Stockholm tourists stung in taxi-fare battle

Tourists visiting Stockholm face a greater chance of being ripped off by taxi drivers than almost every other major city in the world, The Local’s Geoff Mortimore discovers.

When hailing a cab in the Swedish capital, tourists should be on their guard, according to the results of a recent survey which found that visitors to Stockholm are easy prey for unscrupulous taxi drivers.

“Charging high prices is not illegal, so all we can really do is try to make tourists as aware as possible,” says Peter Lindqvist, head of the Stockholm Visitors Board.

Lindqvist fears the growing problem could have serious consequences for tourism in the country, particularly in Stockholm where it appears to be worst of all, as the situation threatens to get out of hand.

The survey exposing Stockholm’s taxi price problems, carried out by the Swedish Hotel and Restaurant Managers Association (SHR), warns that this growing problem could have a long term detrimental effect on Stockholm’s reputation and popularity among visitors.

Tourists are apparently being regularly targeted and tricked into paying exorbitant taxi bills, while hotel staff also claim they receive threats and abuse as the battle for prospective clients rages on their doorstep.

With reports in the press claiming that unsuspecting visitors have been charged as much as 2,000 kronor ($295), for a journey from Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport to the middle of the capital, several hotels have even started their own taxi companies, to ensure their guests travel with a reputable company, supplying safe vehicles and standardized pricing.

The confusion arises because there is effectively a three-tier system in operation.

The main taxi companies in Stockholm by-and-large charge roughly the same prices for the same journey. Then, muddying the waters somewhat, there are legal private companies, who are free to charge what they like, while a third group, illegal drivers, are also vying for the same passengers.

The problem of legal, but excessive charging has steadily progressed since the deregulation of the industry in the 1990s, according to Lindqvist.

Passengers caught out have no legal recourse, because the taxi companies can, in effect, charge what they like in a free market, as long as there is a meter showing the cost.

Under current legislation, the minute a customer climbs into a taxi he or she effectively enters into an agreement with the driver and are obligated to pay, no matter how high the charge ends up.

A police control recently carried out near the ferry port Värtahamn in Stockholm, revealed the true extent of the problem. The authorities discovered that some independent drivers were charging more than 20 times the amount that the larger companies charged for the same journey.

All of which could have grave consequences for Stockholm, if it cannot shrug off a reputation for conning visitors.

“It could turn into a serious problem, because tourists are going to feel ripped off and frustrated when they realize they have paid a lot for a journey that they can see would have been half the amount if they had used another company. The fact that it is legal means it is even more irritating for them,” says Lindqvist.

Meanwhile, the taxi drivers’ association is also incensed by the increasing tension caused by rogue drivers as well as high charging legal operators, and has called for a new law to fix pricing.

In a free market however, this may prove problematic.

In their defence, those smaller companies, free to charge what they like, complain that they are victimised and tarred with the same brush as illegal drivers. As a result, some claim, they are abused, threatened and have to put up with hotel staff warning their guests from taking their taxis.

These operators argue that because they cannot run in the same way as their larger rivals, who have call up operations and pre-booking possibilities, they have to, at times, charge higher rates.

Finding a solution may not be easy. There have been calls for a price capping system, but whether that in itself would help stem the rising number of rogue operators who already work outside such guidelines, is questionable.

The taxi drivers’ association urges people to always check the price sticker before they jump into a taxi on the street, but any further possible measures are tricky, because of the way the law stands.

“For us, the best thing we can do is work together with those within the industry and do as much as we can to inform people of the potential dangers,” says Peter Lindqvist.

“We need to be better at warning people at airports, train stations and hotels that there is a pricing structure depending on what company is operating the service. That way, at least they can make an informed choice for themselves. Beyond that it is hard to see what more we can do.”

There are few winners in this battle, but if it is allowed to carry on too long, Stockholm as a whole may pay the highest price of all.

source: http://www.thelocal.se/40476/20120425/

BEFORE AND AFTER DEREGULATION

Stockholm, Sweden – 10 Years Experience
by Pepe Arninge
Taxi Driver, Journalist
as published in the February 1998 issue of Call-Sign
Journal of Dial-A-Cab, London, UK

After more than seven years of deregulation, the situation for the honest and hardworking Swedish cab driver is still the same. Trying to survive on an income level lower than the minimum standards of the Swedish social welfare law. Many drivers have suffered badly both from nervous breakdowns and heart attacks as well as personal bankruptcies and heart-rending divorces.

