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January 4, 2011

On New Year's Eve, Tipsy? Taxi! dropped the ball

From the moment the Tipsy? Taxi! service was announced, readers slammed its past performance.

This year, it didn't do much better.

Yellow Cab, which operates the service, missed about 18 percent of all calls received on New Year's Eve, the company tells Sun blog Getting There.

Dismayed by complaints from residents, the State Highway Administration is now planning on investigating the free cab rides. 

In the end, the combination of unreliable phone lines and long waiting times proved to be discouraging to most Baltimore residents. (Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for Tipsy? Taxi! sponsor AAA Mid-Atlantic,  had already told Midnight Sun last week that the expected waiting time for the cabs would be 45 minutes.)

Only 92 rides were provided by the free cab service Friday, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic's preliminary count.

Averella promised to do a better job next time. "We will be looking at how we can possibly improve that service," she told Getting There.

In a separate e-mail to Midnight Sun, she defended this year's numbers, saying it was consistent with other years. In 2007, she wrote, when the service lasted from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., the service provided 114 rides. And in 2009, it provided nearly 100 rides.

Overall, she wrote, the sponsors were "pleased that patrons in Baltimore continue to take advantage of the Tipsy? Taxi Service."

But the SHA is not as pleased. In a statement to Getting There, it said it's planning on investigating problems with the service next month: "The three partners - SHA, AAA Mid-Atlantic and Yellow Cab are working together to determine what can be done differently in the future and will be meeting together in the next month."

The SHA and the service's program should start to wonder why a free cab ride isn't more popular with residents. 

It's not just dropped calls and long waiting times, if they want to improve use, they should make other changes. 

For starters, the service should be open to underage drinkers, who will drink despite the law, and need designated drivers as much, if not more, than adults who've already drinking for years.

Averella had also told Midnight Sun last week Yellow Cab would only have two phone operators dedicated to Tipsy? Taxi calls and that the cab provider would also be conducting regular business on New Year's Eve.

The sponsors should also recognize that a free cab ride on one of the year's drinking high holidays is going to be popular and is going to require more than just two operators.

These changes are important because, as Mike Dresser has already written, it makes no sense to tout a valuable service, even if its free, if it isn't going to be reliable.

Photo: Tipsy? Taxi! announcement press conference last week (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)


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Posted by Erik Maza at 11:03 AM | | Comments (40)
Categories: New Year's Eve 2010, News
        

Comments

Hey taxi companies, maybe you should drag yourself into the 21st century and let people text you for a pick-up. Not only would that allow more people to request rides it would speed the process and eliminate potential communication problems between requestor and operator.

also what's the deal with cabs in baltimore not turning off their light when they have a fare?

@ryan97ou -- Super annoying. I've seen the same thing in DC, and sometimes (but rarely) in New York.

So... the sponsorship for this program was 25k, they gave 94 free rides sooooo that's 296.96 per ride. Quite the healthy profit for the cab company. Graft: that's the Baltimore way.

"and eliminate potential communication problems between requestor and operator."
------

"u plz giv 2 ride?? w8in 4 u on str33t by b@r."

Yeah, drunk texting for a cab clearly presents no communication issues.

What I find funny about her statement is that she said, in DEFENSE, that this year was CONSISTENT with previous years. Apparently she didn't realize that the whole reason she was responding to an increasing number of inquiries regarding the reliability of the service was BECAUSE of the service provided in previous years.

Billy Idol gets it. Why doesn't she?

I can't even get a normal cab to pick me up at night in this city, let alone a free one. The last 10 times I have called a cab (over a period of probably three years) it has never showed up. And I mean, FOUR HOURS LATER it had never shown up. If you just flat refuse to drive after drinking, which I do, that leaves you with no choice but to sleep where you are or walk from Federal Hill to Canton at 1 a.m. Not a great idea in this city! I think the cab companies need to reevaluate their methods of doing business, free taxis aside. I keep hearing complaints from cabbies that they're not making enough money and they have to drive all night and day just to break even. Maybe if the cab company dispatchers were more responsive, that wouldn't be the case.

"For starters, the service should be open to underage drinkers..."

First of all, how about we look at why the SHA is wasting any time/resources/money on this. If you go out partying on NYE, plan a ride home. How hard is that?

