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Taxis as Public Transit

January 19, 2012

Taxi drivers gather to protest at Circus Maximus, Rome

Taxi drivers in Rome are protesting the threat of “liberalization” which would introduce competition to a sector which has traditionally been highly monopolized in Italy.  It’s complicated because drivers have paid hefty fees for their right to drive cabs;  for them it is a career choice and it would be unfair to open the floodgates to newcomers without finding a solution that protects their investment in both time and money.

That said, wouldn’t it behoove the taxi drivers to better tailor their public image as “public” transportation?  As I write hundreds of cabbies are gathered outside my studio window on Circus Maximus, their cars blocking pedestrians, the litter they left yesterday still strewed across the archaeological park, frequent explosions shaking buildings as they light cherry bombs and worse.  How many times have I had to listen to cab drivers expletives, often apologies for violent right-wing policies, while just trying to get across town?  How many times have I listened to the complaints of tourists who have been swindled by cabbies, everywhere but especially in Rome?  How many times have I watched as taxis ignore traffic regulations, putting tourists and residents alike at risk?  It doesn’t make me want to use taxis except as a last resort.

The best way for taxi drivers to improve their lot would be to increase their ridership, which means increasing customer satisfaction.  Perhaps lowering, not raising, prices might help?  Increasing the number of cabs would too, benefiting all drivers.  If people knew they could count on finding a cab they would use cabs more frequently, which would mean less private cars on the street, faster service, greater customer satisfaction. Better service would increase tips as well, as would weeding out the rotten apples that rip off tourists and tarnish the image of Roman cabbies for everyone. Why is it that cabs in New York are cheaper and so much more ubiquitous, but cabbies make more money?

Cab drivers should also be at the forefront of the activism to reduce private automotive use in Rome, to create and enforce more pedestrian zones,  It’s common sense, not politics.

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