But why this situation. And what happened to the taxi industry to put people within it in such an unprofitable position?

Well, before 1990 there was only one major taxi company in each Swedish city. Permits, which were very tough to obtain, were issued by the City Council in each community after a thorough check of the cabby’s credentials and background. One mistake, like a speeding ticket, was enough to refuse an applicant a permit to operate his or her own cab for years. And as this wasn’t enough, there was also a queue to get the chance to apply for a permit – in most cases a waiting period for 12 years or more.

At the same time, these were the golden years of the Swedish and European economies. The yuppies overflowed on the streets of Stockholm and hailing a cab, which at the end of the 70’s and the first years of the 80 ‘s had been considered a bit luxurious, was something everyone did around the clock! These were great times for the Swedish cabby and most of the guys and gals made good money. Some even made small fortunes.

But times change. During the autumn of 1988 the Conservative’s, together with the Liberal’s, proposed a total deregulation of the Swedish taxi industry. With arguments not even close to reality, they convinced the Social Democratic leadership to vote ‘yes’ to the new ideas; a campaign that succeeded after an intensive lobbying period within the political parties and among their representatives.

After an energetic debate, in which one of the most positive parts to the alleviation was the Swedish Taxi Association, the resolution for a deregulation became a fact late December 1988 though without any real structure or realistic goals for the future transportation industry. The only thing one knew for certain was that, with the start on July 1st 1990 , it would be easier than ever to get a taxi at any time of the day.

UNIFORMED DRIVERS

To deregulate an industry that has been untouched for ages cannot happen in a single night. At the same time, due to the major changes within the application process, it became really easy for anyone to get hold of a taxi permit. Unfortunately, there were also those with criminal records that got hold of the sought-after windshield badge.

To Taxi Stockholm, which had had the grip of the Swedish capital’s taxi industry for more than 96 years, the changes became those of the extraordinary kind. A very costly computer system, designed by Motorola and bought from Canada, totally hollowed the company’s economy for years to come and the redesign of all cabs, to strengthen the taxi company’s outdo or profile, was a frustrating process in which specially trained inspectors patrolled the streets to report those drivers who didn’t wear the new, blue uniforms.

During the first years, there were many protests among the drivers who didn’t like the new order as they thought they were being messed around. But today most of the cabbies have accepted the situation as it is. Therefore, despite the fact that most drivers are, and always will be individualists, the visitor to Sweden today can be sure of one thing – to always be met by a uniformed taxi driver.

FOOD, COCA-COLA AND TAXI FARES

Before deregulation, each cab in Sweden had the same type of taximeter and exactly the same price. The fare was set with a combined time/kilometer tariff, which made a trip in a cab anywhere in Sweden both similar and quite easy to calculate in advance. Things like fixed prices or pre-calculated fares were forbidden in law and each trip went strictly on the meter.

Therefore the night between June 30th and July 1st 1990 became more than a new way of thinking for tens of thousands of taxi drivers. Suddenly, there wasn’t just one single cab company in Stockholm, there were 21. Each of them with fantastic names, odd roof lights and – most important of all – each of them with different ways to calculate a fare.

Frequently, the tax is within one specific company also used differentiated prices, even though the thought was that cabs belonging to one dispatch should use the same price setting. But nobody really cared, or were too occupied making money on his or her own by finding optional and competitive markets to taxi driving like selling food, tickets and Coca-Cola! Some even gave their passengers the latest films on monitors mounted in the rear seat of the taxi.

AIRPORT OVERPRICING

During the first three years of the deregulation, there were also those cabbies who specialised in working solely at Stockholm’s International Airport, a place that before 1990 was more or less impossible to get even close to. Now, on the free market, they could demand any price from a newly arrived tourist. During the first year of the new era, there was such a chaotic situation with an overflow of taxis outside the airport’s main entrance, that most attempts to rob passengers succeeded. And quite often , the customer had to pay as much as A3180 for a trip to downtown Stockholm, a 40 kilometer motorway ride that normally should cost about A335. At the same time, credit cards were not accepted by the drivers, in spite of recommendations from most companies, which resulted in a ‘Pay-cash-or-die’ situation which upset many of the visitors to Sweden!

