown to their hotel rooms, because they can't get a cab as quickly as he - and they - consider reasonable.

A worker at another high-profile, upscale restaurant near downtown also says getting people back to their hotels is a problem in the evenings. And the boss at the Marriott says the 20- to 30-minute wait that the hotel is often quoted when it calls for a cab is unacceptable, and that, anyway, an actual wait of an hour isn't unusual.

The management at Dayton Yellow Cab grants that there are times of the day - or, most likely, night - when an hour wait can happen. But it says 20 to 30 minutes is normal.

Unfortunately, 20 or 30 minutes is not what many travelers expect.

A spokesman at Cardinal Cab granted that there are times when he has to tell people he simply doesn't have any cabs available.

The drivers themselves are the ones most likely to bear the brunt of the public's irritation. But, really, there are government and company policies and market circumstances that affect how many cabs are on the road and how quickly they get to your house.

Dayton is moving into a period when it hopes to be attracting more tourists to see aviation history. If, these days, tourists and business people are going back home saying about Dayton that you can't get a cab there, this is not good.

Meanwhile, a reasonable question arises: Why should it be so hard to get a cab when there are plenty of people around who could presumably use a few extra bucks, who have cars, and who would be willing to work at least a few hours a week during the peak periods of taxi demand?

Isn't there a way to address the taxi shortage while also opening up opportunities for some people to make some money?

This series of columns - offered by the son of a cab driver - will explore the cab situation in the Miami Valley. The package ends with a couple of modest proposals, but no grand solution to everything. It is not designed to be the last word on the subject.

The people who were interviewed in the preparation of the series are - besides a few drivers over the years - mainly involved in taxicab industry management, regulation and study. What's lacking is substantial input from the riding public and those who would like to be riding, if only taxis served their needs better.

So, in accord with the fashions of modern newspaper work, herewith an invitation: If you have any insights, experiences or informed (or semi-informed) opinions to offer, please contact the paper. (You can leave a comment on Newsline by dialing 463-4636, then entering 1024 on a Touch-Tone phone.) With just a little help, I probably can come up with a plan that solves everything in this field, as in so many others.


Here's How The Taxi System Works
In Dayton And Suburbs

by Martin Gottleib
Dayton Daily News
18 June 1997

Editor's note: This is the second in a series on taxicab service in the Dayton area. The first installment, which ran Sunday, noted that people who are accustomed to bigger cities are often surprised at how difficult it is to get a cab in Dayton. This column describes the local system. Future columns delve into how and whether it can be improved.

This series is not designed to referee a fight between cab drivers and riders. The tension between the two is probably built into the system. It seems to exist almost every place except London, England, where - apparently because of intense regulation - the drivers have the rap, bearing and skills of airline pilots/flight attendants with cockney accents.

Let's look at the local system.

Four cab companies operate in Dayton and its suburbs; other, smaller operations stick to the suburbs in pursuit of business.

The companies do three kinds of business, mainly. They serve tourists and other visitors. They serve Daytonians using the airport. And they serve low-income people who need to get to a doctor's appointment but don't have cars. These latter kinds of trips are funded through a social-service agency.

One of the two biggest cab companies in the city, Miami Liberty, used to do about 70 percent of its business with Project Mobility, for the handicapped. Now the Regional Transit Authority handles that clientele. Miami Liberty's management is still mad about the takeover, pointing out that the former arrangement cost RTA less than it now spends. But RTA claims to have been uncomfortable about its lack of control over drivers. It says that Miami Liberty pointed out that the cab drivers were contractors, rather than employees of the company, and therefore could not be ordered about the way employees can be. RTA says other cities had seen lawsuits against transportation providers for the handicapped (relating to accidents and such); taking over responsibility was, according to RTA, a precaution against such lawsuits. The transit authority also insists that riders are now getting better service and are complaining less.

At any rate, government-funded, medical-related services for low-income people other than the handicapped are still offered by cabs.

In the normal course of things, middle-class Daytonians don't use cabs very much. Those who don't have cars are usually trying to economize, so they use buses. The cab companies say - and it's hard to find anybody who can dispute them - that this is simply the way things are in modern, middle-sized communities.

The cab companies have various kinds of arrangements with their drivers. Commonly, the drivers rent a cab for a shift, usually 12 hours. The cab is serviced and insured by the company and supported by a dispatcher. The drivers keep whatever they make after paying the rent and some other expenses. What they pay sometimes depends upon the age of the cab. It's likely to be more than $50 and less than $100 per shift. Common estimates hold that a driver can realistically hope to clear $60 to $100 in a shift.