Secondly, (in response to the Getting There article):
As much as I hate to admit it, it seems the increasingly tough stance on DUI's is what is really changing the perception that taxi's are cost prohibitive to a night out partying. I doubt free cab nights will have any impact on people's perception of cabbing it.

Finally, this is such a stupid topic, again, how hard is it to plan your way home before you go out partying? Even more asinine than this topic is the compaint of not letting underage partiers use the service. When I was partying underage style I was able to make sure I had a way home. I am generally against extremely tough stances on crimes, but the DUI repercussions really changed my mindset early on (without ever having had one myself).

AK, the problem is really more of a simple supply/demand equation. The demand is way up on NYE, but due to constraining city/state licensing requirements, the supply cannot quickly/easily expand to meet the demand.

I have never had a problem on NYE, because I don't go out. If I can't get a cab on a random Wednesday in June, I'd have to be insane to think I could get one on NYE!!! I stay in the neighborhood or, in recent years, in my own house! Champagne tastes even better in my living room than in a crowded bar across town! :-)

@dc

I'm not sure I follow... you're dismissing this issue because people should plan their way home? Pretty sure that's what this is all about. If a company / organization says it will provide a service that offers exactly what you're talking about, and then fails to deliver, then the problem isn't that a person didn't plan their way home, it's that they did and that plan fell through. Now, you could say that this person's plan was naive or foolish considering the reputation of the service, but that doesn't absolve the service from doing a poor job. And that seems to be what we're discussing here...

Erik - a rare good job

AK hits the nail on the head. Taxi service in Baltimore stinks on the other 364 days of the year and it definitely wouldn't be better on NYE. Might be helpful if the taxi companies were independently owned rather than one large corporation.

From reading this post it doesn't appear Maza bothered to go out and actually try to use the service himself on NYE and report from personal experience.

Everything written here is either from phone calls, released statements or the traffic guys blog.

Can our Nightlife blogger not be bothered with going out on NYE?

Ok,
Devils advocate time. As a cab driver, all of you have it wrong. It is not the fault of the State, AAA, or any cab company, it is the fault of the drunks.
1. Drunks can't be expected to make a phone call and arrange transportation and be able to give specific addresses, phone numbers or other required info.
2. If the cab does actually get dispatched to pick the passenger at the Cheesecake Factory at 12:30, how does the cab driver pick you out of the other hundreds of people pulling on the doors saying they need a cab.
3. When the irate drunks that are angry that cabs keep passing them to go pick up a called in trip finally snap and they chuck a brick through a cab window and that driver is out of business for 2 days.
4. When the drunk makes it into the cab and is on the way home looses the contents of their stomach all over the interior of the cab rendering that driver out of business for a day or two and can't even charge a clean up fee.
It is not as easy as it seems on the few nights a year where large amounts of people actually take cabs.

Thanks for shedding some light on this meaningless PR stunt.

The licensing requirements do choke supply, which limits availability, increases wait times, and increases prices. It also reduces the income for the individual drivers, while increasing profits for the corporate owners.

The unintended consequence of such regulation is increased drunk driving: http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/490751-josh-dowlut/124789-government-taxicab-regulation-causes-drunk-driving

The Federal Trade Commision concluded in an extensive study of taxicab regulation that "No persuasive economic rationale is avai lable for some of the most
important regulations.": http://www.ftc.gov/be/econrpt/233832.pdf

Dr Cox get over it. You're just trying to be a douchebag now and nitpicking anything you can.

While I can't speak from experience, Kenny B., I can at least empathize and concede that it isn't the most glamorous job in the world.

However.

"Drunks can't be expected to make a phone call and arrange transportation and be able to give specific addresses, phone numbers or other required info."

So, when they do, you don't feel like you're expected to show up?

And, again, not that I have experience driving a cab, but are you telling me that if a cab driver really cared about who he was supposed to pick up in the first place, in the history of all taxi services, that nobody's figured out a way to verify their passenger's identify? It's called ID; people carry it if, for no other reason, they go to a bar... and surely in that long list of "required info" the operator needs to collect it wouldn't be an extra burden to ask for a name (assuming they don't already; it's been a while since I've personally called for a cab).