It wasn’t long before the rising number of complaints from both tourists and Swedes hit the Mayor’s table and an investigation, led by the local police, started. Even though the price setting was free and no cab driver had done anything officially wrong, there were still some aspects of usury that started to interest the authorities. After spending thousand of hours following specific cabs that were among the most reported by passengers for profiteering, the investigations were shut down permanently. The reason? To pinpoint specific taxi drivers was too costly and nothing could be done about the problem as the deregulation was a fact and the market was free!

COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT

So how about the current situation, seven and a half years after the big bang? Well, in Stockholm, which has been one of the most turbulent areas since the industry was deregulated, there are today still over 2000 cabs which do not belong to any dispatch and that still charge their own prices. Then there are another 3000 cabs, divided in 21 different taxi companies, in which Taxi Stockholm with its’ 1600 cabs is still the biggest. This means there are still 5000 taxis in Sweden’s capital; a city with a population of 1.4 million, most of them not used to using such a wonderful way of transportation as the taxi is, but still take the bus.

As the competitive situation and tight economical frames still are very much of a reality for most of the drivers, more than a few feel forced to hide some money from taxation to survive. “Thank God for the fixed prices “, some of them say, meaning that a fare that doesn’t show on the meter and a passenger that doesn’t require a receipt, saves the whole day.

Unfortunately, many of the drivers are therefore disrespected by society and pinpointed as dishonest and corrupt. Some of the spokesmen for the City Council even talk about “some kind of collective punishment” to get hold of the situation.

But is the Swedish deregulation solely the taxi industry’s problem. Or is it something that concerns the whole of society, even though most of the authorities’ representatives choose to shut their eyes?

Well, my own personal opinion is that this is a major problem that ought to be solved by the authorities as the deregulation was forced onto the drivers – against their will.

Controversially, an Order was made in October 1997 by the City Council which determined that only the three biggest taxi companies – including Taxi Stockholm – would be allowed to pick up at Stockholm Central train station following complaints against the ‘independent’ taxi drivers overcharging.

Unfortunately, the situation led to rioting by the independent drivers. The police became involved and the situation ended with the independents having a sit-down strike before being carted off. The station now employs smartly dressed inspectors – known as yellow jackets – to ensure that only the correct taxi companies pick up at the station.

After speaking with cabbies around Stockholm during the last ten years, I can tell you Londoners on Dial a Cab that 95 per cent of your colleagues over here hate the present deregulated situation and most certainly do not want anything more than the possibility to survive in their occupation. Unfortunately, the City Council lost a grip on the taxi industry years ago and therefore – in pure panic – have forced new techniques onto the taxi owners in an attempt to stop the never ending tax fraud and the accelerated overpricing.

Just during the last four or five years, there have been over ten major updates of the computerised taximeters, mostly by demanding that the owners install new software into the cabs. This has, unfortunately, put the taxi owners into even worse economic stress as they have been forced to borrow even more money to pay for the unwanted goods.

As many taxi owners have now given up their jobs and sent their permits back to the City Council, there are always newcomers who want to try to make some fast money. By establishing a small company, which is easy and takes a week, they then run their business without any dispatch services or book-keeping for the permitted 18 months and then put the company into bankruptcy. The money they have made, without paying any taxes or social welfare, is placed abroad on an account that isn’t reachable for the taxation authorities.

Is there then any salvation to the honest core of taxi drivers in Sweden? As it looks right now – not really. As the authorities will not admit that they made a terrible mistake when they chose to deregulate the industry at the beginning of an economic recession, there will only be survivors among those who cheat and overprice. The rest – the majority – are and will continue to be losers as long as nobody take their part when discussing the problems with the politicians.

I feel sorry for the honest and hard working Swedish taxi driver who has to live this kind of life. Or as a spokesman at the City Council, who perhaps understand the problems better than most, said: “I think that a re-regulation is the only way to solve this tragic mess that has been part of each taxi drivers life for more than seven years”.

Pepe Arninge
Sweden

New taxi is worth hailing

A prototype of the Nissan NV 200

NEW YORK — In a cab and your cellphone just died? No problem. Just plug it in.

New cabs hitting the streets of New York City next year will have charging ports for riders’ electronics. They’ll also have more leg room, a large skylight roof to gaze at the city skyscrapers and even odor-reducing and anti-microbial fabric to help deal with, well, you know, anything you might smell in the backseat of a cab.

