Dave Reid

“This is not a cab town” – Cabs in Milwaukee

By - Oct 5th, 2011 04:25 pm
Yellow Cab in Milwaukee, WI

Yellow Cab in Milwaukee, WI

It has been said that Milwaukee “is not a cab town,” and it’s true many Milwaukeeans don’t utilize taxicab services.  But this is likely true in part because of the City of Milwaukee’s arbitrarily set limit of taxicab licenses.  In fact, there are only 321 legal taxicabs operating in Milwaukee, so of course Milwaukee isn’t a cab town, how could it be with so little available service.  This limit reduces use and choice, and has even spurred a group of cab drivers to sue the city with the intent of unleashing the taxicab market in Milwaukee.

These taxicab drivers are right.   Milwaukee can and should be a cab town, and to accomplish this the removal of the cap is needed.

Why more cabs?  Beyond the fact that the cap limits job creation, stifles the entrepreneurial spirit, and creates a false market where cab licenses are rumored to be selling for between $80,000 and $150,000, quite frankly more cabs would be welcome because it is tough to flag down a cab in Milwaukee.

For example, my counterpart Jeramey Jannene recently tweeted:

Reason #356489 why Milwaukee should lift the cab permit limit: I once took a ride from a pizza delivery driver with a few friends at close.

Seriously, Domino’s shouldn’t be a part of Milwaukee’s transportation needs.

Kidding aside, there are numerous  reasons why opening up this market will be good for the residents of Milwaukee.  Cab service is an expected amenity in an urban environment, a service which is utilized by residents, tourists, and business travelers.  This amenity is lacking in Milwaukee and as a result pricing, variety, and service quality are all being limited because of the artificial limitation.  By opening up the market, additional competition could bring lower fares, better service, and a larger variety of options and types of cabs that could be available.  For example, a green cab company, running hybrids or electric vehicles could break into the market, which today is frozen out because of the prohibitively expensive cost of entry (such a company exists in Madison, another city that many wouldn’t label a “cab town”).  Another benefit of opening up this market is simply to provide more rides, because a limit on the number of cabs is effectively a limit on the number of rides possible on any given night (a limit that is obviously reached on busy nights when you literally can’t get a cab without an hour wait).  Additionally, an obvious, or what should be obvious, reason to open up this market is less drunk drivers on our roads.  Instead of being encouraged to drive home after celebrating a Brewers win at a local brewpub, more people will have the option to take a cab home as there will be more available cabs.

Quite simply, expansive cab service is part of urban life, it encourages people to leave their car at home, offers them more access, and acts as a part of a cities transportation system.   Certainly, taxicabs need to be regulated, but for Milwaukee to become a cab city, the arbitrary limit on the number of cabs needs to be removed.


8 thoughts on ““This is not a cab town” – Cabs in Milwaukee”

  1. Maureen says:

    I completely agree that the limit needs to be removed! I live on the East Side and take cabs downtown to go out all the time. Usually we call at least 30 minutes before we want to leave because it takes so long for them to get there. Sometimes we are waiting almost an hour! Also to try to get one at the end of the night without having to fight over it with a number of other people who are also trying to get a cab is nearly impossible.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Maureen 30 minutes? Wow… I’ve had some nights where that would happen but generally pretty quick for me… And yeah the end of the night can be very tough…hence Jeramey and the pizza delivery ride:)

  3. Bill Sell says:

    And you did not mention something friends do for each other; give rides. I know a small network of friends on the East Side who routinely drive each other to the airport. This kind of service grows up in a city where the arrival time of a cab is a crapshoot, and where dispatchers are not very reassuring about your flight schedule. When I go to the airport, I simply make a bus schedule plan, take two buses and I’m there for a dollar ten, no tip and on time.

  4. Tony Adams says:

    As a biker, my first reaction to this kind of story is “oh – it must be nice to bike there!” I know that most cab drivers are very good drivers. But the way they get compensated rewards them more the faster they drive. As long as drivers (cabs and long haul trucks) are paid by the mile it seems like safety is going to suffer.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Tony I’m a regular rider as well, and it is true cabbies do drive aggressively (though not much here in Milwaukee), but the bigger issue, to me, in regards to biker safety is the lack of cabs encourages more people to drive drunk. As one cab can replace multiple drivers at night…

  6. Analog says:

    a) more licenses will not lead to lower prices. cab prices are fixed and set by an external body, not the cab owner/operator.
    b) shouldn’t we be celebrating this — more riders for the choo choo train!!

  7. Dave Reid says:

    @Analog a) It is true the rate is set by the city, but lobbied by a limited number of cab companies (1 owns 1/3 of all the licenses), this will limit their power.
    b) choo-choo train? I have no idea what you are referring to.

  8. Brad says:

    I was floored when I was able to hail a cab on the east side a while back. More cabs!

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