Drivers and management both say that demand for cabs isn't what it was a few years ago, which is one reason that nobody has moved hard to raise the rates that customers pay. The rates ($1.60 to start and $1.20 a mile, basically) haven't been changed since 1990.

The rules regulating cab service are pretty simple. The companies are not limited as to the number of cabs they can put on the street. Nor is there any limit on the number of companies that can offer taxi service. However, to be granted the right to pick up passengers in Dayton, you must demonstrate certain things, most importantly the capacity to receive calls at a central dispatching office and to provide service 24 hours a day.

Drivers and companies who don't want to abide by these rules may operate in the suburbs (which generally leave cab regulating to the central city). They may deliver people to Dayton and Dayton International Airport, but they may not pick up rides in Dayton and, for reasons discussed later in the series, may not wait at the airport for riders.

Some people say that Dayton's regulations end up hurting not only travelers - by limiting the number of cabs available - but Daytonians who might want to drive cabs but don't have the money to provide 24- hour service and a dispatch office.

Friday: A Dayton think tank calls for deregulation of cab service.

************************************************************************

Riders, drivers offer different perspectives on the problems So far, the comments from readers about this series fall into two basic categories. A handful of people want to complain about the quality of cab service. The most frequent complaint is that if you want to go to the airport in the morning, and you call for a cab the night before, you can't rely on the cab getting to your place at all, much less on time. Some callers say they have given up on cabs.

Not all stories are horror stories. One person reports calling for a very early cab the night before. Then he overslept. When the driver arrived and noticed no lights on, he called his dispatch office, and the office called and woke up the customer. The driver waited, and the man made his plane.

The other kind of response has come from drivers and people who are apparently sympathetic to drivers. They say that you can't understand how difficult it is to please riders unless you've experienced what a driver has experienced.

And they say that drivers have so much difficulty making a living wage that they must be careful as to what kinds of trips they make.

If you have a comment or suggestion about cab service in the Dayton area, please call Newsline at 463-4636, then enter 1024 on a Touch- Tone phone.


Taxi Deregulation No Panacea, But One Study Is Worth A Look

by Martin Gottleib
Dayton Daily News
20 June 1997

Editor's note: This is the third in a series looking at taxicab service in the Dayton area and at ideas for improving it. Previous installments ran on Sunday and Wednesday.

Dayton's City Hall doesn't have a department working on taxi service. There's a police sergeant who handles licensing of cabs and drivers. He reports to a part-time board. That's pretty much it. No bloated bureacracy, which is good.

But there's a down side: Finding somebody who has taken a systematic look at government policy on taxis - and at how Dayton's approach compares with that of other cities - is not easy.

But The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions has done that. Last year, Buckeye founder Sam Staley, an economist, did a study called `Taxicab Regulation in Ohio's Largest Cities.' It called for policy changes. It was publicized at a City Hall press conference. It ruffled a few feathers in the industry, then pretty much faded away.

One reason is that nobody but the Buckeye is pushing for these changes. And the Buckeye - with its small resources and its reputation for Republican conservativism - does not have much clout in Dayton.

Still, what the study has to say may be worth pausing over.

Most importantly, it says that Dayton's taxi regulations (mainly the requirement that any cab company provide 24-hour service and a dispatching office) prevent a person with meager resources - say a cab driver - from starting a cab business.

The Buckeye estimates that Dayton's regulations - including the installation of a meter - would cost a business $67,000 a year.

Staley makes two arguments for eliminating those requirements through deregulation. Mainly, he argues that the city should try to open entreprenurial opportunities for its citizens. City dwellers need such options more than anybody, he says, because they are the ones most likely to be unemployed or underemployed.

He also argues that deregulation might serve riders, by putting more cabs on the street - especially at the hours when they are needed - and maybe even by lowering what riders pay. (The city sets ceilings on cab charges, but not minimums.)

The Buckeye study notes with approval a recent movement toward deregulation in several cities, including Cincinnati and Denver. Comparisons are complicated, however, because every city starts with different regulations and different situations, and every city defines deregulation differently. Still, the Buckeye holds that deregulation in general has been a good direction.

It looks with particular enthusiasm upon a recent move in Indianapolis. It refers to the launching of new cab companies there after deregulation, mainly by minorities and women.

