Image by Alek Glasrud
Unless you fell asleep and froze to death while waiting for a train over the past month, chances are you noticed that the war between traditional taxis and their new-school competitors has reached Ludicrous Speed. From aldermanic and council hearings in several cities to drivers spitting at each other, it’s like we’re getting driven around by gang bangers. Think we’re exaggerating? Stand on the curb outside the Middle East after a show, hold your cell phone out and eyeball license plates like you’re waiting for an Uber, and see what kind of pleasantries the passing Cambridge cabbies have to offer.
All things considered, it’s no surprise the media is amplifying animosity, cheering on the yellow-taxi-versus-Lyft squabble like mixed martial arts fans. In case you missed this harbinger of coming animosity in the Boston Globe last month:
A group of taxi owners is suing the City of Boston, accusing officials of violating their constitutional rights by allowing ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, to unfairly and illegally operate within the city [and for] destroying the value of their taxi medallions …
We’re certain that we speak for everybody who’s ever tried to call a car around here when we say that we have little sympathy for Boston cab companies. It’s like that “You Had One Job” meme; all they’ve ever had to do was answer the phone, tell us how long to wait, then arrive sometime within that frame. But that’s not how it’s ever worked in the Hub; instead, you call, they lie, and you wind up missing your dinner, flight, appointment, etc. No wonder there is longstanding rage in the air and a sense of relief that Uber saved us.
Here’s the thing though: It’s not really the fault of drivers that our taxis suck so badly. As we learned in detail from a Globe Spotlight series on the industry that dropped two whole years ago but seems to have been tragically forgotten, the problem is a broken system that has been allowed to mire in misery. Just a few things learned from their investigation:
- The city allowed one man, Edward J. Tutunjian of Boston Cab, to gain control over 20 percent of all taxis in Boston. That’s more than 350 of the city’s 1,800-plus medallions.
- The city also silently watched as said medallions fetched several hundred thousand bucks apiece on a secondary market, thus allowing public licenses to become valuable commodities.
- On top of everything else, hackney regulators were complicit in maintaining a toxic status quo that left drivers screwed and passengers in danger.
With cabbies now asking the court “to force ride-hailing services to be subject to the same regulations their operations face,” we have a better idea for columnists and talking heads to get behind. How about reparations for workers and proprietors who were swindled and cheated? Boston was derelict in its duty to protect them all these years; as such, they should cover the cost of moving longtime drivers, as well as law-abiding small potatoes independent licensees, over to services like Lyft and Uber.
Tax and regulate the piss out of them, sure, but first let’s melt down the medallion system.
[Media Farm is wrangled by DigBoston News+Features Editor Chris Faraone]
NOTE: A previous version of this story mistakenly stated that Edward J. Tutunjian of Boston Cab owned “more than 1,800 medallions.” That is the number of medallions in the city (1,825). He owns approximately 1/5 of those.