“Worst Practices”: Regulations that prohibit shared taxis anywhere on the planet

“Regulations that prohibit shared taxis are an example of worst practice.”

- Ann Hackett

In eleven short words Ann Hackett has put her finger on one of the most egregious “Worst Practices” in our field. And, as it happens, one that we know enough about to easily resolve.

Quick reminder from Wikipedia:

A share taxi is a mode of transport that falls between taxis and conventional buses. These informal vehicles for hire are found throughout the world. They are smaller than buses, and usually take passengers on a fixed or semi-fixed route without timetables, usually leaving when all seats are filled. Most stop anywhere to pick up or drop off passengers.

Shared taxis in all their many diverse forms, and particularly in the developing world, are heavily criticized for their unsafe operating style, mad driving, zigzagging to pick up customers often on the fly, getting in the way of buses and private cars, using poorly maintained old vehicles, with major problems of energy and noise, and drivers who refuse to obey the traffic ordinances.

In many ways since they are loosely if at all regulated they are seen as a significant social and overall mobility menace.  (It is interesting to note though , that those who feel most strongly about these shortcomings, to the point of wishing the elimination of shared taxis, are almost always people with higher incomes and other mobility choices. who do not use them to get around  in their daily lives.)

For various reasons they operate in gray areas of society, with the result that they can find themselves in situation where there is criminal behaviour, on the part of owners, drivers and sometimes even the police.

But the fact is that, warts and all, in almost all the places that they exist, they ply their trade (a) without the benefit of public subsidies, and (b) supply precious, flexible no-wait origin-destination mobility services for the poor as well as middle class customers. Not to forget that in many parts of the world they provide significant numbers of jobs, supporting not only the numerous drivers but their often very large families.

There is a lot, it has to be said, wrong with shared taxi operations in many parts of the developing world. But there is also a great deal more that is right with them. Thus the goal of policymakers and planners should not be to eliminate the shared taxi, but to learn more about them so that they can deal with their shortcomings and permit them to be an even more important part of a high quality flexible public transportation systems.

The simple phrase “shared taxi” needs to be interviewed with caution.  For starters there are more than 100 names by which they are known in different parts of the planet. It may refer to a nonmotorized pedicab in Dhaka, a crowded Dolmus minibus in Ankara, a Färdtjänst Volvo providing group service for elderly and handicapped in Gothenburg, a ‘Songthaew’ trucklet in Chiang Mai, or convenient and relatively cheap way for you to get from the airport to your hotel in New York City.  But despite the place, despite the technology, and despite the details of the services being purvey, they are all shared taxis and as such they are all part of the opportunity.

If until recently the best way to find and board your shared taxi was to make your way to a stand in which they are supposed to be waiting for you, or to flag one out on the street, in the future it is absolutely certain that a steadily increasing number of people are going to find a taxi by the state-of-the-art mobile telephone that many of us increasingly carry in our pockets. put another words, the future of the shared taxi will in many places and in many ways not resemble the past.

From a mobility perceptive, probably the biggest single shortcoming in public policy in most places is that taxis are more often than not regulated and seen as a concern of the police. They are thus virtually cut off from the ambit, vision and competence of the  transportation sector, including planners and policy makers whose bottom line responsibility it is to provide best cost-effective quality transport to people across the city. Until this gap has been breached it is likely that our valuable if flawed shared taxis  will continue to be pursued, ruled against and subject to the threat of disappearance in many parts of the world.

In almost all cases this would be a major and costly loss to society and to fairness.

Getting the shared taxi right as one of our most significant transportation assets is one of the most significant  challenges and opportunities before the sector in the year immediately ahead.

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One response to ““Worst Practices”: Regulations that prohibit shared taxis anywhere on the planet

  1. Simon Norton

    One area where shared taxis could bring significant benefits is in providing affordable transport between rail stations and people’s homes when conventional buses had ceased. With most passengers boarding at the same point this would bring operational simplicity.

    In my home city (Cambridge, England) the rail operator once tried to develop such a system as a result of a dispute with the taxi drivers over rank charges. The taxi drivers lobbied strongly against it and won. What an opportunity missed.

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