My own father accuses me of supporting job killing regulations and other responses to my piece on taxis in Iowa City

I posted the other evening on the overabundance of taxi cabs and taxi companies in Iowa City.  I submitted a slightly edited version to the Press Citizen, who helped me further edit it and graciously printed it in today’s paper.  This opened my piece up to greater scrutiny by the public, and solicited a number of responses, including one from my father.  Not having a Facebook, I am unable to respond to the comments directly on the Press Citizen, so after the jump are quotes from the comments and my responses to them.

Richard A Shannon wrote:

The author’s plan will leave a niche market underserved – a market that it is in the public interest to supply as well as possible: bar traffic in downtown Iowa City. I assume we don’t want to do anything to discourage people who have been drinking from deciding to take a cab instead of driving themselves.

[…]

The author is in fact recommending fewer cabs at peak hours – as to gain entrance to the market the cab company would have to provide service at times they don’t want to. Even the author confesses his solution might now make good business sense. One of the consequences of bad business decisions are firms go out of business or decide not to enter the market. In other words fewer cabs.

I am in fact not arguing against having extra cabs on the road at peak times–I am arguing against cab companies that ONLY come out at those times.  Every company with more than a handful of cabs schedules their drivers so as to have more cars on the road at peak times–hence Yellow hiring to me to drive just on game days when they need more drivers than they usually have scheduled on a Saturday.  Indeed, those late night revelers are more than simply a niche, they are major segment of the customer base.  The companies that ONLY drive at those peak times do a disservice to the industry (and our community) by not actually being available at all hours as I believe they should.

Christopher P Bergan makes this same point better than I:

What many aren’t mentioning is that each cab company is already supposed to be available 24/7- i.e. provide transportation throughout the day and night. Serving the whole community (yes Johnson county is a community apart from UI) including the elderly, disabled, those getting a car repaired, without a license, etc. should be a priority, not just the “socially active” night owls. Also, cabbies are often the first interactions travelers to this area have. Keeping some of these companies around isn’t exactly putting our best foot forward for business-persons or new residents.

Nick Summy points to high prices on game-days:

One issue is the rules currently in place. Even the big companies will price gouge you. I’ll never forget the time my friends and I all piled into a cab to go from the Magic Bus to downtown. A mile and a half at the most. It was $35.

I can understand your frustration at being charged more than you expected for an admittedly short ride.  This is why I explain Yellow’s game-day pricing to customers when they enter the cab, and refer them to the clearly posted rate sheets if they have questions.  FYI, Yellow’s rate sheet is available here–in my experience they strive to be up front and transparent with regards to pricing.  Of course I can’t speak for the myriad small companies–I will give props to Marco’s for similar above-the-boardness, however.

Nothing groundbreaking in the above, I realize, but it is nice to have a chance to respond (and I can’t/won’t ever get Facebook which would allow me to do so on the Press Citizen’s site.)  More interesting to me, is my dad’s response.  A bit of background: my dad is a retired economist who specialized in public utility regulation and testified before a commission in Madison in an effort to loosen their taxicab regulations.

Regulatory controls work best when tightly focused on the basic problem. Central dispatch and a minimum fleet of 4 cars does not assure safe cabs but it does reduce competition. Madison, WI has taxicab requirements similar to those in Iowa City – the result has been no entry into the market since the early 1980s and rates that are among the highest in the nation. However, most of the cabs are reasonably clean.

I believe that 24/7 central dispatch and minimum fleets do address the problems that I highlighted.  I did not address the issue of safety, but I think that smaller numbers of companies (with well marked vehicles) would make it easier for customers to report concerns to the authorities.  My biggest issue is that I believe Taxi companies should be available 24/7 and that it is in the city’s interest to mandate this.  Imagine visiting Iowa City and calling a cab company only to have no one respond.  To relate it to public utilities, consider a company that would only be willing to supply power at peak hours–it is certainly in the public’s interest to require those utilities to supply power around the clock.

One final note:  Sorry to associate you with congressional Republicans in the title of this post, pops.  I value your readership as well your guidance and friendship.

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