Like any big city, Seattle has a diverse fleet of yellow, orange, and every color in between, taxi cabs. If you’ve taken a taxi in Seattle in the past month, you may have noticed something different about the car that picked you up.
At least one taxi company is allowing gas-electric hybrids including the Toyota Prius to join its fleet. Which company is behind this “green” technology trend? According to the Seattle PI, it’s the same one that has faced criticism in the past for its monopoly at Sea-Tac airport:
For the airport drivers, the hybrids have taken some of the frustration out of the county’s system, in which STITA drivers can pick up passengers at the airport and take them to Seattle, but are barred from picking anybody up in the city and taking them to the airport. Similarly, Seattle-licensed cabbies can take people to the airport but are not allowed to bring anybody back to the city.
As a result, STITA drivers find themselves sitting in traffic while they head back to the airport, burning gas, seeing profits go up in smoke while they sit, with the meter not running.
As the PI reports, STITA has a government-contracted monopoly on pickups originating from Sea-Tac International Airport. In a strange twist due to licensing, STITA cabs cannot pickup passengers in the City of Seattle. That results in a lot of extra “empty” trips.
A case-study on the regional taxi market was written by Jeanette Petersen of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter back in 2004. She reported:
[The] result of these regulations is approximately 650,000 empty trips to and from Sea-Tac Airport (about 10,000,000 “empty miles”) per year. This is detrimental not only to the taxi drivers who must pay for gas even when they do not have a passenger in the cab, but also for the community, clogging overburdened roadways and polluting the environment.
If STITA continues to phase in hybrids, and other fuel efficient technology, the company should be lauded for its positive environmental action. As the PI story points out, cab companies in Vancouver, B.C. have been using hybrids for the past two years. Some European taxi services have been greening up their fleets in the past few years as well. One germane example is in the Austrian City of Graz, where a taxi company converted its entire fleet to biodiesel. And since 2004, Graz’s public bus fleet has similarly been powered on 100% biodiesel, one of the first public bus fleets in Europe to achieve that feat. Coming back to Seattle, clearly some companies are taking a “wait and see” approach. After all, hybrids don’t presently have a ton of trunk space for luggage.
Regardless of whether the STITA cars are plug-in hybrids or the compressed natural gas vehicles originally urged by the airport operator, the Port of Seattle, clearly the environmental benefits are reason enough to applaud the company’s and the Port’s efforts.
But the problem of government-mandated monopoly of taxi service originating at Sea-Tac – and the thousands of unnecessarily “empty miles” per year for Seattle airport taxis – remains. Unfortunately, that situation doesn’t appear to be fixable by simply “going green.”
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