Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughts on the proposed changes in Minneapolis taxi regulations

In the 30 years and I've been operating a taxicab, both here in the Twin Cities and other parts of the country, I've discovered that attending these committee meetings is a gigantic waste of time on my part. That said, as the Minneapolis Regulatory Committee has come up with yet more ways to mess with the drivers, I feel it necessary weigh in on the latest dose of gobbledygook.

First on the credit cards, I know for a fact that more than 60% of the cabs running around in this city take credit cards. Every taxi that accepts cards as a sticker prominently displayed on the car letting the customer know that his or her plastic is welcome. Not all of the companies have a fancy automated card reader that spits out a receipt for the transaction. Some of us still have to run cards the old fashioned way. I have it on pretty good knowledge that may change fairly soon. It is not practical to make a company that may only have a five or six cabs on the street take credit cards. It would be like forcing all the vendors in the downtown farmers market to take them. Cab companies have allowed customers to pay with plastic as a convenience, in order to attract more business. My service company charges me 5% on the credit card slips I turn in. I just look at it as a cost of doing business, much like gasoline.

As for the cell phone ban, I think it is incredibly rude for a driver to be on a phone while transporting a passenger. Also, I think driving while holding a phone creates a blind spot that some of our more inexperienced drivers may not know how to work around. As for me, I use a hands free device. I do not use it when I carry passengers. However, if I have to carry on a phone conversation when I'm not engaged, the use of my Bluetooth device is no more dangerous or distracting than if I was talking to a passenger in my back seat. Furthermore, taxi drivers will log, on an average, four times as many miles in one week as your average commuter. Until you ban cell phone use for every motorist, it is not fair to single out cab drivers.

As for the dress code, as long as a driver is wearing clean clothing and does not stink to high heaven, he or she should be able to wear anything they are comfortable in, within reason. Most drivers work a 10 to 13 hour shift. Telling them that they cannot wear a comfortable shirt or pair of shoes is completely unreasonable. Now I will say, that drivers sitting on cab stands, with their feet hanging out the windows, is completely unprofessional.

Now I want to address a couple of issues that this committee has seemed to overlook.

We're getting to the point to where we're going to price ourselves out of the market with rates that are up to $2.75 per mile. This makes us one of the most expense of cities in the country when it comes to cab fares. Unfortunately, the rules of supply and demand do not apply to the taxi industry. The fact that the city has decided to take the cap off of the number of permits, thus nearly doubling the number of cabs on the street from that of just 15 years ago, means cab drivers are sitting twice as long, waiting for fares. That cat has been let out of the bag, and there is probably nothing we can do about all the extra unneeded cabs on the street. But instead of continuously jacking the mileage rate that make desirable longer fares harder to come by, I would suggest raising the minimum fare, which now sits at $5.00, to eight to ten dollars.

Also, the city has not done nearly enough to allow for staging areas for all these extra cabs. And parking enforcement is Johnny on the spot to tag of these cabs that part in no parking zones or metered spots. It should be noted that they're not quite as quick to tag private vehicles that are parked on the limited taxi stand space we have. If the city wants all these extra cabs on the streets, then they better find some place to put them. Or better yet, how about working with the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote this readily available source of transportation.

One more thing. The city has gone to great lengths in promoting a "taxi riders bill of rights." All cabs must carry this placard that lets consumers know what they can expect from their cab driver. I would offer that they should be changed to a "taxi riders rights and responsibilities." That would encourage passengers to do things like check the seat, before they leave the taxi, for personal belongings, and be ready to enter the taxi when it arrives on a service call. There is nothing more frustrating than pulling up in front of a residence, only to sit there for over 10 minutes, while the passenger is dilly dallying around inside. On most occasions, barring bad weather conditions, response time is usually within 10 minutes. Passengers should be ready to walk out the door when the taxi arrives. You sure as hell would not see a taxi in New York City wait around, without the meter running, while you gather your party.

I am all for this great experiment to make Minneapolis in general, and the Twin Cities as a whole, become this great mecca for taxis. But it's going to take a little less heavy handedness by city regulators to make the riding experience pleasurable, and the driving experience more enjoyable and profitable.

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