These 6 articles appeared in the Dayton Daily News in June 1997, as a series exploring Dayton's taxicab industry.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
The Tampa, Fla., area, which recently re-regulated taxi service, has
a cap on the number of cars and this requirement to demonstrate
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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-
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
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