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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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