Worst idea ever
Eileen Bruskewitz's idea for jitney cabs, or 'gypsy' cabs, is the worst idea I've ever seen advanced in Isthmus ('Transportation By, and For, the People,' 8/25/06). The immediate impact of single-operator taxicabs would be to undercut the licensed cab companies (Union, Madison and Badger) during peak business hours. Union Cab provides full-time living wages for hundreds of professional drivers. Unlicensed gypsy cabs would drive down wages and provide unsafe, uninsured transportation.
To become a cab driver you need to be licensed by the Madison Police Department. Drivers are fingerprinted, pay $25, and are given a background check. Several cab companies require drug testing. Anybody could drive a gypsy cab: felons, drunk drivers, child molesters.
Currently, the city requires four hours of sensitivity training on how to provide transportation to people with disabilities. Union Cab specifically provides mini-vans with wheelchair ramps. Would gypsy cabs be willing to provide transportation for anyone? Currently, the cab companies are required to run 24/7 and pick up anywhere in the city, including the dangerous impoverished areas.
I'd ask Eileen Bruskewitz if her grandfather was fully insured in case of injury to his passengers or other vehicles? Unlicensed cabs are always uninsured, while cabs are required to have commercial insurance covering their paying passengers. Google 'gypsy cab' and 'accident,' see how many hits you get. Do we really want unlicensed cab drivers cruising suburban streets, on a cell phone, loading up their vans for $2 a ride?
Union Cab driver
Eileen Bruskewitz says she dreams of the day when a commuter could wake up, log on to a mass-transit Web site and order a ride. The order would then be sent to the closest available car...who would pick up... (that) fare.' She's not dreaming! Except for substituting the telephone for the Web site, she's describing Badger Cab Co.
A major difference between Ms. Bruskewitz's dream and reality is cost. It's very unlikely that any jitney system in this town could compete effectively with Madison Metro on price. In many of the cities where jitneys operate, they are frequently outside the law. This leads to vehicles that operate only at peak passenger times and only on the most traveled routes.
In the few areas where fixed-route jitneys are successful and approved by government, the passenger volume is high, the service area is relatively small, and the vehicles are actually small buses.
Prior to 1970, when the Madison Bus Co. became publicly owned and emerged as Madison Metro, the cab fares of Madison's two shared-ride (jitney-like) cabs were very competitive with bus fares. When I started driving in 1970, the bus fares were 35 cents. The cab fare was 55 cents to travel from Tenney Park to the Square. A ride from the bus station to the VA hospital (a common ride) was 85 cents. In those days, Badger Cab and City Car Co. drivers would routinely run the bus routes in search of fares. Circling the busy Square would inevitably lure one or more passengers from the bus stops.
So what happened? Why can't we go back to those days when Madison's shared-ride cabs so effectively competed for bus riders? The primary reason is escalating costs. The price of fuel skyrocketed in the mid-'70s, and insurance rates have followed suit. Also, cab companies are for-profit enterprises and must pay taxes and fees. That requires higher rates.
Madison Metro is self-insured by the city of Madison, does not pay taxes or fees to the government and does not expect to show a profit. More significantly, about 80% of Metro's expenses are covered by federal, state and local subsidies.
Badger Cab strives to keep its rates as low as possible, but the dynamics of the city and the industry have changed over the years. I am basically in agreement with Ms. Bruskewitz, who has reservations about expensive, grandiose transit projects. However, with current costs and the changed dynamics of Madison, I feel that the past shall remain the past.
Badger Cab driver
How does Eileen Bruskewitz propose to maintain transit service for people with disabilities who need a ride during non-peak hours or to and from less-profitable destinations? If her jitney system cherry-picks the most profitable and easily serviced riders, what transit solutions will exist to serve the rest?
Bruskewitz's attitude towards public transit and other means to reduce dependence on the automobile seem at odds with her interest in jitneys. So it is a bit of a puzzle why she is getting out in front on this subject unless it her motivation to use the idea of jitneys to impede transit solutions like light rail. She is a supporter of a four-lane freeway North Beltline, after all.
I suspect Bruskewitz's fascination with the jitney is clouded by an idealized notion that the invisible hand of the marketplace is always the best solution. Mass transit and public transportation simply don't lend themselves to the laissez faire perspective, and Bruskewitz knows this.
In my Peace Corps experience in the Caribbean, I saw that jitney owners want to maximize profit by only driving in densely populated, short-trip markets at peak times. These entrepreneurs certainly don't want to invest in handicapped accessibility or offer money-losing non-peak services.
George J. Perkins
Ms. Bruskewitz's suggestion ' 'Why don't they just use jitneys going up and down University Avenue?' ' begs for the rejoinder: 'Because then University Avenue would be more ridiculously congested at any daylight hour than it is now.'
And it is either mendacious or ignorant for Ms. Bruskewitz to talk about how 'expensive' public transportation is when it is clear that the alternative is even more expensive. No one ever seems to complain about how expensive highways and roads are, and no one ever suggests calling off a road construction project when it goes over budget.
Let's be progressive like Portland, Ore., and bring on the jitneys, while improving the bike lanes and bus routes and building light rail ' all at a fraction of Wisconsin's multibillion-dollar transportation (read: highway) budget.
Check this out
I enjoyed Adam Hinterthuer's story on how UW-Madison faculty stack up on RateMyProfessors.com ('Best. Professor. Ever. [And some of the worst],' 9/1/06). Especially fascinating were the responses from the professors in question.
But I was struck by the lack of mention for the much-longer-running and more successful (based on participation rates) course-and-instructor evaluation project run by the Associated Students of Madison.
Anyone in the world is invited to view the past eight years' worth of evaluations compiled at www.asm.wisc.edu/evals/evals.html.
You won't get any insightful (or snarky) comments, but you will more closely approach statistical significance.
Nope, no relation
Is Emily Flake publisher Vince O'Hern's niece? Nepotism strikes me as the only possible reason for the inclusion of her poorly drawn and appallingly unfunny 'cartoon' in your newspaper. Add me;to the growing list of your readers who long for the return of Matt Groening's intelligent humor;to the pages of Isthmus.