And it says that `pick-up rates (that is, the charge for getting into a cab) were 12 percent lower for new companies, compared to existing companies.' And, `as of July 1996, 158 new taxis have entered the market.'

Sounds good. But the Indianapolis policy was only two years old at the time of the study.

Meanwhile, here's the director of the Hillsborough County (Tampa), Fla., Public Transportation Commission writing 10 years after his county adopted deregulation in 1983:

`Ultimately, four of these five (new) companies failed and were absorbed by the established companies in order to prevent a disruption of service. ... The fifth such company still exists but operates two to four vehicles. ... The four failed companies drained in excess of $3 million in revenue from the established providers. ... As a result, there was a deterioration of the service by those providers. ... Within the last two years, having seen the detrimental impact of the loosening of entry regulation (that is, rules relating to start-up companies), the Commission has moved to strengthen entry regulation.'

Dr. Paul Stephen Dempsey, who has done a half dozen books on transportation regulation, wrote in last summer's Transportation Law Journal: `American cities began regulating local taxi firms in the 1920s. Beginning a half century later, more than 20 cities, most located in the Sunbelt, totally or partially deregulated their taxi companies. However, the experience with taxicab deregulation was so profoundly unsatisfactory that virtually every city that embraced it has since jettisoned it in favor of resumed economic regulation.' Apparently, deregulation is no panacea, no magic bullet. Clearly, it must be done - if at all - carefully, with close attention to local details, as opposed to blithe ideological faith.

Despite the pile of studies that exists, a new look at deregulation may be called for because of technological change. Regulations (requiring a dispatch office, for example) that may have made sense when phones had to be stationary may no longer make sense when cab drivers can have their own phones right next to them.

Sunday: A closer look at the specifics in Dayton.


Best Bet On Taxis: Retain Rules, But Make Exceptions

Long Hours, Low Pay Seem To Be Deterring Drivers

by Martin Gottleib
Dayton Daily News
22 June 1997

This column is the fourth in a series on taxi service in the Dayton area. Other installments ran last Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. The next will run on Wednesday. If you have comments or suggestions - especially suggestions - please call 436-3636, then punch 1024 with a push-button phone).


Any discussion of any proposal to deregulate taxicab service in Dayton - to get more cabs on the street - must confront this fact first: By many standards, the Dayton taxicab market already is deregulated.

Some cities have, for example, a flat limit on the number of cabs that can be on the streets. In Dayton, however, cab companies can put any number of cabs on the streets, as long as they comply with certain regulations.

Nobody can argue that Dayton's regulations prevent competition. Two cab companies - Cardinal and Classic - have entered Dayton in recent years. That was happening in a period when another company, Miami Liberty, was losing its hugely important government contract to transport handicapped people. (RTA took over the task.)

In another city, these new entries might have been prevented. Some cities that don't have a formal limit on the number of cabs do require that anybody who wants to enter the taxi market must demonstrate that a need exists for new service. That might have been hard at that time. (Actually, it's hard at any time, because once the established companies get wind of a pending proposal, they can move to fill the niche being described.)


Tampa example

The Tampa, Fla., area, which recently re-regulated taxi service, has a cap on the number of cars and this requirement to demonstrate a market.

In Dayton, to get on the streets you basically need this: the capacity to receive calls at a central dispatching office and to provide service 24 hours a day. And there is a $250 charge per cab per year for the license. Beyond that, there are requirements relating to specific drivers; they need a physician's certificate. And the city does safety inspections.

Unquestionably, these rules are problems for some people. As noted earlier in this series, a Dayton think-tank called The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions says that the Dayton regulations deter the formation of new companies. (By the way, this series has previously gotten the name of the Buckeye's founder wrong - and right. Right is Sam Staley.)

Would eliminating the 24-hours and dispatching-office requirements result in greater service for the public and more full-time jobs and business opportunities for the poor and struggling? Not necessarily.


Opportunity exists

The managers of the local taxi companies say that they already offer more opportunities for drivers than they are being taken up on.

Apparently what's limiting the public's interest in driving cabs is the combination of long hours (the standard shift being 12 hours) and low pay. The reason for the low pay is the lack of demand and/or the deal the drivers have with the owners

If the city didn't have the 24-hour and fixed-office requirements, perhaps some drivers would go independent, so as not to have to pay the cab companies to rent the cabs. But, besides keeping their cars in repair, they'd have to pay a boatload of money for insurance, because cabs are seen by insurance companies as peculiarly prone to accidents, being on the road so much.

