Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

From a memo from City Solicitor David Moore in item 13a on tonight’s City Council agenda (“Transmitting Informational Communication Relative to Liveries”):

I have researched this question and am of the opinion that the law allows the city of Worcester, by ordinance adopted by the city council, to enact a limit on the number of licenses issued permitting livery service vehicles to operate in the city provided that the number chosen by the council reasonably advances concerns over the public safety and convenience of travelers and transportation service levels in the community.

The city has been trying to address the issue of livery cars, or “gypsy cabs“, or medallions that are only available to a lucky few, or however you want to categorize this situation, for years.

The medallion system, as it exists now, is a state-sanctioned monopoly where only a few companies are able to legitimately run cab businesses.

This proposal could set up a similar monopoly (or oligarchy) for livery services.

What happens ten or twenty years from now when an independent claims that s/he cannot buy a livery license or a taxi medallion because all the allowed licenses are taken by just a few companies?

We’ve never had a discussion of what Worcesterites want in car service.

We can assume that folks want appropriately insured vehicles, cars that charge you an agreed-upon fee or use a reliable meter, and reliable drivers.

If we knew what people wanted, and why they use a livery over a taxi (or vice versa), then we could decide the best way to construct a fair system for everyone.

Some of it can be legislated, some of it will rely on the market.

But the yearly cycle where we only allow a few companies to own taxi medallions while we wring our hands about those who operate outside that system cannot be solved by setting up a parallel system of inequity.

Retrofitting further restrictions on a system that is not working will not magically make a fair system.  It will only postpone a much-needed overhaul of the existing system.

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