In Long Beach, taxis to copy the Uber approach

The arrival of Uber and Lyft has had a radical effect on surface transportation and seems likely to lead to a big downsizing of the taxi industry in California. In city after city, taxi lobbyists have fought to shut down the ride-share companies entirely. Alternatively, they seek to maintain some parts of the pie just for themselves, usually on safety grounds — starting with transportation to and from airports.

yellow.lbBut in Long Beach, they’re going in a different direction that could spawn copycats around Golden State and maybe the world: letting the taxi industry be much more like Uber rather than requiring it to operate under the normal, heavily regulated model. Forbes has details:

Throughout Long Beach’s county of Los Angeles, locals say that ride sharing is transforming the local travel culture at lightning speed.

So working together with Yellow Cab, the city council of Long Beach (population: 469,000) this week approved a pilot program that removes taxis’ fare floor, allowing Yellow Cab to discount fares as conditions warrant, comparable to ride sharing services’ less expensive fares. The company will also get an ordering app, be allowed to increase its fleet size from 175 to 199 cars, and be permitted to add additional capacity at peak times.

Introducing ‘Yellow of Long Beach’

Taxi executives don’t just worry about competing with cheaper ride providers. They realize there’s a “cool” factor to Uber that hasn’t faded even as the company’s novelty has disappeared:

Yellow Cab will also get a new branding identity, Yellow of Long Beach (note the missing word “cab”).

“Our hope is that this competition will provide more options for residents while allowing each of the companies to thrive,” [Mayor Robert] Garcia says. Both the city council and taxi company say they’re behind this program “100 percent.” …

Long Beach appears to be the first city in the nation to take this novel approach, but, Garcia says, “We believe our approach, if successful, could be a national model.”

What Bloomberg Business News calls “Big Taxi” is still targeting Uber in the big picture, using contributions from 1,000 taxi and limo service companies worldwide. But in California, Uber has become an entrenched part of life to the point where Long Beach taxi companies would rather switch business models than fight.

Yet as Forbes notes, they still like their protected turf:

Protests by taxi drivers, meanwhile, continue to sweep the globe, most recently in Toronto and across Europe and Australia. The state legislature in Kansas effectively shut down Uber there earlier this month, although there are news reports of a compromise in the works that could bring it back.

In Long Beach, one big difference remains between taxis and ride shares: only taxis can pick up at Long Beach’s airport.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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