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Hacking the System
November 9, 2009 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Hacking is a Baltimore phenomenon that allows citizens to get cheap "illegal" rides across town. A hack indicates they want a ride by motioning their pointer finger towards the ground as they walk along the street. Inevitably a driver will stop, the two parties will negotiate a price and a ride will be given. It is both a dangerous and necessary part of the blighted Baltimore economy.
posted by cloeburner (84 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
yeah, but cabs are so cheap there!
posted by Ironmouth at 11:11 AM on November 9, 2009


In the future, everybody will be a jitney cab driver or passenger for 15 minutes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:13 AM on November 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


So, it's hichhiking, but they don't call it that for some reason?
posted by delmoi at 11:13 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


previously (sort of)

I’d like to try it myself I think
posted by Think_Long at 11:14 AM on November 9, 2009


I wish we had this custom here in NY, but our typical automobile owner lacks Baltimore-type idleness/spare time and poverty.

In states like Oklahoma and Texas where the majority of hitchhikers are most likely serial killers, it wouldn't work either.
posted by knoyers at 11:16 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, it's hichhiking, but they don't call it that for some reason?

RTA, dude: "These hackney ponies stepped very fancy and were strong enough to carry a lot of people. . . . And [hackney] began to become the colloquial word 'hack.'"

And, this little bit at the end is gold:

After all, he says, "I'm a good American hack. I hack, I work, I go to church."
posted by Burhanistan at 11:16 AM on November 9, 2009


I’d like to try it myself I think
posted by Think_Long


Epony ill-considered?
posted by Burhanistan at 11:17 AM on November 9, 2009


Seems like it'd be hard to prosecute this phenomenon if the participants are smart and organized. The driver's just "giving his friend" a lift to/from the market, and the "friend" is just giving the driver a bit of cash for time and gas. Some people have a real gift for gab and names, and especially in a close-knit community, it'd be hard to prove a guy driving his friends around wasn't really friends with these so-called customers.
posted by explosion at 11:17 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is obviously symptomatic of a woefully inadequate public-transit system and terrible urban planning that forces people to hire or use cars.
posted by Electrius at 11:18 AM on November 9, 2009 [14 favorites]


So, it's hitchhiking, but they don't call it that for some reason?

It is essentially hitchhiking, but there's almost always a negotiated price, whereas hitchhikers seem to rely on the kindness of strangers (as far as I know). Also, catching a hack is usually for pretty short distances (the kind of trips an adequate transit system should accommodate).
posted by HumanComplex at 11:24 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is there more to the "dangerous" part? Because the linked article for that only has a short paragraph, detailing two hacks that where killed and one that is currently charged for rape. If the service is as prevalent as indicated it doesn't seem that much more dangerous than walking down the street, or perhaps just taking an ordinary taxi, plenty of incidents of taxi drivers being robbed and shot. Of course I may be wrong and incidents of violence with hacks are disproportionate to the GP, but the claim made is not fully supported by the material provided,
posted by edgeways at 11:24 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The mayor's corruption trial started today.
posted by exogenous at 11:25 AM on November 9, 2009


I decided to make this post after watching numerous people hack around my block this morning and realizing this was an integral and little known part of Baltimore culture.

Here are some more links...
A local public radio piece [Midday with Dan Rodricks] on Supermarket hacks.

An article on documentarian Bernard Threatt's, Hackumentary
posted by cloeburner at 11:25 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


This exact same thing happens in Russia, particularly in Saint Petersburg.

It's called "chastnik" there.

The very Russian thing, though, is that the chastniki were often safer than the licensed cabs.
posted by zizzle at 11:27 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Is there more to the "dangerous" part?

I suppose I was just voicing one opinion [the police department's] on hacking. I personally do not hack, but that's because I ride my bike everywhere. I cannot definitively say whether or not it is dangerous, but I do not fault anyone for participating in hack culture.
posted by cloeburner at 11:30 AM on November 9, 2009


You might get lucky and ride with the Wu.
posted by The Straightener at 11:31 AM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sidehacking is where the real action is.
posted by porn in the woods at 11:41 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


How come this is illegal? It doesn't sound any different from sharing lifts to work, or whatever.
posted by dng at 11:41 AM on November 9, 2009


Not to be confused with slugging.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:42 AM on November 9, 2009


This is obviously symptomatic of a woefully inadequate public-transit system and terrible urban planning that forces people to hire or use cars.

This.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:44 AM on November 9, 2009


Yep, this is the default mode of transport when you're a tourist in a city in Central Asia. Usually inexpensive (unless you get a jerk who tries to swindle you) and you can meet all kinds of interesting people if you speak a bit of Russian.
posted by xthlc at 11:46 AM on November 9, 2009


So Scott Templeton is pretending to be a woman now?
posted by ciderwoman at 11:48 AM on November 9, 2009


IT'S PROSTITUTION WITH THE SEX!!!!!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:50 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


oops. WITHOUT.

