Friday, July 20, 2012

Updating Tucson taxi issues

Yellow Cab

It's been awhile since I've posted, since a lot has changed for this driver personally, as well as in the overall Tucson taxi environment.

This driver no longer drives for Tucson Yellow Cab - I now drive for a small independent cab company. This was necessitated by the continuing oppressive atmosphere at Yellow Cab, where lease rates continued to rise and the company instituted more ways to extort money from drivers, including once again reducing Medicare voucher reimbursement rates, prohibiting drivers from using alternative credit card processors other than Yellow Cab's, and offering passengers a greatly reduced rate to the airport - which discount is totally subsidized by the driver, having no effect on Yellow Cab's bottom line. Additionally, in order to force more drivers to service the Medicare voucher rides (for which Yellow Cab receives a substantial reimbursement, yet pays the driver at 65% of the regular meter rate), known rides to the airport are only given to drivers who participate in the voucher program. All of this in the face of rising fuel costs until recently.

Recently some local cabbies have stepped up to improve their lot in life, and take on the larger cab companies, including Yellow Cab. Christopher Kroh, a long time Yellow Cab driver, recently spearheaded the Tucson Hacks Association, a group of cabbies banding together to fight oppressive cab company policies and improve their operating environment. This effort lead Yellow Cab to immediately terminate Chris' contract to drive for them. Chris' efforts are outlined in two great stories by Mari Herreras of the Tucson Weekly:

TQ&A: Christopher Kroh (June 7, 2012)

Fired Up! Tucson cabbies question the legality of their independent-contractor status (July 12, 2012)

Cab Stands

Your own boss? More like indentured servant.

Other issues also remain. With all the new work involving the Tucson streetcar, streets such as 4th Avenue, Congress, and University are all being reconstructed, with features such as improved bus pullouts and bicycle lanes, but why can't we get cab stands designated on these streets? Local transportation planners refuse to recognize taxis as part of the transportation mix, yet for a good part of the population it is the preferred method for getting in and out of downtown and 4th Avenue. When will this change? The larger cab companies, such as Yellow and Discount, have no interest in seeing this change - they prefer to establish exclusive cab stands on private properties, such as night clubs, which lock out other cab drivers from picking up at these spots. So why would they want to try to bring any order to the chaos which exists on public streets as all cabbies try to vie for walk-up traffic downtown? The city needs to consider cab stands in these zones to reduce some of the bad behavior on the part of cab drivers, promote public safety by reducing double and illegal parking by cabs, and promoting responsible behavior by inebriated passengers.

Regulatory Environment & Enforcement

Last year, the state legislature passed a law which prohibits other governmental entities from regulating taxis (the Tucson and Phoenix airport authorities are exceptions to this statute). While this decreases regulatory burdens on cab operators across the state (can you imagine Tucson, Marana, Oro Valley, and Green Valley all trying to regulate taxis within their boundaries? Yikes!), the framework of state taxi regulations could use a little more work. For example, state law says that taxi companies must run background checks on individual drivers, but does not specify if any driver is prohibited from driving for any particular class of offense. Also, cab companies must have maintenance records available for inspection, but it is not specified in what form these records must be maintained, what, when, and by whom maintenance must be performed, and what penalties apply if the records are not kept or if maintenance lapses.

And who enforces state taxi regulations? Well, it seems it is mostly up to the state Department of Weights and Measures. Few inspectors exist, however, and they are for the most part tasked with regular inspections of all measuring devices (scales, gas pumps, fabric meters, etc.) as well as enforcement of consumer labeling laws (like making sure your roll of Charmin has the number of sheets as specified on the label). It would be helpful if local police agencies were educated on taxi regulations and did random of inspections, looking for ID card, insurance, and meter violations. This would assist in keeping taxi operators honest in between the annual inspections conducted by Weights and Measures.