Creak, clank, bump, wreak, clatter: Welcome to Miami
Written by Michael Lewis on December 8, 2015
What changes faster than Miami? Blink and you’ll see a new skyline.
But amidst change, two things recur every fall: the buzzards fly back from a summer in Hinckley, Ohio, to circle downtown’s skyscrapers, and county commissioners bend the law to allow clunker taxicabs to circle the city longer.
The buzzards might be the prettier of the two – and the more welcome.
In a community whose number-one industry is visitors, the first person those visitors encounter might be the cab driver, and the first impression visitors get is bumping around in a taxi that by law can be up to eight years old.
That’s not eight years of taking your family car back and forth to work, dropping the kids at school and going to the store weekends, a car that gets replaced well before the 100,000-mile mark.
It’s eight years of 24-7 driving. A parked taxi is losing revenue, so it’s seldom parked. If it actually was on the road just half that time – 12 hours a day – running 30 miles an hour, it could rack up 131,400 miles in a single year and pass the half-million-mile mark in less than four years – many of those miles filled with not just passengers but heavy luggage too.
That cab is where many of our visitors get their first impressions of Miami.
Miami-Dade County regulates taxis but doesn’t limit how many miles they can run. It does, however, say that after eight years on the road they must go.
Even that longevity, however, isn’t enough for our commissioners. Each year, just like the buzzards, the commissioners return with legislation to extend the life of taxis approaching the eight-year mark. Most years they go for a one-year addition, to nine years. Last year they added 1½ years. This year they want to extend the life two years, to age 10.
In doing so, they plan to remove from the taxi age legislation the firm words “No further extensions shall be granted.”
The rationale for keeping the oldest taxis on the road still longer has been that in our recession the cab owners needed a break. But with tourism booming, it will be instructive to hear chief sponsor Barbara Jordan and co-sponsors Bruno Barreiro and Jose “Pepe” Diaz explain why aged taxis should keep aging on our roadways with our prize tourists inside.
Maybe they’ll argue that Uber is eating the taxi industry’s lunch so the cab companies need a break in not having to put decent cars on the road.
But beware of what you wish for: this legislation would assure Uber of even more business when potential passengers compare the higher-quality Uber vehicles with taxi clunkers.
If the extension passes as usual, Miami won’t be alone in allowing 10-year cabs on the road. Ireland does too. So does Pennsylvania – except that once a taxi reaches 350,000 miles, no matter its age, it’s done for. We don’t care if a taxi hits 500,000 miles or a million, if it can run it can be clattering our visitors around town.
Taxi limits top out at eight years in places like New Orleans and Tasmania. In New South Wales and Victoria, Australia, it’s 6.5 years. In Washington, DC, it’s going down to nine years on Jan. 1 and to six years on Jan. 1, 2017.
In New York City, where the taxi is king, the average cab is 3.3 years old.
And in Dallas, the rules say, “vehicles must meet quality standards, not age limits.”
We don’t worry about quality standards. And our age limit seems to be “the older the better.”
Uber today is merely a shadow operation in Miami-Dade, not a legal competitor to taxis. But with the state legislature moving to legalize Uber throughout Florida, taxi operators are shooting themselves in the tire by continuing to seek to drive older and older cabs.
And as our visitor industry’s importance grows, county commissioners continue to give us a black eye by trying to match Ireland for taxi age rather than Dallas for taxi quality.
Commissioners would do well next month by saying eight years is far more than enough for our visitor welcome wagons. Follow Washington’s example: reduce the age maximum, and leave the old clunker taxis to the buzzards.