A prototype of the Nissan NV200 will be unveiled Tuesday. The model was selected from among three finalists in a city competition.

With a boxy shape and painted a brighter yellow than the city’s current taxis, the cab offers a different experience for riders — starting with a flat, hump-less floor that makes shifting from one side to the other a simple task.

City Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said busy New Yorkers looking to get from point A to point B would find plenty to appreciate about the rides that get them there.

“New Yorkers are pragmatic but they also appreciate quality. This is a higher-quality taxi ride than what they’re getting today,” he said Monday.

The doors on the vehicles slide open, so no more risk of hitting a passing bicycle messenger, and they’ll all come with a navigation system, so no more getting lost in the outer boroughs. There are floor lights, to help find anything that may have fallen to the floor, as well as overhead lights for reading. Luggage can go into the cargo space in the rear.

The Nissan van, which beat out proposals from Ford Motor Co. and Turkey’s Karsan, will be phased in beginning in October 2013 as older taxis age out of service. All current taxis, including the city’s hybrid cabs, will be off the streets by 2018. Nissan spokesman Steven Oldham said the company would be undertaking a pilot program with the Nissan Leaf electric car to see if it would be feasible to make the taxis electric in the coming years.

The vehicles will sell for about $29,000, and will come with the partitions included, Yassky said. Meters and the medallions will be the responsibilities of the buyers.

source: : http://www.timesunion.com/business/

 

Taxi road rage video a YouTube hit

Bloemfontein – CCTV footage of a Bloemfontein minibus taxi driver driving into and then cruelly assaulting a pedestrian in a road rage incident in Andries Pretorius Street has attracted international attention after going viral on the internet.

Minibus taxi driver Aggrey Mojanaga, 43, appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on a charge of assault on Monday, but the charge was provisionally withdrawn by the Free State director of public prosecutions due to a lack of evidence. The case may be reopened.

Volksblad has meanwhile removed the footage from YouTube at the request of Stanley Reizis, owner of the Brent Oil fuel station whose security cameras recorded the incident last week.

Reizis, a well-known businessman and developer, received calls from as far as Greece about the incident, and insists that the road rage attack had nothing to do with his fuel station. It took place in the road in which his business is situated, and the name of his business can be seen in the video.

Widely discussed

A Canadian, however, made a copy of the original video uploaded by Volksblad and posted it under the title “Brutal Road Rage Caught on CCTV in South Africa” on the video sharing site.

By Thursday morning, nearly 90 000 people had already viewed the video on YouTube.

The video has been posted on several national and international websites and has been discussed widely on radio stations, television and social media sites such as Twitter.

The American website Guyism also put the video in their humour section, saying that hopefully South Africa has anger management classes. Even Japanese and Dutch sites spread the video footage.

There has also been widespread outrage at the witnesses, who stood watching and failed to intervene in the incident. The victim was reportedly hospitalised, but has been discharged.

Police said the investigation into the driver of the taxi with the registration number DHK506FS would continue.

source: http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/

Cabbie beaten for stealing goat

A goat yesterday

A taxi driver who was beaten by an angry mob when a goat was found in the trunk of his motor car has been fined $70,000 or nine months’ imprisonment for larceny of the goat.

Cornell Francis, 28, of Fort William, Westmoreland, was convicted in the Whithorn Resident Magistrate’s Court, Westmoreland.

Barrington Holmes, a farmer, and owner of the goat, testified last week that on October 20, last year, while he was at Roaring River, Westmoreland, he received information which led him to go on a search for his 33 goats.

broken horn

He ended up at a river where he saw his black goat in the trunk of a motor car. He said he identified the goat by a broken horn. He said the goat was involved in a fight two months before he was stolen, and that was how his horn was broken.

Holmes said residents had stopped Francis when they saw the goat in the trunk of the motor car.

Constable Darroe Rowe said when he arrived on the scene, the accused Francis had several injuries all over his body.

Francis, in his defence, denied stealing the goat. He told the court that he had gone to the river to wash his motor car.

After Francis was found guilty, attorney-at-Law Michael Erskine begged Resident Magistrate Sheron Barnes not to send him to prison. Erskine said Francis had no previous conviction and had already been punished by the mob who attacked and injured him.

RM Barnes, in passing sentence ,said although she abhorred stealing, especially from hard working farmers, she would exercise some leniency and impose a fine.

