Airport taxi lines

I landed at Washington Dulles airport last month en route to a climate policy conference. As I waited at the taxi stand for a cab to take me into the city, a giant Ford Expedition SUV with seats for eight passengers pulled up. I asked the dispatcher, “Do I have to get in this thing? Can’t I go in a smaller vehicle?”

In a frustrated voice (I had delayed the flow of the taxi line), he said, “Come on; get in. It costs the same.” I was on the verge of arguing with him that it might cost the same in dollars, but not in terms of carbon. Instead, in a small act of civil disobedience, I walked across the roadway to a more reasonably sized taxi. Then, the horns started blaring and everyone (the dispatcher, taxi drivers, and waiting passengers) joined in the commotion. You might have thought I had incited a riot.

Once in the safety of the smaller taxi (a still too big Ford Crown Victoria), I reflected on my carbon-fighting experience. How much of a difference would this really make? About 27% on this ride, according to the TerraPass calculator. Should I have taken the bus, which emits far less carbon per passenger, and which I have used on other occasions? It would not have worked this time because I was on a tight schedule.

I had a related experience in San Diego in July. At the airport taxi stand, I overheard two men behind me saying they were going to the same hotel. I suggested that we share a cab. As we got into the vehicle, this time a Ford Taurus, the driver said, “No, you can’t do this. You weren’t together. It’s against the rules.” We eventually calmed down the driver and he took us to our destination.

I tell these stories not to blame taxi drivers. They’re just doing their jobs — and difficult ones at that. But somehow we need to change the societal thinking, so that saving carbon is viewed as a mission we’re all in together.

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  1. Mommy2Twinkies - December 3, 2008

    It is amazing how many people don’t even think about it. We try to do our part, but I’m always thinking it’s not enough. Good for you!

  2. Bob Stern - December 3, 2008

    You can only win them, one at a time.

  3. Jarrett - December 5, 2008

    As a transport planner, I’m often the only person in the airport taxi line who remembers that we are in a capitalist system, and that the customer gets to choose. Airport taxi logistics are designed to conceal this fact, but you are within your rights, almost anywhere, to select among available taxis.
    So by all means, carry on.

  4. Andrea - December 10, 2008

    In London there are taxi sharing schemes so cab drivers cannot complain– all it takes is a bit of strong-armed policy.
    BTW the cab drivers also never haul your bags into the vehicle, that’s rather unfortunate!

  5. Rich - December 10, 2008

    You are targeting your fight at the wrong people. Taxi drivers have a lot of rules to follow to be allowed to do Airport pickups. Those rules are often the difference between the taxi drivers making profit or not.
    If you want the rules changed go fight at the level of the Airport commission and the local government that set the rules. There is where the change is needed.

  6. James - December 10, 2008

    When mentioning this… i’m always reminded of my experience in Beijing last oct. Although not directly related to the taxi size issue, or to ride sharing…The taxis there (beijing) almost universally kill their engines and wait in line with the engine off *pushing* the car along the line when its time to move up one car length, and only turning the engine back on when they have a fare. I can’t imagine i’ll ever see that sort of behavior here… but I thought it was such a brain-dead obvious way for taxis to save on emissions…

  7. Airport Taxi Phoenix - April 16, 2009

    The last incident drove me crazy. He wouldn’t drive you guys even if you were heading to the same hotel because it was against the rule? That’s not true. He just wants you to double your fare. Some cab drivers can be such opportunists.

  8. Airport Taxi Phoenix - April 29, 2009

    I would prefer to take two passengers if they’re heading to one destination. Even though they’re not together. This can save me a lot on gas:)

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