Los Angeles Rethinks Taxis as Uber and Lyft Dominate the Streets

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The cab business is down 75 percent in less than a decade. The plan is to make taxis a lot more like their app-hailed rivals.

LOS ANGELES — The cars flow into Los Angeles International Airport in an endless stream, and in this loosely organized chaos, for-hire vehicles self-segregate at a new pickup terminal, called LAX-it.

On one side, fast-moving lanes of app-hailed cars jockey to pick up their passengers. On the other, cabs inch along the curb, waiting for a fare.

“I’ve never taken a taxi,” Heather Brandon, 36, of Arizona, said moments before she was whisked away in an Uber on a recent Sunday morning to catch a Carnival cruise. Taxis are more expensive, and the Uber app is more convenient, she said.

Nowhere is that reality clearer than at the airport known widely by its code letters, LAX: Ride-hailing businesses have ravaged the city’s taxi services, whose drivers were picketing last week to protest the airport’s pickup system. According to Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, taxis handled just 22 percent of pickups at the airport for the first three quarters of 2019; ride hails claimed the rest.

The numbers were similarly bleak for cabs throughout the city. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation estimates that taxi business is down 75 percent since 2012, when Uber first rolled into town.

This year the city is changing the system. Instead of calling an individual company to request a cab, passengers will be assigned rides through a centralized dispatch that connects all the cabs in the city. The taxis can be requested with an app, as well as with a phone call. Passengers will know the cost of their rides before getting into the car.

Meters will be modernized, and cabs’ garish colors will be optional. Instead, they could simply sport a decal and registration number.

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