* hangs head in shame *
posted by blue_beetle at 11:51 AM on November 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Because the linked article for that only has a short paragraph, detailing two hacks that where killed and one that is currently charged for rape

I had the same question. I personally know several women who have been raped by licensed cab drivers, so is there really only a difference in perceived danger?
posted by muddgirl at 11:51 AM on November 9, 2009


AskMe: hacking or hooking?

How come this is illegal? It doesn't sound any different from sharing lifts to work, or whatever.

Playing devil's advocate here: there is a public interest in having a certain standard of safety in vehicles used in "common carriage," where the public pays strangers for transportation. That's why taxicabs are inspected and their drivers specially licensed. And pre-set rates and certified meters reduce the odds of passengers getting scammed.
posted by exogenous at 11:53 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


"How come this is illegal?"

I don't know about there, but around here, gypsy cabs are illegal because they compete at low price on the open market with the very profitable police-granted monopoly that actual city cabs have. Literally, the police regulate and grant valuable cab "medallion" licenses, create the artificial scarcity of cabs, and set the prices. The cynic in me says competing with City Hall is almost always going to wind up being illegal, but in truth it probably has more to do with controlling the prices and enforcing liability requirements.

"So, it's hichhiking, but they don't call it that for some reason?"

No, it's not hitchhiking in any way at all. Money changes hands, which makes it not hitchhiking by definition. It's gypsy cabbing, which is a small underground business.
posted by majick at 11:54 AM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you're just giving rides to friends for a couple bucks of gas, you probably won't be noticed. It's once you giving rides to strangers for a fare that you are in the realm of taxicabs, which are regulated. And being an unlicensed taxicab is illegal because taxis are regulated. Regulation provides more than control of fees: licensing and safety regulations can be upheld with regulation of taxis and drivers, providing some level of safety and standardization.

As for the danger, the first link provides this detail:
[Hacking] has a reputation as a dangerous practice, for both riders and drivers. Although Baltimore Police Department spokesman Officer Troy Harris says that police records "don't have a category for occupations of homicide victims," accounts published in The Sun indicate that over the past decade as many as 13 Baltimoreans have been killed while driving hacks. And since hacking itself is illegal, many lesser crimes that might occur in the process--carjackings, robberies, assaults--likely go unreported.
As for hacks making neighborhoods work where public transit and planning failed, there's something to that, but there's also the circular problem of public transit needing more money to make improvements, but no one rides it because it needs to be improved, so there are no increased fees or ridership to get more funding. Planning is tricky, because transit-oriented development (TOD) is a relatively recent design trend, following decades of planning which relied on people having their own cars. Shopping centers grew in scale according to the scale of housing tracts that would supply shoppers, and many developers focus on either residential or commercial design. Then there's the issue of who wants to live next to a supermarket, with its early morning deliveries and noisy trash trucks.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:56 AM on November 9, 2009


Does Baltimore unlicensed Jitneys too? They're the standard way to get around for people in Pittsburgh who live in neighborhoods that Yellow Cab refuses to service. They're technically illegal but they don't get harassed too much by the police since they fill a need that no one else will.
posted by octothorpe at 11:57 AM on November 9, 2009


I support the right of people to voluntarily interact with each other in whatever way they like. More power to them!
posted by punktorah at 11:59 AM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


I need a ride to Hampsterdam!
posted by HTuttle at 12:02 PM on November 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


This exact same thing happens in Russia, particularly in Saint Petersburg.

I think you can do this in all major Russian cities (in my experience, it is pretty common in Moscow and Voronezh). People would often prefer a chastnik to a taxi because they were cleaner and the driver (unlike a taxi driver) wasn't trying to screw you over.

Artemy Lebedev, the designer behind the Optimus keyboards, recently wrote about chastniki in his blog, where he noted that the mutual trust between the drivers and hitchers has been dropping over the past decade or so: "regretfully, the days when you could hitch a ride from an ambulance or an armored van are over."
posted by daniel_charms at 12:05 PM on November 9, 2009


I need a ride to Hampsterdam!

Actually I was just thinking of the scene in The Wire where Micheal takes his brother and friend out to an amusement park, negotiating the cost of the ride with some guy with a clunker. Not knowing anything about hacking I had assumed it was some sort of unlicensed mini-cab (like you get in old London town)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:09 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's a blog I can't find that was written by an anonymous Baltimore resident who was relocated to here for work (very, very reluctantly) and wrote about his hatred of the city. I can't say that I agree with him on most counts, but one blog was especially true about Baltimore's laughably bad metro system.

