Across all of my travels I have never encountered such an imbalance in supply and demand for airport taxis as at Reagan National last night. This is a bit shameful for an airport in the capitol of the world’s largest economy, the leader of the free world. Standing in queue is practically part of the job description of the business traveler, so this would have gone unnoticed except for the airport employee handing out informational flyers to all of us.
It was a map of common destinations in and around Washington D.C. and the decidedly approximate taxi fares required to those points. We were handed this helpful map, as if to say “Here, pass the time in queue studying this map and budgeting for your trip.” But there was more.
The back side of the flyer detailed the rules for approximate fares based on distance, additional baggage, etc. Below that was a list of 12 conditions that must be met by our taxi drivers. These included restrictions on the driver’s footwear, guidelines for the use of air conditioning, prohibitions on discourtesy by the drivers, and yet again a notice on how fares are set. Wow. Really? I just want to pay someone to drive me to my hotel, not to study a piece of transportation legislation.
This sign was placed at not at one but at two points along the taxi queue. It all but warns the customer that the taxi riding experience will be anything but pleasant and smooth, indirectly apologizing and offering an avenue for grievance. It’s quite a way to say “Welcome to America” for a visitor just setting foot in the USA and wanting to take a taxi to see the city’s sights.
My taxi driver was quiet and efficient. I overlooked his “no credit cards” sign and lack of a collar on his shirt. In the catalog of rules broken by taxi drivers, these are tame. Frankly, in most other developed parts of the world my $15 ride to a downtown hotel would have raised howls of protest from airport cab drivers who want their fares to be $50+ to make it worth their time. Yet no complaints. Perhaps the tendency towards short distances and low fares from Reagan create the limited supply of taxis?
Credit goes to the airport management for taking action, presumably to address customer service issues related to taxi fares, and setting standards for driver attire and behavior. But what messages do these measures send about the management of Reagan National Airport and their approach to problem solving? The additional policies, checks, reports and rework mechanisms put in place hardly address the root causes. In fact, they may exacerbate the problem by creating a blame culture, giving customers a sense that the taxi drivers are nefarious, and even demotivating drivers, who then decline to supply their services to Reagan National.
President Ronald Reagan championed supply side economics. This macroeconomic theory hypothesizes that growth is created by reducing tax and regulatory barriers to supplying goods and services. Whether or not the supply side model of economics works any better or worse than other models has hardly been scientifically proven. A problem with many well-intentioned Big Ideas and government programs is that they are undertaken without putting forth a hypothesis to be disproved through the scientific method. This is because the politician who treats such articles of faith championed by their party as hypotheses to be rigorously tested through scientific skepticism is in effect committing career suicide.
Listen carefully while standing in the taxi queue at Reagan National. You may hear a faint underground rolling sound from the distant west.