Dave F.,

Under normal circumstances, there is no problem figuring out who your passengers are and transporting them to their destinations. I go after every call that I am dispatched on and that I accept, but on most dispatch systems, if the drivers don't accept the call work, the jobs just sit in the job que in a holding pattern until someone frees up and can accept them, and on a mass night out when you have literally hundreds of people on the sidewalks and in the middle of the street attempting to flag down taxicabs, even ones already loaded beyond what cabs are allowed to carry (4), that job becomes nearly impossible. Why take call work when the real action is on the street with their hands high in the air. I have had people (drunks) block my doors and not allow the people who called me in the car. The ID thing could work, but only 6 of the 14 City cab associations use computer dispatch where a driver could even get a name.
Now some drivers are faced with an even bigger issues. What if I am sent to E. Fort and Light to pick up someone and take them to the 300 block of E. Fort Ave and upon arrival, there is your passenger not ready to go on there 2 block trip and another person who wants to go to Annapolis and is ready and waving a handsome amount of cash....

To all the people saying that you should plan your way home if you are going to be out drinking. Since when is a cab not a plan. I have been living in this city for ahwhile now and whenever I am drinking away from my home I take a cab home. I never have a problem. I just walk to a main street and wait, usually no more than 10 minutes.

I find walking to a inner harbor hotel is the easiest way to get a cab even on a crazy holiday night. and you can usually chill in the hotel lobby if you have to wait so long as you're not acting like an drunken fool.

Yeah, I have never had any issues getting a cab. I just walk to a busy intersection and am on my way in no time.

I also don't count on free handouts. I plan on paying for a cab if needed.

My experience on NYE wasn't with hailing a taxi, but with getting a taxi to come to my home by Patterson Park. I called shortly after 6pm, which I thought was very early in the evening for NYE. I needed to be in Mt. Vernon for a 7pm dinner reservation. The operator told me to call back in 15 minutes if my cab hadn't arrived. I ended up calling back 2 other times because the cab never came. The 4th time I called it was to cancel my order. I had a friend come get me and we ended up hailing a taxi around Little Italy. I had no trouble hailing a taxi after dinner to take me to Canton or back home around 3:30am. Granted, these were all paid fares.
The first cab I got into was labeled as Raven Taxi (the purple ones). When I proceeded to bad mouth Yellow Taxi for not picking me up, I found it odd that the taxi driver told me that he was a Yellow Taxi. How many other taxis are driving around with another company name that are actually Yellow Taxi?
And since I'm on the subject, has anyone ever done an expose on cab fares from various cab companies? I swear that I get charged varying cab fare amounts for the same exact trip. The worst is taking a taxi from Canton to Fed Hill. Those fares vary by $5-10 sometimes. It infuriates me.
Someone get Jane Miller and the I-Team!

@Cardwell -A lot of cabs have rigged meters that are accelerated. I've had this problems many times and gotten the police involved. I tried to get the useless "Get There" dude to investigate/comment but alas...

Saturday night I hopped in a cab after work, one with a rigged meter. My normal cab is $15. The meter read $27. We took the same way home as always, and the ride took the same amount of time (shorter if anything because it was a slow night).

I told the cabby the most I was paying was $20. He threatened to call the police to get his extra $7. I told him to go right ahead, beacuse I'd be reporting him for his rigged meter. He relented immediately, which leaves little doubt in my mind that the meter was rigged.

Yeah, threaten to call the police- and take a picture of their certificate. You can get a free ride because some will kick you out and speed off fast so you don't get their cab number.

When the soccer game was in town I got into a cab at Ravens stadium and after a half mile the guy went under the dash and turned it to super meter. I jumped out, he said he would call the cops. I said it's one right there- they found his tamopered meter and held him.

Lot of discussions on this topic--can't wait to read them later! I couldn't get through to any cab companies on NYE, but the Taxi Magic App on my iPhone worked like a charm! Tipsy Taxi should partner with them and completely take out the human bottleneck.

How can you be in Federal Hill and not be able to find a cab? I live there, and have hailed cabs at all times of the day and night, never waiting more than 5 minutes for one to pass.