On the one hand cabs, busses, hacks, and available parking are plentiful in Baltimore, but on the other there's pollution, danger, and extra cost inherent in them. With the city seemingly perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy, and crumbling infrastructure posing a more pressing threat (for example, when that street down-town basically collapsed last year from a watermain break) it makes me wonder if B-more will ever get a good metro system.
posted by codacorolla at 12:11 PM on November 9, 2009


I need a ride to Hampsterdam!

I was waiting to see if someone posted a reference to The Wire here. Seriously, a Metafilter thread discussing Baltimore without referencing The Wire is like a YouTube comment thread with no typos. These things just don't happen.
posted by spoobnooble at 12:11 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


I did this in Moscow in 2002. I had to hold the door of the rather dodgy Trabant closed with my arm while we were on the move as it didn't close properly. The driver then took myself and my friend around in circles before we got him to stop and paid him a fraction of what we would have if he'd brought us to our intended destination.

Stupid in hindsight, but it was amusing when drunk at 3am.
posted by knapah at 12:12 PM on November 9, 2009


They're called Midnight Cabs around here... pretty much everyone in the poorer neighborhoods and projects who works nights, after the busses stop running use them. Not a Baltimore-only thing.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:19 PM on November 9, 2009


I've seen a similar system at work in the Ugandan town of Masaka, too. It's odd, because in most Ugandan towns you're either using the equivalent of the Kenyan matatu (minibus carrying 16 or so people on a set route, leaves when it's full), a normal taxi, or a motorbike-taxi. In Masaka, though, there are loads of cars trundling slowly along the streets on slightly flexible set routes, honking at any pedestrian who looks like they might possibly want a ride instead.

They're very cheap, and pretty safe (it's rare for them to have only one passenger), but the incessant honking when walking round the town is pretty strange. At first, I just thought all the drivers in the town were incredibly impatient.
posted by ZsigE at 12:31 PM on November 9, 2009


I did this in Moscow in 2002
They're called Midnight Cabs around here

How do you call them? In New York, Gypsie cabs are attracted in the same manner as cabs, it seems Baltimore I would need to point my finger to the ground, the article indicates some sort of signal indicating the direction I want to go. How is it done in Moscow, or 'here'?
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 12:44 PM on November 9, 2009


Does Baltimore unlicensed Jitneys too? They're the standard way to get around for people in Pittsburgh who live in neighborhoods that Yellow Cab refuses to service.
"Hack" is still used as a slang term for licensed cab drivers, but in Baltimore it has taken on the particular meaning of an unlicensed cab driver. In Philadelphia, another city with an evident unlicensed cab culture, they're known as jitneys; in New York, they're called gypsy cabs.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:45 PM on November 9, 2009


I have my own version of this that I call 'Ghost Hacking the Whip.'
Some of the drivers don't appreciate it though.
posted by Flashman at 1:00 PM on November 9, 2009


It's fascinating what ingenious processes people can devise when their livelihoods or survival are at stake.

I loved reading about the underground economy in the Chicago projects in Sudhir Venkatesh's "Gang Leader For a Day".
posted by reenum at 1:14 PM on November 9, 2009


Is there anywhere in the U.S. that running an ad hoc taxi service is legal? I know it gets into murky areas as far as insurance, but it's kind of insane that this stuff is regulated -- is this a holdover from taxi lobbies? I live in an exurb where I see my neighbors commuting every day, and carpools don't work because everything is so spread out. I'm no libertarian but I can't help thinking a truly free market would let people run responsive taxi services, giving mass transit to all of the ignored areas outside of the city at affordable prices. It's one of those situations where I wish the government and industry would stay the $*#@ out as from where I see it, those laws and regulations hurt more than help people.
posted by crapmatic at 1:28 PM on November 9, 2009


Is there anywhere in the U.S. that running an ad hoc taxi service is legal?

The idea of regulating taxis is that if you have a problem, you could easily report it. You have the cabbie's license number, you have a medallian number, whatever. As pointed out, there are also insurance and liability issues. With a regulated taxi system, each cab has appropriate insurance. Also, those guys typically have to pass a test so that they know where the heck everything is. You get no such guarantees with a hack.

I've had taxi drivers press their cards into my hand and have me call them when I'm ready to return (to the airport, to the hotel, etc.) So in a sense, they are drumming up a clientele.

What do you have with a hack? A guy who may or may not have a license, insurance or legally registered vehicle. Do I begrudge a neighborhood guy trying to make a few bucks? No, but someone should be aware of what the problems might be.

I've picked up slugs when I lived in the SF Bay area, so I'm no stranger to a gray market ride. I'd just think twice about hacking.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:37 PM on November 9, 2009


At Reed College, (some) people who lived off campus would hang around where trays were returned in the Commons and eat (some of) what was left on them. This was called "scrounging." Did this happen at other schools, and if so, what was it called?

