Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Jitney in all of us

The whole fight over ridesharing in Pittsburgh is so much more bizarre than you may think if you just stick to the headlines. Where to start?

The fight is all being portrayed as the vast new network of entrepreneurial drivers against the vast pseudo-monopoly of Yellow Cab (there are some other taxi services in play, to include at least in a niche way the local Veterans Taxi service, might be interesting to get their opinion on the record about all of this?). So who is Yellow Cab? It is itself a subsidiary of the international conglomerate Veolia. So what?  Veolia is the same company that some of the same folks fought hard to get the contract to professionalize the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which is key to a set of enormously important infrastructure that have to be addressed in the region. So to be clear möbius here, the city is fighting the corporate entity known as Veolia which runs in a very similar way yet another regulated entity operating coterminously within the City of Pittsburgh. I don't know what I'd think about the city if I were running the company. Friend or foe?

But the whole ridesharing debate has much larger political angles. Take for example that no less than Grover Norquist is a big big fan of what Uber could mean for the future. Via Reuters: How Uber can help the GOP gain control of the cities. That is not a new idea in a sense and there is a theme going back. If you dig into it deregulation of local taxi service has been an idea pushed at least as far back as the Reagan Administration. See this from the 80s: An Economic Analysis of Taxicab Regulation

It all may even be a bigger political deal than that. Looking back, I'd argue ridesharing was the determinative tool used by protesters to maintain the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955/6. What am I talking about?  To get boycotting riders to work, alternative transportation including ad hoc taxi service was set up. It had much the same challenges as alternative taxi service today, to include proper insurance which was eventually supplied by Lloyds of London. The effective alternative transportation is arguably what forced the bus companies to back down since it sustained the boycott and kept business away from the bus companies. (Uber and Lyft PR types: you're welcome for the future talking point).

But is that analogy valid here? Maybe, but I tell you something as an observer of local political machinations, did anyone fighting for Uber today ever expend any similar efforts defending the rights of Jitneys to operate their very similar ridesharing service, one that they do routinely get ticketed for by the PUC? Just asking.

Anyways, there are a lot of conflicting ideas out there about the actual facts on the ground. Lots of folks seem to think Uber and Lyft are operating in Philadelphia. That mostly isn't true, at least they are not operating as they are trying to in Pittsburgh. Don't believe me, read the statement from the company as reported by the Inky recently:  "(UberX) has no plans to seek the Philadelphia Parking Authority's permission to offer ride sharing ". In fact the closer analogy to what Uber is doing in most places is the competitor Sidecar which was shut down by Philadelphia regulators.

There is an interesting sidebar to that story in that Philadelphia long ago repatriated the right to regulate the taxi industry in the city there. But it is not the City of Philadelphia that exercises that power, it is the Philadelphia Parking Authority that exercises that regulates taxis there. Some want to do the same thing here, but do we want to give the Pittsburgh Parking Authority vast new powers to regulate an entire industry?  The unintended consequences of implementing similar here could potentially swamp whatever the nominal intent is. Whether it is even legally possible is lost in state law, and lawyers better start reading the state's public authority law to determine what is even possible.

Another myth I hear is that Pittsburgh's taxi operate as a medallion service which some are used to elsewhere in places like New York or Philadelphia. To be clear, there is no taxi medallion system here fwiw. In fact, it appears the taxi medallion system was introduced in Philadelphia as a reform to improve the taxi system there. I can't begin to say whether that worked.

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Anonymous MH said...

I didn't realize that jitney drivers got ticketed, except for taking the airport run.

Friday, July 11, 2014 2:00:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

I also was under the impression that jitney ticketing is quite rare.

The corporate "rideshare" companies are well-enough capitalized that they seem welcoming of some reasonable regulatory framework that requires of them some nontrivial investments, in exchange for overt permission to operate. My own impression is that the economics of jitney work makes any such arrangements non-starters. Are you sure we're comparing like to like?

Saturday, July 12, 2014 12:57:00 AM  
Blogger jwsmith1984 said...

There was a black official - or attorney - whose name I forget - who organised the jitney drivers and fought for their rights. He - and they - had some success, but the effort ended when he died.

The main enemy of the jitneys was the Port Authority, because many jitneys ran a regular Centre - or Webster - or Bedford - Avenue route that directly competed with PAT's more heavily trafficked routes.

The East Liberty Lincoln Avenue station jitney drivers that I patronised in the 70s were rarely - if ever - targeted, because they didn't really compete with public transit routes. They were known colloquially as "Service."

There are a number of jitneys running even now, but they are known mostly through word-of-mouth.

Saturday, July 12, 2014 10:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The P-G article mentioned hailing a cab on the South Side.

Have been told - but am not sure the veracity of this - that it's illegal to hail a cab in Pittsburgh. All trips must originate via dispatch or from a stand.

Anyone know if that's true?

Monday, July 14, 2014 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

I don't know if it's true, but the post mentioned Veterans Cab. I took the once recently and was very impressed with the vehicle. It was a purpose-built cab that was far and away better than anything I've seen Yellow use.

Monday, July 14, 2014 2:57:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

I was talking about this around a table yesterday. Basically although we know jitneys (just like Uber and Lyft) are not licensed by the PUC and that they don't carry sufficient commercial insurance... we DO NOT know whether jitneys are insured at all, or if their cars are registered, or inspected, or owned by their operators, or if their operators possess valid drivers' licenses. All of that stuff costs money, not to mention puts one "on the grid" in a way that may not be desirable for an underground entrepreneur.

This is not to say I think anybody should crack down on jitneys. I think politicians, regulators, law enforcement and journalists all should continue to ignore them, scrupulously. But this is offered in further response to the suggestion that those who support Lyft & Uber ought also be fighting for Jitney Rights out of some sense of consistency.

If jitney drivers were desirous of support in some fashion they could always ask for it. I think they want to be left alone.

Monday, July 14, 2014 6:00:00 PM  

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