Go ahead and investigate Ragina. I won't be holding my breath waiting for you to figure out that your program's a joke.

I find that the Raven cabs are a lot more expensive than the various yellow ones... sometimes twice the rate for the same trip. Rigged meters? I just assumed the company overall was a rip-off and avoid being picked up by them. That doesn't make them happy when I walk by them and hop into a different cab.

We understand that many of you were frustrated by our service on New Year’s Eve and because of that I wanted to address the commentary directly. We are sorry for any confusion about the free service provided on New Year’s Eve. On the 30th, following the initial post and response, our service parameters were clarified here: http://bit.ly/hXN98V. Also, an official comment from the SHA regarding the Tipsy? Taxi! Performance can be found here: http://bit.ly/fGS1gb and we will work with our partners to improve service in the future.

We appreciate our customers holding us to the highest standards. Again, we are working with our partners (AAA Midatlantic and SHA) to improve processes for FY 2011. If you were frustrated by Yellow / Checker Cab service levels, or were unable to get through via the phone lines, and would like to voice your feedback, we are happy to take your call. You can reach me, Dwight Kines, at 443-573-3416.

For those of you who have used, and continue to use, our services: Thank you! Happy New Year to all.

@FHT the experience I relayed was in a Raven Cab as well. I won't be hopping in one of those again. Ever.

As for the diferentiation in rates, the Maryland Public Servcice Commision sets the rates for cabs in the city. They are not determined by the individual cab company or the cab driver.

Therefore, a similar cab ride (similar pickup/dropoff and number of riders) should cost roughly the same no matter what company's cab you hop in.

Here's the link to the Baltimore City Rates


Here's the link to the Baltimore County Rates

@Dwight Kines- what do you have to say about the rigged meters?

I feel like the taxi cab association says the same thing every year. Bunch of BS and you all know it.

Tipsy Taxi should be for all cabs on NYE, you shouldn't have to call a certain number. Treat it for what it should be, a service to get drunk people home.

Either do it right or don't do it at all.

I had a similar experience with Raven Cab.
The ride to the bar (in a Yellow Cab) was $12. The Ride home in a Raven Cab was $25. Same exact route and no traffic difference. Chalked it up as $12 worth of experience and decided to never use them again.

Hey, anon...I'm from the old school. I would rather talk than blog. Please feel free to call me sometime and we can go back and forth. We remove any driver caught with a rigged meter and send refunds to our customers all of the time...even if it can't be proven. Also good to see positive comments about our ap and texting service. After some initial problems, it seems to be running smoothly and we are doing hundreds of trips each month from our customer's cell phones. Dwight

"We remove any driver caught with a rigged meter and send refunds to our customers all of the time..."

All of the time? If it happens all of the time, its time for a new system where you stop ripping off cutomers all of the time! Goodness. They shouldnt be able to rig thier meters that easily, and if it happens all of the time, its time you invest in a new way to meter.

"our service parameters were clarified here: http://bit.ly/hXN98V"

so it's ok to do a horrible job as long as you tell people in advance?!

@Cardwell,
Raven Cab has nothing to do with Yellow Cab, that driver was spinning a tale. Raven Cab recently split up and formed the new Downtown Taxi.
Yellow Cab has 3 liveries under it and they are Yellow Cab, Checker Cab and Sun Cab.
People complain about taxicabs frequently but no one files complaints with the Maryland Public Service Commission. If a taxicab has a rigged meter, it makes all cab drivers look suspect so feel free the next time you get into a taxi with a fast meter to make a note of the association and permit number on the cab, get a receipt, write down the drivers name and badge number and file a complaint with the PSC.

I reported a taxi with an accelerated meter to the PSC over the summer, and I was really impressed with the speed and efficiency with which they responded to my complaint. All I had to do was fill out an online form with what happened and some basic info and within a week (I want to say it was something like 3 days) I had a letter from PSC acknowledging the complaint and another one with the cab company's response. The whole situation was definitely still shady, but I thought the PSC handled it well.

About the rigged meters and solutions to stop it. Here's an easy solution, somehow hook the meters up with GPS and base fares by GPS.

Isn't GPS accurate within 10 to 50 feet?

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at erik.maza@baltsun.com. Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.
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