The transportation debate has, to my frustration, focused entirely on funding levels, and very little on actually improving the performance of our transportation networks.
Not everything that would improve mobility has to be expensive for the public.
For example, since moving to Philly I’ve been taking taxis more than I thought I would. That’s because the Lombard-South stop is often just as far a walk from my house as wherever I need to get to, and the bus line on 11th never seems to show up when Google Maps says it will. That’s getting kind of expensive though, and I really need to get a bike soon so I can minimize how much money I spend on taxis.
Uber is lowering it’s Philly prices so that’ll help, but the Pennsylvania legislature could make it a whole lot cheaper for me and other middle and low-income people to take taxis by ordering the Public Utility Commission to increase the number of taxi medallions. This would cost the public a trivially small amount of money, so small as to essentially be free.
As I wrote a few months back, the state caps Philly’s taxi medallions at 1600, even though the population’s been increasing :
That’s still far too few medallions. Personally I’d be for scrapping the medallion system entirely and letting the number of cabs be determined by how much demand there is for cabs. But if we have to have a medallion system, then rather than an arbitrary number like 1600, we should have a population-based formula.
The state could set a target number of n cabs/person in each County, and then each year print the number of medallions needed to hit the target.
To have 12 cabs per 1000 people like Washington DC, for instance, Philly needs about 18,000 medallions – far higher than the current cap of 1600. Medallion owners – who make money as rents on the scarce number of medallions increase – would hate this naturally, but it would be a great deal for taxi riders.
Tying the number of medallions to population, as we do with R licenses, or just scrapping the medallion system entirely and letting the market determine the supply of taxi cabs, would be a cheap way to drastically lower the cost of transportation and raise real wages on the low end of the pay scale.
As I blogged at Next City, politicians representing older legacy cities need to get an appetite for these kinds of political fights if they want to squeeze more value out of public assets. No large tranches of money are on the way for urban areas even if SB1 does pass, so it’s up to urban politicians to unlock more wealth by challenging fake scarcities and the rentier interests vested in maintaining them. In this case, we need our state reps to do the job, but there is also plenty to do at the local level to challenge fake scarcity in housing and transportation.
*Free to the public, but at a considerable cost to medallion owners’ regulatory rents on these publicly-created assets.