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The high cost of an empty taxicab

Taxis traveling between Sea-Tac Airport and Seattle without passengers mean less revenue for the cabs, and fuel burned senselessly. Solving the problem would require coordinated policy changes by city officials, the mayor, and the Port of Seattle, and it's not clear that will happen anytime soon.
Running on empty? (Peter Lewis)

Running on empty? (Peter Lewis) None

For more than a decade, Seattle officials have been pushing the Port of Seattle to help curb what many regard as a silly anachronism: Cabs that collectively travel more than 13 million miles a year empty in one direction or the other between Seattle and the airport.

Now that gas costs $4 per gallon, our roads are more congested than ever, and everyone seems more attuned to global warming, is it possible that a regional approach to end "deadheading" is in the offing?

Maybe.

There are some encouraging signs that the Port is serious about rethinking Sea-Tac's taxi system, including renewed talks between city and port staffers, as well as commitments from the mayor's office, city council members, and Port commissioners to work toward a solution.

But don't expect anything dramatic in the way of reform until 2010, when the Port's current contract with STITA — the taxi association that since 1989 has held exclusive rights to carry passengers away from the airport — expires.

Conversely, city officials aren't itching to grant STITA cabs authority to pick up passengers inside Seattle until city cabs get a regular piece of the relatively lucrative action at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. As a result, the vast majority of the roughly 1 million taxi trips between Seattle and Sea-Tac each year will continue to carry passengers in only one direction.

But what may finally force the Port to open up SeaTac to competition — and help forge a regional licensing system — is that STITA increasingly can't keep up with growing passenger volumes.

Numbers help tell the story: Over the past eight years, the size of STITA's fleet has remained stable at 166. During that same period, the number of STITA trips departing Sea-Tac has doubled, to more than 730,000.

Of those, roughly two thirds are to Seattle. And assuming that a like number of city cabs travel back from Sea-Tac empty, that adds up to more than 13 million miles worth of deadheading. In addition to those trips, last year alone, the Port "belled in" (a rather quaint term reminiscent of bell hops) more than 158,000 non-STITA cabs to satisfy demand that STITA couldn't meet, records show.

Mark Reis, the Port's managing director of Sea-Tac, said STITA has wanted "to just buy more taxis and add to their fleet, to avoid giving other people the opportunity to pick up those fares."

But the Port has resisted that effort, he said, in part because with only two years left on the STITA contract, the Port wants to keep the door open to competition; building up STITA's fleet could undermine that option. Interestingly, the Port has also decided to get more proactive about calling in non-STITA cabs.

Up until very recently, the Port would wait until STITA couldn't meet demand before "belling in" outside cabs. But effective Sept. 14, the Port started calling in non-STITA cabs on a regular basis on Sunday evenings. Into the foreseeable future, Orange, Yellow, and Far West taxis will now join queued STITA cabs to pick up fares.

The Port maintains it's free to do this, Reis said, because of a contract provision "that allows us to fill demand they're not meeting." Sundays were chosen because of heavy loads of business people arriving for work-week meetings, area residents returning from vacations, and the fact that some STITA cabs take part of Sunday off.

Moreover, Reis didn't rule out the possibility that the Port might expand the program to satisfy unmet passenger demand on other days or times if necessary. Reis said the Port prefers that non-STITA cabs arriving at Sea-Tac on Sundays carry passengers, but he admitted the Port doesn't know if that's actually happening.

And that gets us to a central point. Like several others familiar with the cab industry that were contacted for this story, Reis notes that opening up Sea-Tac to competition — and forming a three-way licensing system with the Port, King County, and Seattle — won't be enough to kill deadheading.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Oct 6, 4:26 a.m. Inappropriate

Taxis -- The Best Solution: Taxis are probably the best "mass transit" solution for the Puget Sound, but taxophilic liberals have regulated them so that only those on business accounts could afford them. The insane pricing makes what should be a cheap trip from, say, Wallingford to downtown, become unaffordable to the point of having to drive your own car.

