A rare, worthy reform, made in Washington.Jan 5, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 17 • By ELI LEHRER
Mary Cheh, who represents a leafy, affluent, embassy-filled section of Washington, doesn’t fit anyone’s image of a free-market reformer. A member of the D.C. Council since 2007, the sixty-something’s dress and manner are those of the Harvard-educated law professor she is. Many of her legislative priorities—free breakfast programs and green energy—could come from the playbook of any urban progressive.
Her latest accomplishment, however, is a model in managing economically disruptive forces in a way that balances capitalist principles with traditional institutions. She led an overhaul of the District’s ridesharing and taxi regulations, creating a level playing field for conventional taxis and their rival upstart transportation network companies (TNCs) while responding to residents’ legitimate gripes about a system with serious shortcomings.
Cheh’s transportation reforms have won plaudits from free-market groups for creating a sensible legal framework to regulate fast-growing TNCs like Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft. The companies have to procure insurance, check their drivers’ backgrounds, and ensure cars are in working order, but they can otherwise charge fares and maintain service as they please.
Most of the nation’s big cities now allow ridesharing services to operate without huge burdens, with New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Houston notable exceptions. What distinguishes Washington’s regime is that it also maintains a largely free market for taxicabs that has been enhanced under the legislation that opened things up for the TNCs. The District never issued tradable medallions like New York and Chicago, which serve to enrich lucky medallion owners while limiting the supply of cabs for consumers. Deregulation in the late 1990s and early 2000s under former insurance commissioner Larry Mirel also made taxi insurance more affordable than it is in other big cities and let local insurance companies write most of the coverage.
Nonetheless, D.C.’s taxi system was never copacetic. While anyone with a full-sized car who passed a fairly simple test could drive a cab in Washington, an antiquated zone system made it difficult even for locals to figure out fares but downright easy for cabbies to cheat out-of-towners. Price controls also ensured that D.C.’s cab fleet remained dingy and decrepit.
There are good reasons that, in most places, taxis tend to be heavily standardized. If fares had to be negotiated each time a customer hailed a cab, cabstand lines would grind to a halt and street hails would block traffic. Because consumer choice has always been limited, most cities have required that taxis be full-sized cars with room for four adults and their luggage; that they maintain a uniform livery “trade dress,” with black cabs in London and yellow ones in New York; and that they have basic amenities like air conditioning and seatbelts.
But starting in 2008, through several successive waves of reform, Washington’s taxi regulations moved toward a far simpler structure, replacing zones with conventional meters and allowing more adjustments for gasoline prices. This made it possible for cabbies and companies to buy newer, better cabs.
Cheh’s bill went further in the direction of deregulation. If they’re hailed by a smartphone app, D.C. taxis now can set prices based on market forces of supply and demand, just as TNCs do. Alone among major U.S. cities, therefore, the nation’s capital now has something close to a free market for on-call transportation. So long as they follow some basic rules, just about anyone can drive for hire in the District and, in many cases, charge almost any price the customer is willing to pay.
The reforms haven’t all made cabdrivers happy, though. In October, hundreds of them staged a protest on the city’s Freedom Plaza, blocking traffic for hours while honking their horns loudly. While the protest, organized by the Teamsters-affiliated Taxi Operators Association, probably backfired on the cabbies themselves—the Washington Post reported that it was “unlikely to have endeared the taxi driving community to their riders”—it did raise legitimate issues. The city, for example, now requires drivers to use credit card readers that charge relatively high fees and take, the Teamsters say, “a very long time to get drivers their money.”
Mark Strand, 1934-2014Dec 22, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 15 • By ELI LEHRER
Before his death late last month at the age of 80, Mark Strand could claim one of the most varied careers of Americans active in the arts. Born on Prince Edward Island in 1934 and raised everywhere from Montreal to Brazil to pre-Castro Cuba, Strand was a painter, collage-maker, translator, writer, art critic, and, most of all, a poet.
The case for an early exit from high school to community college. Oct 20, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 06 • By ELI LEHRER
In 2009, Bryce Harper—then a sophomore at Las Vegas High School and already the best high school baseball player in the nation—made the unusual and controversial decision to forgo his final two years of high school, on the grounds that there was simply no effective competition for him at that level. He passed the GED test and enrolled in the two-year College of Southern Nevada.
It can be done, but not the way the environmental left proposes. Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By ELI LEHRER
From Al Gore to the leadership of groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, environmentalists long have warned that global disaster is certain unless we do something about rising sea levels. The “something” that most on the left want is to remake our energy economy and increase government control over energy use in order to cut down on human emissions of greenhouse gases that cause the thermal expansion of ocean water and the melting of polar ice sheets.
‘The line between politics and entertainment has become more distinct.’ Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By ELI LEHRER
Last fall, during an earnings conference call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made an announcement that landed him on the front page of every newspaper business section: His company had surpassed HBO to become America’s biggest pay-TV service. Today, about 30 million Netflix accounts exist, serving about a quarter of America.
A better approach to poverty.Feb 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 21 • By ELI LEHRER and LORI SANDERS
President Obama’s State of the Union speech brimmed with ideas to increase upward mobility and spur job creation—most of which have been tried previously, without good results. From calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage to announcing the creation of six new “high-tech manufacturing hubs” centered around research universities, too many of these ideas flow from misplaced confidence in the ability of top-down government policy to steer the economy and lift the circumstances of those in poverty.
The skipper of the good ship ‘Bestselling Poetry.’Dec 2, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 12 • By ELI LEHRER
In order to possess literary merit, poetry must do at least one of three things adequately: condense emotion, embody truths about the human condition, or enrapture readers with the poet’s ability to put words together in a beautiful way. Great poems can do all of these things. Adequate poetry manages at least one; bad poetry does none. And Robert Bly, a selection of whose works are collected here, is a bad poet.
Who and what, exactly, is the chef du jour? Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By ELI LEHRER
The show’s hero has huge muscles, wisecracking sidekicks, and a mysterious origin. In each episode, he performs feats beyond the abilities of mere mortals. He fights for values that just about everyone shares, and he dispenses common-sense wisdom in a way that seems profound. Each episode ends, satisfyingly, with him leaving the place he visits better than he found it. The hero, in short, is a superhero. In this case, his name is Robert Irvine, and he stars in a cooking show.
His administration was greener than you think. Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By ELI LEHRER
Mention Ronald Reagan to an avowed environmentalist, and you’ll generally elicit a groan. In the conventional telling, the Gipper appointed right-wing extremists to key environmental positions and proceeded to give timber companies and energy interests a free hand to despoil nature. Had Congress not stopped him, the tale goes, all of the environmental progress of the 1970s would have been swept away in the 1980s.
8:16 AM, Apr 11, 2011 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Tom Cross, the Republican minority leader in the Illinois state house of representatives, emailed this letter to the editor in response to Eli Lehrer's article, "Pensions Aren't the Problem," which appeared in the March 28th issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD:
In his recent article “Pensions Aren’t the Problem”, author Eli Lehrer highlighted the State of Illinois’ pension crisis in attempting to make his case that pension reform doesn’t make much difference in a state’s fiscal health.
The chronicle of popular science fiction/fact.Mar 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 25 • By ELI LEHRER
Analog Magazine: Science Fiction, Science Fact (that’s the actual full title) turns 80 this year, and seems at first glance like an anachronism.
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