Farmer Holmes informed the court that following a court order, the police returned the goat to him. He said the goat was consumed over the Christmas holidays last year.

source: http://jamaica-star.com/

Thumbs down for London cabs?

Drivers of Englon TX4 cabs wait at the Hangzhou Foreign Tourism Taxi Company on Jan 31 to suspend their contracts in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. (China Daily / Wang Haoxing)

SHANGHAI – The iconic black hackney carriage that has been running for more than half a century on London’s streets is being shunned by passengers in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, after less than six months into a pilot run.

In the past week, more than 30 of the 50 drivers of the new cab have suspended their contracts with the Hangzhou Foreign Tourism Taxi Company and handed back their vehicles because of sluggish business.

“Business has been very poor,” said a driver surnamed Chen. “I feel like I’ve been driving an invisible car all day long, ignored by most of the passengers on the road, even if they are desperately in need of a ride.

“Many illegal taxis have made more money than mine.”

Chen had expected to make a windfall from the “fancy eye-catching black cab” when he applied for it last August. Getting a taxi is like “winning a lottery” in Hangzhou, home to more than 8.7 million people but only 8,000 taxis.

The fleet of 50 purpose-built Englon TX4 taxis first hit the road during the National Para Games last September to help transport athletes with disability, and were kept in operation under the supervision of Hangzhou Foreign Tourism Taxi Co.

“It’s mainly because people in Hangzhou do not know they are taxis, or assume they are more expensive taxis,” said their operation manager, who gave her surname as Dong.

Featuring a similar design to the original London model, the cars boast a larger body, more spacious seating for five passengers and being more user-friendly for the disabled. But with greater fuel consumption than regular taxis to pay for, most drivers have failed to make any profit.

According to Dong, after paying fuel costs and leasing fees, the London-cab drivers earn around 70 yuan ($11) a day, while regular taxi drivers make at least 150 yuan.

But Dong said the situation had been improving over the past few months, and far from giving up on the black cabs, they may even run more.

“On one hand, we are reducing the fees required from drivers and recruiting new hands. On the other, we will invest more on promotion and advertising,” she said.

But Yang Xueliang, marketing director of Geely Group, the manufacturer of the taxis, believed the reason that Englon TX4 has been given the cold shoulder in Hangzhou is because the company hasn’t found the right business model.

“In Beijing and Guangzhou, cars of this kind are largely used as long-distance chartered cabs for companies,” Yang told the Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post.

Yang’s opinion is shared by Huang Fu, a taxi driver in Hangzhou, who plans to apply to drive the Englon TX4.

After driving a taxi for more than five years, Huang said he has built up quite a large number of “high-end business clientele”, who will be happy to travel in a more spacious and comfortable cab.

There are around 100 Englon TX4 taxis in China.

source: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90882/7721989.html

More taxis mean more traffic

“There’s something for everyone,” exulted New York City taxi czar David Yassky over the December agreement between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to expand taxi service. The disabled get 2,000 new wheelchair-accessible yellow cabs, up from around 250 at present. Outer-borough residents get the right to hail non-yellow “livery” cabs instead of having to phone for them. And the city gets a billion-dollar “one shot” from auctioning medallions for the new yellow cabs.

Oh, and all New Yorkers get something they need like a hole in the head: a permanent jolt of new gridlock from the extra taxi traffic.

No one mentioned traffic when the taxi deal was rolled out last month at City Hall and in Albany. After all, with 800,000 motor vehicles already entering the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) each weekday, what difference could a mere 2,000 additional yellow cabs possibly make?

Plenty, it turns out. Yellow cabs spend three-fourths of each shift, around seven hours, plying CBD streets and avenues. (And of course some are active for two shifts a day.) Most private cars driven in Manhattan don’t do so for long. Even at the CBD’s notoriously labored traffic pace ― now averaging 9.5 mph, up from 8 mph before the recession ― the two to three miles per day logged by the average car below 60th Street occupy 15 to 20 minutes.

Adding one new medallion is thus equivalent to adding 40 private cars. Adding 2,000 of them ― as the city now intends to do during the next three years ― would be the traffic equivalent of adding 80,000 cars, a 10 percent increase in volume.

That 10 percent would be a big deal. The Manhattan CBD already runs so close to maximum capacity that a relatively small increase in the number of vehicles operating there makes a very considerable difference in the outcome. There’s a mathematical way to state this, but there’s also a proverb referring to straws and camels’ backs.

