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Thinking Outside of the Box. Could We See the End to Taxis in this Country? Part 2

David M. Chapinski

The electric car was well ahead of its time in the 1800s and while we haven’t made that big of improvements in the electric motor since its inception, as far as basically how it works, we have made enormous strides recently in battery technology with bigger strides on the horizon, finally making the electric car a viable option to consumers very soon.  But, I ask the question, are still well ahead of our time with NYC taxi operations?  Fleets have a tremendous amount of financial obligations and responsibilities since a garage runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It doesn’t happen by an instant snap of the fingers; it’s a costly operation and a lot of garages employ 50 or 60 people. If you’ve ever been in a rush and in a taxi cab in New York, then you know how it feels to swipe your credit card at the end of the ride and wait for the receipt to pop out so you can sign it and hand it back to the driver. I certainly do and this procedure does not exactly take a New York minute.

Often, you even have to convince the driver to take your credit card which is so adverse.  Car2go announced in March of 2012 that they were launching an entirely new way of car-sharing in Washington, D.C.  What’s remarkable about Car2Go is the flexibility and concept of urban mobility. It’s the only car-sharing service I’ve encountered that charges by the minute. Their tiny 41-miles-a-gallon blue-and-white Fortwos are intended for casual point-to-point trips within the Car2Go designated operating area of the city.  Car2Go announced this year that you will be able to access its vehicles via a smartphone app, the car2go vehicle finder on the car2go website and by calling the customer call center, or simply by finding an available car on the street.  The convenience matches a city that has grown accustomed to smartphone apps like Taxi Magic and Spotcycle as well as technologically focused companies like Uber in recent months.  As of March 1st, 70,000 members worldwide belong to Car2Go, which in the U.S., operates in Austin and San Diego, and now as of March, Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon. Portland’s service is expected to begin a week after D.C.’s on March 31. Car2Go also hopes to feature a fleet of 200 in Portland.

As a cohesive city, D.C. has built a diverse transportation network and been smart about putting jobs, shopping, and schools together in walkable neighborhoods. All of these destinations are not only part of their neighborhood, but part of which is not always the case in so many other cities. No doubt, there is plenty of work to do and mistakes to correct, especially in underserved neighborhoods; but the fact remains D.C. is highly attractive even in these difficult economic times to employers, businesses, and new residents.  What makes me a believer in alternative driving methods in cities like D.C. is that pedestrian crashes have gone up in the past two years. according to the National Safety Council, on average around 650 people are hit by a car each year. It was 753 people in 2010 and an astonishing 942 people last year according to MPD. This is too way high. We can do better with technology. If a safer city is our goal, we have to get these numbers down.  For it to work, it would require prioritization and redirection of resources. MPD and DDOT would have significant roles to play and their directors would need to be fully on board pushing the effort, setting much higher benchmarks for their staff and the products they produce. The good infrastructure trends in D.C.’s core would need to spread aggressively to the outer neighborhoods. More capital spending would need to be leveraged to fully complete the city’s walking and biking networks. A robust “share the road” media campaign and consistent enforcement of traffic laws would be critical. Other agencies’ roles would need to be defined and the mayor’s office would have to manage the execution of the full plan, holding everyone accountable. All this requires a visionary leader who will make something like zero traffic fatalities a citywide initiative. I don’t see the right ingredients right now for D.C. to join the ranks of Chicago and NYC, unfortunately. However, if proven wrong, that leader is still going to find a lot of support from neighborhood leaders everywhere. I believe in programs like car2go because they were not created with the intent and purpose to act solely as a cash source.

I believe that there is a difference between pedestrian safety and a pedestrian society and those of us that are concerned citizens like me need to improve upon rather than stretch. Stretching pedestrian traffic does not benefit a city’s appeal. By traffic I am referring to sidewalk and street traffic. Nobody likes being on top of complete strangers in a tangled formation. There are certain things we know to be true and certain things we need to also consider when adopting newer technologies. Narrower lanes make motorists want to drive slower, so does a tighter turning angle at an intersection. Wide sidewalks with covered bus shelters, benches, and storm water-absorbing bio-swales attract pedestrians and store customers. Bike lanes and bike boxes give would-be cyclists an added level of confidence, and they remind motorists the road is designed for all, not only cars.  Sidewalk bulb outs at intersections put pedestrians and motorists within each other’s lines of sight. Good engineering effectively guides people in how to coexist on the city’s streets. It’s essential, and D.C. has to keep pushing itself on the design front. For the doubters of car2go driving, pedestrian safety will always be possible if car2go takes over with top-notch engineering. The unique car2go vehicles themselves are the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid or electric vehicles on the road today. Additionally, the car2go concept improves the area’s overall vehicle utilization ratio. In other words, a privately-owned vehicle is generally used only 1-2 hours and sits idle for the majority of the day, sometimes occupying valuable parking space, while a shared car2go will provide, on average, over 4 hours of utilization. And the ultra-compact car2go cars have a dramatically lower impact on urban infrastructure. Providing on-demand fuel efficient transportation options for individuals, car2go also compliments public transportation by closing the gaps commonly associated with public transit commuting, and it is a practical and affordable alternative to the rising costs and hassles associated with vehicle ownership.

The difference between Vanpools in D.C. and the car2go program is that the latter offers the same amount of convenience as well as fun and gives people something to believe in and talk about as members. Yes, a van can take advantage of the highway’s high-occupancy vehicle lanes that solo commuters can’t but having a piece of history in the traveling at your fingertips is something you get with the car2go. I believe that we need to create more initial awareness to that end. In addition to the city stops, car2go needs to run ads in Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and continue to tout big stats about their benefits, such as freeing the roadways of 6,000 car trips a day a reduction of 360,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. After all, people like and need to be reminded of what they are saving.

This article is part 2 of 2. Part 1 may be read at: Thinking Outside of the Box.  Could We See the End to Taxis in this Country?

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