Could we see the end to taxis in this country? Picking your destination as car sharing programs and other alternatives begin sweetening the pot of transportation.
By David M Chapinski
Pedestrian safety is an emerging concept in our modern cities. Two years ago, Washington, D.C. attempted to include the pedestrian when city leaders created the Pedestrian Advisory Council. The Council meets regularly to discuss issues of walking and safety and testifies before the D.C. Council. It also engages the community on how to make the District a more walkable place.
As a city, D.C. has hundreds of pedestrian crashes a year that result in deaths. Leaders are still sorting out all the causes and solutions.
In some parts of D.C. about half of all households lack any personal automobiles and instead rely on alternative modes — first and foremost their own two feet.
People often emphasize the importance of “livable, walkable” cities and in recent years, technology has developed to help achieve this.
But how are cities adjusting to this change?
Individuals who don’t own a vehicle can skip the hassles of waiting for a cab or conventional car rental with advanced rent-by-the hour transport technology like car2go or ZipCars. Pay a one-time membership fee and you are on your merry way with a vehicle for how long you need it.
Reserve a car ahead of time or simply pick one up automatically and spontaneously in your city (if the service is available). When you are done, simply park the car at the location where you initiated the coverage and the service team takes care of the rest. Parking, refueling, cleaning, and all other services are all included.
Car sharing programs and the technologies that allow it would have their challenges in a city like New York where taxis are somewhat of a ‘way of life’ and have been for over a century. Dismantling that infrastructure and mentality is an arduous task indeed. Who would want the burden of that?
Not any mayor I can find.
However, the numbers do not lie. By the end of the summer, it will cost more to take a taxi in New York than to rent a car from one of these car sharing programs.
If you are following New York’s recent policy conversations, cab rates are going up. The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) is considering a fare hike on cabs. It’s been 8 years since the last overall fare hike. Conversations are ongoing for a 20-25 percent increase that would raise a typical cab ride to $14 from $12. This request is fraught with concerns, but that’s for another blog.
What’s remarkable about most car-sharing programs is the flexibility and concept of urban mobility.
Car2Go is the only car sharing service I’ve encountered that charges by the minute. Their tiny 41-miles-a-gallon blue-and-white cars are intended for casual point-to-point trips within a designated operating area of the city.
The idea of convenience rings throughout their service. This year, the company will launch a new smartphone app, a vehicle finder on the website and an improved customer call center. There’s also always the classic method of just finding a car on the street.
The convenience matches a population and cities that have grown accustomed to using a smartphone for most daily activities.
As a cohesive city, D.C. has built a diverse transportation network and has been smart about putting jobs, shopping, and schools together in walkable neighborhoods.
While there is still work to do and mistakes to correct, especially in underserved neighborhoods, D.C.’s metropolis remains highly attractive to employers, businesses and new residents.
What makes me a believer in alternative driving methods in cities like D.C. is that pedestrian crashes have gone up in the past two years. Consider these numbers, provided by Metropolitan Police Department (MPD):
On average, around 650 people[i] are hit by a car each year.
In 2010, 753 people were hit by a vehicle.
2011 saw an astonishing 942 people in 2011.
This is too way high. We can do better with technology.
If a safer city is our goal, we have to get these numbers down. For it to work, it would require prioritization and redirection of resources. There is a difference between pedestrian safety and a pedestrian society and those of us, like me, that are concerned citizens, need to improve upon rather than stretch. Stretching pedestrian traffic does not benefit a city’s appeal.
The good infrastructure trends in D.C.’s core would need to spread aggressively to the outer neighborhoods.
- More capital spending would need to be leveraged to fully complete the city’s walking and biking networks.
- A robust “share the road” media campaign and consistent enforcement of traffic laws would be critical.
- Other agencies’ roles would need to be defined and the mayor’s office would have to manage the execution of the full plan, holding everyone accountable.
All this requires a visionary leader who will make something like zero traffic fatalities a city wide initiative.
I don’t see the right ingredients right now for D.C. to join the ranks of Chicago and NYC, unfortunately. If proven wrong, that leader is still going to find a lot of support from neighborhood leaders everywhere. I believe in programs like car2go because they were not created with the intent and purpose to act solely as a cash source.
Car2go offers a practical and affordable alternative to the rising costs and hassles associated with vehicle ownership.
[i] National Safety Council
Photo Credit: notopramen.com, treehugger.com, santacruztrail.org