I’ve spent the last few years developing a computer model to analyze congestion pricing. If you put these extra cabs into the mix, the results aren’t pretty, even allowing for the replacement of some car traffic by the increased taxi traffic, as well as the divergence between peak usage periods for taxis (evenings) and cars and trucks (daytime). The model predicts that raising yellow-cab traffic volumes by 15% (the proportional increase in the number of medallions) will cause travel speeds to fall by 12%, averaged across all of Manhattan south of 60th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. (Details of my analysis can be found here.)

The time costs of the additional gridlock are frightening: at least $500 million a year in New Yorkers’ time consumed sitting in traffic. That’s enough to use up the anticipated billion-dollar revenue windfall from the medallion auction in just a couple of years — and it comes right out of our pockets. The worsened quality of life and climate for business only compound the damage.

Short of scrubbing the sale of the medallions, what could New York City and State do to mitigate the traffic damage?

In theory, they could add street capacity. But the 2,000 new cabs would require 70 new “lane-miles” within the Manhattan CBD to create zero additional congestion. That would be an 8% expansion in the CBD road network, where real estate isn’t cheap. I think we can write off that idea.

Fortunately, there is a way to enable traffic to keep moving even with more yellow cabs. And that is congestion pricing.

The idea of charging cars to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street fell off the policy map four years ago, when an ambitious toll plan conceived and backed by Mayor Bloomberg died in the state legislature. Yet the merits of tolling cars driven into the CBD remain obvious. In deciding how to travel to Times Square, say, a would-be driver is cognizant of the time he will expend being slowed by other cars, but not of the far greater delays he will impose on them. My modeling indicates that these “externalized” costs average more than $100 for a typical 35-mile round-trip, with more than half of the delay costs occurring en route to and from the CBD.

Figures like these suggest that a round-trip congestion charge in the $8-$10 range could price enough marginal trips off the road to create large time
savings overall for the trips that will remain. Moreover, those toll-paying trips could furnish revenue for the cash-starved Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Two plans for resuscitating congestion pricing have been making the rounds. A plan crafted by Sam Schwartz, a former New York City traffic commissioner renowned for his vernacular feel for city traffic, would charge $5 to drive into the Manhattan Central Business District at all times and another $5 to drive  out. At the same time, Schwartz would reduce tolls now charged on MTA bridges  such as the Verrazano-Narrows and Throgs Neck, because those crossings (unlike,  say, the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been untolled for a century) do not deliver  cars into Manhattan’s congested heart; nor are there attractive transit  alternatives to driving on those bridges.

The other plan is my own. Like Schwartz’s plan, mine would charge motor  vehicles driven into the CBD, though at discounted rates during non-peak hours  and on weekends. My plan includes Schwartz’s “outer-borough” bridge toll relief,  and it adds an exemption for any vehicle’s first trip into the CBD in any month.  (Both Schwartz and I are striving to make our plans more politically palatable than Bloomberg’s.)

Either plan would net a billion dollars or more each year ― which could let  the MTA use hard dollars, instead of costly debt financing, for a large piece of  its capital program. And, my modeling suggests, either plan would diminish  private-car use sufficiently to absorb those 2,000 new taxi medallions without  slowing down traffic.

Will combining the taxi deal with congestion pricing provide “something for  everyone”? Not quite. But there will be many more winners and far fewer losers,  than if the city adds the medallion cabs while continuing to hand out its scarce  and valuable street space for free, as if it were worthless.

source: http://blogs.reuters.com/

New York: Hailing the Wrong Taxi?

 

Milagros Franco of Manhattan tries out the VPG 2011 MV-1 taxi

WHEELCHAIR users have long been deprived of a quintessential New York City experience: riding in a taxi. So after years of discussion, litigation and experimentation, the governor and the mayor of New York last month announced a deal to put 2,000 wheelchair-accessible cabs on the streets, setting aside up to $54 million in subsidies and loans to retrofit vehicles for wheelchair use or buy new wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The plan is well intentioned but might not achieve the desired results. Rather than improving access for the disabled, it will require taxpayers and the taxi industry to foot the bill for taxis that will in all likelihood rarely be used by the target ridership. A more sensible alternative would be to set up a small fleet of wheelchair-accessible cabs that disabled passengers could call upon, through a centralized dispatch system, at any time of day or night, as part of the region’s mass transit system.