Still, the idea of independence may be more appealing to some people than it used to be, because - as the Buckeye Institute points out - a driver these days could keep his phone in his cab, having posted the number around a particular neighborhood, say. A dispatcher might not be necessary.

So the question becomes, why prevent people from doing that?

Does any need exist for the city's rule requiring 24-hour service from every provider? It's hard to see. A certain market does exist for all-night service, after all. That market gets served in the natural course of things. The existing companies make money by renting their cabs out. They want their cabs working 24 hours, not 12.

From the consumer's point of view, the down side of letting anybody into the market is that you never know who's going to get into the market. In some cities where taxi service is relatively unregulated, consumers complain of dirty cabs in scary disrepair. Washington, D.C., is an example. Getting where you want to go is easy, and fares aren't bad. But, because of all the complaints, the mayor is now promoting a regulatory crackdown.

However, allowing independent drivers on the road doesn't require allowing run-down cars. Their cabs can be inspected just as the others are.

The real risk in deregulation is what it might do to existing companies and drivers. Changing the rules dramatically and suddenly is about the worst thing that government can do to a business. And, given that no reform is likely to turn Dayton into a New York - where any pedestrian can simply flag down a cab - risking such harm would be hard to justify.

There are other options. One reasonable reform would be to offer not total deregulation, but exemptions from the two main regulations for a certain number of cabs.


License lottery?

The city could hold a lottery for a certain number of independent licenses (requiring that applicants have good cars and undergo inspection and all that). The city could, for starters, at least, limit these new licenses to use during hours of peak demand, meaning mainly during morning and evening rush hours. That way, the small amount of ridership that is available during other hours of the day would not be subdivided among more drivers.

The risks of such a reform seem minimal. Actually, for all anybody knows, there wouldn't be any takers for the new licenses, at least in the current job market.

If, however, the reform works - providing income opportunities and better cab service - that suggests that perhaps the problem now keeping down the number of cabs >on the road is the deal the existing companies offer to drivers. Maybe the companies are charging the drivers too much. If that's the case, then the city can hardly justify a policy that cuts off the options for drivers.


Odd Cab Situation At Airport Could Use New Consideration

by Martin Gottleib
Dayton Daily News
25 June 1997

This is the fifth in a series, which concludes Friday. Comments from readers are helping to shape the series. If you have ideas or suggestions about the local cab situation and want to leave a phone message, please call the Dayton Daily News Newsline at 463-4636 and, if you have a touch-tone phone, press 1024.

No series about taxicab service around Dayton would be complete without a look at the strange situation at the Dayton International Airport.

The situation is this: Though four cab companies are licensed to operate in the city of Dayton, and others are in the suburbs, only one company - Dayton Yellow Cab Co. - is allowed to wait for passengers at the airport.

Other carriers may bring riders to the airport. But then they must leave without passengers. The only time a company other than Yellow Cab can pick somebody up is if it has been specifically called by a passenger waiting at the airport.

The basic logic of the rule is that it frees the airport from having to organize the waiting cabs, which probably requires hiring a person. Under the rules, the company that wins the contract - which goes up for bid periodically - is responsible for hiring and supervising that person.

Experienced riders and drivers will tell you the airport arrangement is at the heart of the local cab situation, that it affects the behavior of drivers and customers alike.

One of the raps on Yellow Cab - sometimes made by its own drivers - is that its drivers are likely to spend a lot of time sitting at the airport waiting for The Big One: a trip to Richmond or Troy or Springboro.

The Dayton area has only about 100 licensed cabs (with Yellow Cab having the largest share and Miami Liberty the second largest). But the companies have all manner of problems keeping anywhere near that many on the road, what with mechanical problems, driver shortages and driver no-shows. At night, the number on the road drops especially low. So if a bunch of taxis are sitting in one long row, just waiting, that affects would-be cab riders all around town.

Experiences with the various cab companies differ, and some of Yellow' s regular customers swear by the company's quality of service. They are likely to explain their decisions with reference to the nature of the drivers or the quality of the vehicles, and to the company' s new computerized system for keeping track of rides and for communicating with drivers.

But some restaurant people have developed the habit of calling other companies first when their customers want a ride, because other companies aren't so focused on the airport.

