Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Last week in New York, seven men were arrested for using common sense:
It might feel like forever, standing in line outside an airport terminal, luggage in tow, waiting for a taxi. But when cabdrivers obey the rules, it is likely that they have waited just as long, if not longer — idling in a lot, awaiting the go-ahead from a dispatcher. Some drivers have found a way around the wait: Hand some cash — usually $5 or $10 — to a dispatcher, and then drive straight to the terminal. It is hardly a new tactic. Over the years, dozens of dispatchers have been caught in sting operations meant to stop the payoffs.
This form of “corruption” is quite routine at La Guardia and other airports. Yet it’s not the dispatchers who are the corrupt villains of this story: it’s the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The actions of the dispatchers are the logical outcome of an egalitarian system put in place by the Port Authority itself.
Because picking up fares at airports is relatively lucrative, there is a large line-up at the terminals. This sometimes forces cabbies to wait hours in a nearby lot. Since time is money for self-employed people like cabbies, there is a powerful incentive to “cut in line.” The $5 or $10 slipped to a dispatcher can be easily made back with a decent fare and tip. The system is almost designed to breed this sort of petty “corruption.”
The Port Authority’s Inspector General, in reliably melodramatic style, declared that: “The defendants took unfair advantage of a dispatching process that was created to provide a level playing field for all cabdrivers.” Which isn’t so much a lie as nonsense on stilts. Making cabbies wait in line isn’t a “level playing field;” it’s discrimination.
The ‘equality’ at play here is that every cab should have to wait roughly the same amount of time and make roughly the same amount of money. But not every cabbie has the same utility preference or desire to make money. A more aggressive cabbie might prefer to pay more to wait less, enabling him to make more trips and more money in a given day. By contrast, a less aggressive driver might prefer to pay nothing and wait his turn. He’d make fewer trips and less money but his work day would be far less stressful.
The Port Authority’s policy has the unintended consequence of punishing younger cabbies. The older the driver, the greater the likelihood that he owns his own medallion, has paid off his mortgage, and his children are safely out of college. They work in order to cover daily expenses, save a little something for a rainy day, and wait for retirement. A younger driver likely has greater obligations and bigger debts. He needs to work harder to have any hope of reaching the same level of security enjoyed by his older competitors.
Like many schemes that seek to create fairness, or a “level playing field,” the practical result is the protection of incumbents and the marginalization of newcomers. But governments have always had a funny sense of fair.