Advocates estimate that there are about 60,000 wheelchair users in the city — and that’s not counting out-of-town visitors. No one doubts that getting around New York in a wheelchair can be daunting. Most subway stations are not accessible; many bus stops are too distant for wheelchair users to reach; and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s van program for the disabled requires registration and making a reservation, usually days in advance.

ACCESS: Advocates for wheelchair accessible taxis gathered at U.S. District Court in Lower Manhattan

In response, the state and the city now plan to sell 2,000 new taxi medallions (the current total is 13,237) that will be designated for wheelchair-accessible vehicles and issue 18,000 permits — one-fifth of them wheelchair-accessible — for a new class of livery cabs that will be permitted to pick up street hails in upper Manhattan and the four other boroughs, areas traditionally underserved by yellow cabs.

But simply putting more accessible vehicles on the street is impractical and, for many, unaffordable. Drivers of accessible cabs would find it difficult to find space in the middle of heavily congested streets to accommodate wheelchair users; insurance premiums for drivers and vehicle owners are likely to rise; and many disabled riders would far prefer home pickup to an uncertain wait on a corner in bad weather (though advocates for the disabled are loath to admit it).

The new plan put forward by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is partly a response to judicial pressure. On Dec. 23, two days after the deal was announced, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the taxi commission had failed to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act by not providing sufficient wheelchair access. The judge even stopped the city from auctioning any new permits or medallions unless they are all accessible and until a plan is approved by the court.

There is a better approach: a centralized taxi-dispatch system for disabled riders. From July 2008 to June 2010, the Taxi and Limousine Commission tested such a system. When riders called the city’s 311 information line, a company dispatched one of 232 accessible yellow cabs to pick them up.

The results were not promising, but also not conclusive. The median wait time was 22 minutes. Only 2,700 individuals used the service — and most of them for just one trip per year. Only about eight rides took place each day. The $1 million budget for the 5,828 trips taken meant that each trip cost, on average, $172. The overwhelming majority of the rides began and ended in Manhattan (as is typical of cab usage in the city).

However, I believe the disappointing results were more a reflection of the high cost of riding a cab — a particular deterrent for people who are on fixed incomes — than of the challenges of a dispatch system.

My proposal is this: convert the existing van program run by the M.T.A. into a system of subsidized door-to-door taxi rides. The van system, known as paratransit or Access-a-Ride, spends more than $380 million a year. The average cost per ride is $30 to $50, which I believe could be lowered to $12 to $15 if the little-used vans were replaced with accessible cabs. The system would rely on usage patterns to determine the right number of cabs — instead of setting them by fiat. Passengers would pay $2.25 a ride (with a discount for purchasers of certain fare cards), the same cost as a subway trip.

The M.T.A. has been testing such a program; it should become permanent. It would allow the use of custom-built vehicles instead of retrofitted ones. The M.T.A. or the city would enforce service standards to ensure that wait times were reasonable and drivers properly trained. Over time, as the service became more reliable, demand would rise — after all, door-to-door service for the cost of a subway ride is far cheaper than hailing a retrofitted yellow cab. One model for this is Chicago, where only 90 wheelchair-accessible cabs (about 1 percent of the total fleet) are efficiently dispatched through a single toll-free number.

Congress could also help. The Americans With Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, exempted taxicabs, but subsequent federal regulations required cabs for the disabled to provide “equivalent service.” So governments are not required to provide accessible cabs, but if they do, they are open to being sued (as New York City was) for discrimination. The act should be amended to provide incentives for disability access instead of punishing municipalities that try to do the right thing.

Putting thousands of accessible cabs on the road looks good in theory, but how it will work in practice is a different matter. Quite possibly, the result will be further irritation — not enhanced mobility — for disabled New Yorkers.

Matthew W. Daus, a lawyer, was the chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission from 2001 to 2010.

source: http://www.nytimes.com/

Different Country same story?

An economic recession is always quickly reflected in the amount of taxi rides.

Even pre-Christmas parties won’t save the taxi trade

“Taxi companies are fearing that even the  pre-Christmas party season will fail to save the taxi trade. The  difficult times being experienced by taxi companies continue unabated.