Meanwhile, obvious inefficiencies result from the airport system. In most cities, a driver who gets a fare to the airport plans to seek one from the airport, too. But in Dayton, the non-Yellow Cab drivers have to leave without one, wasting time and gas.

The airport system does not seem to have generated much controversy in recent years. Everybody just kind of goes along.

In truth, nobody can say with certainty that if airport opportunities were spread around, that would improve things for riders. Maybe in that case more drivers would focus on the airport, rather than just some Yellow Cab drivers.

This, in fact, has been the result in cities that have - as a result of deregulation - found themselves with more cabs: The new ones hang out at the airport and other common destinations.

Still, the cab >rules at the airport are an important matter for the community. They affect not just the airport but the taxi situation in general, because airports are so crucial to cab companies. To have those rules made mainly with an eye on whether the airport has to hire a person is pretty odd.

Sunday's column in this series suggested that Dayton should consider granting some new cab licenses to individual drivers who can't afford to open a whole company complete with dispatcher and 24-hour service. To make those licenses available and not allow the new licensees to wait at the airport would put people who are already at a disadvantage - not having a name and phone number that riders are used to calling - at a bigger one.


Callers, Writer Not Exactly
On Same Wavelength On Cabs

by Martin Gottleib
Dayton Daily News
27 June 1997

Last in a series of six. Six. Count 'em. Not 114, as has been alleged. (Note to collectors: Previous installments have run on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday of the past two weeks.)

From the beginning, this series was designed to rely in part on input from readers. With every installment, we have run invitations to readers to call in with their responses. About 40 have responded.

What have we learned? Well, the main thing I have learned is that nobody wants to talk about what I want to write about. (Whether this means nobody wants to read about what it, either, I choose not to know.)

I conceived of this exercise as an intellectually bracing exploration of public-policy options: regulation, deregulation, reregulation, quasi-regulation, quasi-deregulation. I had studies and reports to ruminate on; case histories, illuminating anecdotes culled painstakingly from the misleading ones, in-depth interviews, the whole editorial- page schmear.

I had no interest in dissing or defending the local cab companies or drivers. Government policy was the thing.

Readers, on the other hand - or, at least, callers - wanted to denounce or defend the drivers and companies.

Well, there is a certain logic to that approach. After all - as noted here before - no change in government policy is going to change Dayton into New York, with a taxi at every corner. So let's talk about the drivers and companies.

The calls from cab riders were mainly negative, but not nearly as negative as calls about this column and this page have been over the years. So, when you figure how beloved we all know the editorial page really is, you have to conclude that the taxi companies shouldn't be too depressed by the complaints.

Still: The cab companies should know that this business of people calling at night for a ride to the airport the next morning and then not getting the ride really rankles. Some people one talks to have - unlike most callers - had good experiences with early morning airport rides. But the people who are mad are really mad.

One caller suggested that it ought to be illegal for cab companies not to honor what the customers think of as reservations. The problem with that is the city has no bureaucracy to monitor the cab companies. So a complainant would have to go to court. Not a pleasant prospect. It is best, perhaps, for the companies to tackle this problem themselves.

Another airport complaint: No cabs there, sometimes.

Also, the personal characteristics of the drivers came in for much discussion. Indeed, some drivers criticized some of their own colleagues on many grounds, including personal hygiene.

Some callers - especially the elderly and handicapped - said they' ve had mainly good experiences with drivers. So, apparently, the professionalism of drivers varies greatly.

One member of the taxi industry complained that the series did nothing to deal with what he said is the industry's major ongoing problem: recruiting good workers to drive. But a couple of drivers complained that the information in the series would cause a lot of people to apply for driving positions, thus reducing the amount of money to be made by drivers who are already on the streets. These drivers said that the combination high prices they pay to rent cabs and the low demand on the streets already keeps drivers from making a decent living.

Another subject that came up was the unwillingness of some drivers to go to certain neighborhoods, specifically West Dayton. The drivers say it's dangerous, noting one cabby who lost his life not too long ago. As a matter of fact, though, no customers called to make this complaint about drivers. The point was raised mainly by drivers who were anticipating the complaint.

Finally, one caller said this is quite a job I've got: writing about taxis. He said he'd like a job like that.

He doesn't understand the anguish of having one's prized, researched, honed and polished thoughts ignored.


* MARTIN GOTTLIEB is a member of the editorial board of the Dayton Daily News. He can be reached at 225-2288. His e-mail address is martin_gottlieb@coxohio.com.


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