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Car Culture

City Considers Loosening Taxi Regulations


Recently, the city's regulation of taxis has been a hot topic of conversation in the media and with politicians. Taxi drivers are calling for a loosening of the city's regulations that cover everything from where they can or can't pick up a passenger. Public sentiment, as reflected by the media and city council, is that the city needs to recast itself with a stronger cab culture to improve mobility.

A common complaint among cabbies is that they are forced to wait at taxi stands instead of being allowed to prowl the street looking for fares. Cab drivers point to the cab culture in cities such as New York, where cabs are permitted to pick up drivers almost anywhere on city streets.

Councilwoman Jan Perry has emerged as a champion of cab culture. Perry wants to make it possible for cabs to pick up passengers in no-parking zones and bus stops as they can in other cities. In today's LA Times, Perry pushes changing taxi regulations as common sense:

"What people want is what they want in any other big city -- to step out of the courthouse, step out of the Music Center, think, 'Oh, I'm wearing high heels and my feet hurt, I want to get a cab,'" Perry said. "Why should that be a big deal?"

LADOT officials are considering a plan to begin a pilot program in the downtown before considering changes to the program citywide.

There are a lot of things the city should consider before changing its cab regulations. The most important is whether or not changing the regulations is good for the transportation system.

Even if cabbies are allowed to pick up passengers in more areas and there is a corresponding increase in total trips taken via cab, it could still result in a net increase in congestion. We already know what impact free or low cost parking has on increasing the amount of vehicle miles traveled, cabbies cruising for fares is going to have the same impact as drivers cruising for parking.

Former New York traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz has called for Gotham to reduce its taxi fleet by 1,000 cars per year until New York has fewer cabs than LA does today because a crush of taxis increases congestion.

Cab drivers are certainly a sympathetic lot. A 2006 study by UCLA's Gary Blasi shows that cab drivers make less than a living wage, work long hours, and develop physical problems as a result of being cramped into a driver's seat all day. But that doesn't mean the city owes it to them to change its policies until a pilot program shows that new procedures will reduce congestion.

Photo: Bill Roab

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