Private industry "congestion" tax?

By Don McCurdy

Reports are that a state court judge has okayed the start of the new fees for anyone riding in a for hire vehicle that travels to, from or through any part of Manhattan south of 96th street. The new "taxi tax", or congestion tax, is also being charged to other rides, shared and otherwise.

The new taxi tax is being implemented to offset the cost of the government run Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). This is an example of the many reasons, I believe, why the government should not want to run any type of business. Why? Because they can’t.

I found it interesting that the Attorney General’s office argued that not collecting the tax was hurting the city transit riders because it meant that the there was less money for the MTA.

Unlike real service businesses, government run "public services" are underfunded because they don’t charge what the service costs to operate. They are also incredibly badly managed. Instead, they poach funds from other government operations, raise taxes or levy a new tax "in the interests of the community."

I would suggest that the community would be better served by a privately run transit authority operating to make a profit. But I digress.

The new taxi tax sets the minimum fare in Manhattan starting at a reported $5.80 which the taxi industry complains will torpedo their already sinking ship. I find it very telling that the protection racket that the regulation of the taxicab industry started has now morphed.

Now, in some ways, it appears that the city and state are attempting to prop up the industry they’ve never successfully managed. At the same time, however, it may be giving the industry a near death blow with the new taxi tax.


Because they can.

San Francisco’s MTA, which governs the taxicab industry, is reported to be banning "legacy medallions" selective pick-up stations at the San Francisco International Airport.

As reported in this column, the city started selling medallions a few years ago. The city arranged financing and when the city birthed "ride share" it started to get difficult for new medallion holders to meet their financial obligations. In swoops the MTA to save the day, well somebody’s day.

The MTA decision to bar "legacy medallions," many owned by individual drivers with decades of service to the city, will result in those medallions becoming worthless to an ever shrinking taxicab industry. The remaining new medallions will have an easier time paying their bills while the MTA does what oppressive governments do, pick winners and losers. Can’t get enough good government.


How un Uber!

A recent article pointed up Waymo’s attempt to stay "humble" by entering markets "ethically." A recent profile of Ellie Casson, Waymo’s head of local policy, is tasked with the job of keeping Waymo humble and entering markets without ruffling too many feathers.

Apparently, Waymo is attempting to establish relationships in cities where they want to enter the market. It will be interesting to see how their civilized approach to new markets works out. Sounds like a kinder, gentler euthanasia for the taxicab driver.


What does that mean?

Waymo is reported to have reduced their disengagements in 2018. What? Disengagements are when the human driver intervenes when the driver believes there is a situation that the computer isn’t responding to correctly.

As these incidents occur, the computer is then trained to deal with the situation it failed to recognize. Kind of like a rookie taxicab driver learning not to turn left with an obstructed view.

Based on the criteria of disengagements, Waymo appears to be a couple of years ahead of their nearest competitor. While reducing their disengagements, Waymo has substantially increased their miles traveled.

Waymo is reported to view their disengagements as learning opportunities for their cars. The entire article had me wondering, with texting, talking on the phone, eating lunch, putting on makeup and drunk driving, how many disengagements are human drivers currently racking up? I’d wager that to be a terrifying number.


That’s a twist.

In the pursuit of the perfect autonomous vehicle, a Michigan startup has devised a fixed route scheme to solve the "last mile" issue of public transit. The "last mile" being the distance between the fixed route transit stop and the actual destination of the rider.

May Mobility is reported to be using low speed, electric, driverless vehicles to shuttle passengers along a fixed route from transit stops to replace larger buses. The idea certainly has merit, especially on lightly traveled bus routes.

While the writer seemed very enthusiastic about the program, I couldn’t help but wonder what a motorist behind one of these low speed vehicles might be thinking about the program?

The idea of the fixed route is reported to eliminate a significant amount of safety concerns since the vehicle is programmed to respond to known issues on its route. The author seems to believe that May Mobility "could" beat Waymo, but their limited scope is an entirely different service.


"For sale or rent?"

Uber and Lyft are reported to have a problem with rented app profiles. What? A driver, or possibly just a scammer, creates a driver account on the Uber app. The driver then rents the account out to a phantom driver who may, or may not, be authorized to drive for Uber or Lyft.

The problem is an age old one for the taxicab industry, whose phantom night drivers operated for years without detection until computerized dispatch systems made the signed-on time of each vehicle easily detectable.

Law enforcement is well behind the curve on this issue and the public is exposed to potentially dangerous situations with unvetted, anonymous drivers able to pick up customers.

The bogus accounts can be set up with stolen information or they can simply rent out their own account. Apparently, bogus identities are for rent in "chat rooms" on the net.


"Ya think?"

Reports are that ridership on mass transit is down in the seven top markets in the US. A study was commissioned to try to understand why this drop is occurring and the results are in.

Amazingly, the reasons people use mass transit are pretty much the same as the people who use other vehicles for hire. Access to a vehicle and access to parking are on the top of the list. What I found most interesting was the reasons people stopped using mass transit.

While the writer mentioned some "reasons" why riders quit riding, the rider’s opinions I found much more compelling. Top complaint was unreliability followed by speed of travel.

The bus not coming or passing right by when it does come was tops. Second, was the us stopping at every corner. In my economics class, a factor in selling goods or services was the service availability and quality of alternative services. In this case, it wasn’t Uber or taxis, but their own car.

Apparently, a percentage of those using mass transit were using it because they lacked full time access to a vehicle. Two years ago, 54 percent of respondents said they did not have full time access to a vehicle compared to 43 percent of the latest survey respondents.

Similarly, the number of respondents who reported not having any access to a vehicle dropped from 27 percent to 21 percent. It seems kind of obvious to me, Americans like owning and driving their own car.

If you have any comments regarding this or any of my articles please feel free to contact me at: – dmc