mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Why does Baltimore have such wierd taxis?

A few weeks ago, I was driving up Charles Street, headed home after hitting the gym after work. I noticed a taxi in front of me, and thought - "is that what I think it is" because it wasn't a car you normally expect to see painted light blue with a taxi sign on the top. I pulled next to it and it was - a Lincoln LS.

Growing up in suburban Central NJ, there weren't a whole lot of taxis around. But NYC wasn't too far away, and my idea of big-city taxis was always NYC cabs - late-model yellow Crown Victorias, all identical, all fairly new.

When I came to Baltimore, I was surprised by the cabs. Sure, most of them are Crown Victorias, but they are usually older ones, ex-police cars with "police interceptor" badges. But pretty much anything with 4 doors have been painted and are picking up passengers in b-more. Over the years, I've seen the following in taxi service: a Mercury Tracer wagon, a Nissan Altima (complete with rear spoiler), a Dodge Shadow, a rare Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon, Caravans, Blazers, Impalas, Tauruses, Dodge Dynasty, Toyota Camry and Corolla, Jeeps, Buick Centuries and Park Avenues, Lincoln Town Cars and even a Toyota Prius, for when Al Gore needs a ride.

So why does B-more have such an odd collection of cabs compared to NY? I started to think about this, and hit on one theory - governmental regulation.

See, NYC has a very limited number of taxicab medallions, which are required to operate a taxicab in the city. They sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of that, most of the medallions are owned by investors who rent them out to cabbies, along with the cabs themselves. Because a licensed is such a valuable commodity, NYC taxicab fleet owners can't afford to use any old beater, because the cabs are usually rented out 24/7, and any time they are out of commission means that they aren't rented to drivers, and the taxicab owner has a medallion that they paid a fortune for that they aren't getting use out of.

Baltimore City doesn't have such a licensing requirement. Most of the cabs are owner-operated - they are members of taxicab groups that dispatched - sort of a franchise, but are individually owned and operated. Drive through a middle-class neighborhood in Baltimore County and you are likely to see cabs parked in driveways, owned by recent immigrants who own their own taxi and saved up enough to buy a house. Because they are owned by individuals, reliability takes a back seat to cost of entry - entrepreneurs can buy a cheap used car and be working, and if it's out of commission, they aren't making money, but they also don't have a valuable medallion sitting idle, just an easily-replaced beater car.

This is just a theory, and I have no actual evidence, nor have I done any research. But it seems like a reasonable, Freakonimics-type answer to me.


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