Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Taxis and Turf

I bet most of my readers do not use taxis to get around, but for a large segment of the Plainfield population, taxis are the primary means of getting to medical appointments, shopping and visiting friends and relatives. The city issues licenses to taxi owners and operators and has hit a limit on licenses based on population. Some North Plainfield taxi companies want to do business here, but face fines if caught. Next Monday, the City Council will vote on an ordinance giving police the additional option of having out-of-town taxis towed in addition to being ticketed.

More than a dozen people protested the new legislation Monday, charging that city taxis are often late and fares need to call the outsiders for timely service. Operators of the banned taxis said they are just trying to make a living and deserve a chance.

As a user of taxis myself, I can cite at least one egregious instance of a taxi being so late that the appointment I had made six months earlier with a surgeon had to be delayed two more months. But by and large, I do not have to wait long for a taxi to the Watchung Square Mall, my dentist in North Edison, a medical office in South Plainfield or even the vet in Fanwood. I will say that fares are expensive (though nowhere near the cost of owning a car) and drivers disregard the rule that the first pickup must be asked whether he or she minds having another fare picked up along the way.

City taxi drivers and owners are organized in a "chofers" group and have come out in force at times, once regarding safety of drivers after a spate of robberies and murders. They also want to protect their livelihood against unlicensed outsiders. Both the city and outside companies are mainly Latino-owned and -operated and serve primarily a Latino clientele, so their concerns may not be shared by the city's other populations.

The possibility of being turned out of a taxi by police so the vehicle can be towed sparks fear for Latinos who lack credentials. What might happen next? Will they be deported or held somewhere? Local advocates for Latino immigrants can tell stories of families being broken up in an instant, and certainly the president-elect supports such action.

There are many aspects to the taxi situation, but unless you are an owner, driver or passenger, you might not care. Amidst all the post-election anguish, one reaction has been a call for more empathy and understanding of what our various neighbors are thinking and feeling. Whichever way the vote goes on Dec. 12, some will be glad and others disappointed. When we see those blue, red, orange or yellow taxis zipping around,  will we have any thoughts for those inside?


  1. I wonder how they will handle uber or lyft.

  2. It seems the "North Plainfield" taxi companies, who despite having an explanation provided, insist on breaking the rules. Those who do need to face the consequences. Is it possible for the owners to purchase a legally operating Plainfield taxi service license?

    1. The number of licenses is keyed to population and the city clerk says there are currently no available licenses.

  3. This entire issue revolves around one thing and that is the number of available licenses. Maybe the question to be asked from a big picture perspective is "why are there limits based on population?" and "why is this regulated within an inch of its life?" - the reality is that more competition would be better for citizens/customers, the opposing side of this is that some current tax companies might suffer as a result because their service, fees, response time, safety, equipment etc don't match the public requirements. If that is the case then the competition would force change in behavior or management or put the taxi service out of business - which is how the market should work. Protecting companies and allowing them to provide mediocre service was not the intent of the license process - it was safety and rates.

    I would encourage everyone to step back into the process further and avoid the turf war over who gets what territory. Competition is a good thing for the public and should be encouraged.

    I would hope that council members would think of this and see the forest for the trees. Passing this regulation is a waste of time for the police and doesn't do a single thing to resolve the root problem(s).

  4. Is this the difference between a "Welcoming City" that seeks solutions to the needs of its residents, or a "Sanctuary City" that looks to satisfy the demands of its monopolists? Face facts, the City of Plainfield has a large number of non-driving residents, and a one-size-fits-all agenda will not work. Textbook economic theory holds that monopoly power raises costs and reduces efficiency and innovation. Time to be creative.

  5. There is an alternative to imposing harsh consequences on those who break the rules: change the rules. The ratio of licenses to population that was set many years ago may not suit the needs of Plainfield residents today. Ideally, the Council can increase the number of licenses and the Administration can work on a reciprocal licensing agreement with North Plainfield where most out of town taxi companies are located.

    But as an aside, all is not ideal. With regard to a reciprocal licensing agreement, a North Plainfield politician told me it isn't going to happen. Whose interests are served by North Plainfield keeping Plainfield cabs out of their town? Such is the real world.