Light Rail bandits are soaking the Puget Sound at 330 million per mile! The Sounder wastes $40,000 per passenger. Metro fares cover only 6 percent of total cost. We could implement a more widespread public/private taxi system to handle those without private automobiles and give the rider a better more targeted experience.
jabailo

Posted Mon, Oct 6, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Taxis -- The Best Solution: Brilliant! Let's replace all the hundreds of buses carrying 30 or 40 riders each with individual taxis. That should work just great.

bigyaz

Posted Mon, Oct 6, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

A bad experience, and 2 suggestions: One freezing night at Seatac, my family had to wait for 40 mins outside for a van. Because of small trunk spaces and possibly because of Stita policies, they don't like to take a family of 4 in a regular taxi car, just in the vans. THere are very few vans and unfortunately they won't always wait for groups of 4. Just when we were arriving at the taxi stand, a van took a couple because the van was first in line.

So, some suggestions:

1. vans should go to a different taxi stand than the regular stand, so groups can be more easily served.

2. whoever is running the stand should make an effort to combine single travelers who are going to the same area. This would be another way to reduce the amount of wasted trips. Cabs elsewhere regularly combine passengers, why not here?
sjenner

Posted Mon, Oct 6, 6:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Would a new taxicab system help?: As I've been doing for several years, my Google for taxicab news generated the artcle. We are preparing to launch a new taxicab system based on prepaid cards. We will employ forced dispatching based on a drivers proximity to calls. Drivers are safer without cash and will realize a 60% reduction in overall expenses while the public gets reliable service (always under 20 minutes)...but how to reach the drivers with this info? And is this corrupt deal a cab company has with the airport...can it be broken? No matter...by the time we get there, passengers arriving will be asking where our drivers are as they produce our cards purchased in other markets....be ready drivers, here comes reform..

Capt.Cab

Posted Mon, Oct 6, 7:51 p.m. Inappropriate

new choice: About a year ago fifty five taxi drivers formed a new company called eastside for hire.now we have fifty cars and serve mostly east side,but we are expanding to seattle and the rest of king county.

Our rates are based on zip codes.for example zip code 98101(down town seattle) to Airport is only $25.00 .Shuttle express charges $38.00 and that's only for one person!

We have problem people don't know we are out there.there is no question
our rates are lower than taxi or even shuttle and we have better service.

Maybe Peter Lewis can inform his readers about this new company.


please spread the word.thank you








0
ziptozip

Posted Tue, Oct 7, 3:08 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: new choice: I wonder what your intracity rates will be like in Seattle? The ZIP Code idea is an interesting one, but doesn't that mean it'd cost as much to ride the three blocks from 15th & John to 12th & John (crossing from 98112 into 98102) as it would from 43rd & Madison to Bellevue & John (crossing from the far end of 98112 to the far end of 98102)?

Posted Tue, Oct 7, 4:56 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: new choice: For Hire Vehicles are an interesting concept. They are required to operate by either time only or by zones. Having designed their zone system, I found that by basing it on zip codes, more people could understand them. It is not a perfect system, but it does work. Of course they still are not Taxicabs and should not be confused with Taxicabs legally.

Taximan

Posted Tue, Oct 7, 9:31 p.m. Inappropriate

the best rate to Airport period!: Our rates are $7 dollars from zip code 98112 to 98102,regardless whether you go two blocks or twenty blocks.of course it's not a perfect system but it's illegal for us to charge by mileage. The zip code system is more accurate when it comes to long trips (5 miles or more).Our rates to the Airport are the lowest by far.
You can check our rates on our website http://www.eastsideforhire.com/rates.htm

All of our drivers are owner operators, so no middle man ,that's how we can keep our rates lower compared to taxi or even shuttle express.

thank you
ziptozip

Posted Wed, Oct 8, 9:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Government works again: Port fights City while we all get burned. Seattle nannies at their best. What a ridicules waste of fuel and a burden on the environment. Let the market decide how many cabs are needed when. When the light rail opens, travelers will have another option. Make the buses more accessible by moving the metro stop from the far end of the terminal to a central location and display user friendly routs and schedules. Give folks the opportunity to call a cab to meet them at curbside.

PJHeide

Posted Tue, Oct 14, 11:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Here's a useful site when it comes to taxi fares. TaxiFareFinder.com. Try the page for Seattle.

It is also interesting to check out the Taxi Rate Chart that includes the listing of major US cities and the fares. Seattle is expensive, but not as much as some of the other cities.

bjinx

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