There’s been a clear drop in the use of taxis this autumn. Last  year, the cold weather made using taxis an attractive alternative, but  this year, taxi companies won’t be counting on the weather.

Lassi Sarvikivi has been a taxi driver for 40 years. He’s had  about 10 passengers a day, but most of his time is spent waiting for  customers. The driver, who has witnessed many recessions, doesn’t think  the situation will get any easier in the near future.

‘The number of morning rides to the airport has gone down  significantly, and it gets even quieter during the day. I have to  actively look for customers,’ Sarvikivi explains.

An economic recession is always quickly reflected in the amount  of taxi rides. According to statistical data compiled by the Finnish  Taxi Owners Federation, the last two months have been particularly bad.  The number of taxi rides has gone down by about five per cent in, for  example, the Jyväskylä, Vaasa and Turku regions. Business has been  getting worse in the capital region, too.

‘In a city the size of Helsinki, taxi drivers immediately see  when things start to quieten down in the business world. During the day,  taxi ranks are full of taxis and there are very few customers,’ says  Arto Marttinen, the managing director of Helsingin taksiautoilijat  ry, an association for Helsinki taxi drivers. According to Marttinen,  those involved in the taxi business don’t even think the pre-Christmas  party season will improve the situation greatly.”

source: http://www.helsinkitimes.fi/

 

Gruff justice for cab driver?

A circuit court at Fiapre near Sunyani has remanded a 22 year-old taxi driver into Prison custody for stealing six live goats at Odumase in Sunyani West District.

Kwasi Isaac pleaded not guilty to a charge of stealing and will re-appear before the court on Nov 9, 2011.

Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Mawuno Ngnebge prosecuting told the court presided by Mr. Benjamin Osei that the complainant in the case was a Police officer stationed at the Brong Ahafo Regional Police Headquarters in Sunyani whilst the accused lives at Abesim near Sunyani.

He said on October 29th this year the Police Officer had information that a driver of a taxi cab with registration number AS 2353T was heading towards a remote village in Tain near Odumase to steal animals.

The prosecutor said the Officer quickly moved to the village, Kwame-Broni Krom near Odumase at about 0100 hours and spotted the accused in his taxi cab.

The Police Officer stopped him but he refused and sped-off and as he pursued him the driver abandoned his vehicle and dashed into the bush.

ASP Ngnegbe said the Officer, however, managed to arrest him and sent him to where the cab was parked and upon a search six live goats were found tied inside the car.

He said the accused and the goats were sent to the Police Station and was charged with the offence after interrogation.

The court ordered the goats be given to the complainant for safe keeping and would be used as exhibits.

source: ghana news agency/

Cabbie Ran Down Three Men After Fare Dispute, Police Say

Three men were allegedly run down by a cab driver after an argument erupted when he refused to take them from Midtown to the Bronx

Three men were allegedly mowed down by a taxi Sunday after the driver refused to take them to the Bronx, police said.

MANHATTAN — A recent Manhattan College grad is in a coma after being run over by taxi driver, who allegedly refused to take him and his friends to the Bronx, according to several published reports.

Anthony Loreto Jr., 22, and three friends hailed a taxi at West 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue around 4 a.m. Sunday morning, police told the New York Post.

But the driver, identified by police as Mohammed Azam, 27, reportedly refused to take them to their homes in the Bronx and instead drove them to the Midtown North Precinct station house on West 54th Street.

When they got there, police told Azam that he was obligated to take the men to their destination, but the driver — a medical student, who drove part-time, according to his brother — got back in his car and locked the doors, the Post reported.

The incident occurred outside the Midtown North police precinct early Sunday morning.

Azam then backed up, hitting one of his former passengers, and drove forward, striking Loreto and his childhood friend, Frank Lembo, police told the paper.

“Luckily, I grabbed onto the hood, my friend Anthony was not lucky, when the taxi driver was speeding he hits the breaks, my friend Anthony flew off. I eventually fell off, Anthony fell off and was knocked unconscious,” Lembo told WABC of the incident later that morning.

Loreto was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell, where he was in critical but stable condition, with a broken leg and fractured skull, according to the Daily News. The Post reported Monday morning that Loreto had been put into a medically induced coma.

Azam was arrested at his home in Jackson Heights Sunday night, charged with one count of vehicular assault and three counts of leaving the scene of an accident, the New York Times said.

source:  http://www.dnainfo.com/20110307/midtown/