One ethical standard to scrounging: never "table scrounge," or get somebody who was on board to get an actual prepared meal for you. That was seen as theft and beyond the pale.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:41 PM on November 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's a bit like in Romania too - hitchhiking, but a fee is given to the driver that's very cheap and calulated, informally, on the basis of one leu for "x" number of kilometers. I never got this calculation very right, as a lot of times they'd refuse money if you weren't Romanian but could speak some Romanian. (When I did pay, I probably overpaid, but it seemed very cheap still.) When you cross the border into Hungary, they're offended if you offer to pay, but the system there is different - it's harder to get rides and you don't see many hitchhikers. In Romania, one commonly sees dozens, lined up on the edge of towns.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:50 PM on November 9, 2009


This, combined with some kind of iPhone app that works like eBay's reputation system.
posted by yoHighness at 2:01 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I experienced this in London years ago; a bunch of us were staying with a friend, and when we were due to go into town he just flagged down random cars (nowhere near as subtle as just pointing at the floor) and asked if the driver could take a group of 3 of us anywhere near such-and-such a place.
Kind of weird experience for someone who's from the back of beyond...
posted by Chunder at 2:22 PM on November 9, 2009


This, combined with some kind of iPhone app that works like eBay's reputation system.

Oh yeah, all those people that can't afford regular cabs totally have iPhones.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


I can't remember the location, but there was a story on the radio a few years back about some informal ride share system, where people would congregate at certain locations, divers would pull over and take in one or two people and then be able to use the car pool lane, then drop them off at designated spots. They talked a bunch about etiquette, very little talking iirc. (San Fransisco?)
posted by edgeways at 2:41 PM on November 9, 2009


edgeways - you probably read about the unofficial HOV ride-shares in the DC area.
posted by muddgirl at 2:46 PM on November 9, 2009


" informal ride share system, where people would congregate at certain locations... (San Francisco?)"

Yes. It's called "casual carpool", and its primary benefit to the drivers is the ability to fill the car enough to use the diamond lane and get a toll-free passage across the bridge into the City. Casual carpooling is unrelated in most ways to gypsy cabs other than that a person on the street is getting a ride. It's more similar to hitchhiking.

(I've also seen people on MetaFilter call it "slugging," but the term is never actually used here in the Bay Area -- that might be someone else's regionalism.)
posted by majick at 2:48 PM on November 9, 2009


As for hacks making neighborhoods work where public transit and planning failed, there's something to that, but there's also the circular problem of public transit needing more money to make improvements, but no one rides it because it needs to be improved, so there are no increased fees or ridership to get more funding.

Mass transit doesn't work as a grassroots movement. It only works well as top-down infrastructure planning, and although public sentiment is important, politicians need to start selling this as not an option, but rather part of the infrastructure. If you're waiting to upgrade transit because there's not enough money coming from it, and more people have to ride it to get more money, that's not going to work. The city has to do it from its budget without worrying at first about self-funding (almost all public transit is funded through faires as well as taxes), and look at it the same way they do other transportation infrastructure, such as roads and airports, as a necessity to allow the city to operate more efficiently and for less money over time, not as a pay-for-play venture, which sounds nice but becomes an excuse to do nothing. We don't wait for enough tolls to go through to fix something like the Bay Bridge when I-beams start falling off.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:50 PM on November 9, 2009


They're called Black Cabs in Sweden. You don't know anything, so don't ask any questions. Just turn the music up, and keep your mouth shut.
posted by anthill at 2:51 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's rules to slugging.
posted by electroboy at 3:21 PM on November 9, 2009


Why do I foresee this as a future Law & Order episode?
posted by bwg at 3:25 PM on November 9, 2009


codacorolla are you referring to the blog, Baltiless? That blog was run by a friend of mine from college, she has since moved out of Baltimore.

In private, she admitted to me that she actually liked many aspects of Baltimore (in particular, the art and music scene and its general wackiness). But yes, Baltimore is horrible when it comes to public transportation.
posted by cloeburner at 3:35 PM on November 9, 2009


Getting a ride from a 104 year old is dangerous? I don't believe it.
posted by Mark Lee at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's fascinating what ingenious processes people can devise when their livelihoods or survival are at stake.

Yes, this is a classic black market. Some comparisons that spring right to mind are the drug market, the market in jeans in Soviet bloc countries before the Iron Curtain fell, the trade in cigarettes in prisons, and the food markets that sprang up in WWII wherever there was rationing. Lots of demand, limited supply, and an unsafe but vigorous market ensues.
posted by bearwife at 4:08 PM on November 9, 2009


Antidisestablishmentarianist Oh yeah, all those people that can't afford regular cabs totally have iPhones.

Cabs are actually really expensive. For the monthly fee associate with one of the cheaper iPhone plans, I could get a cab right from home to downtown and back, twice. But that would be it. And I only live about 6-8 miles from downtown, not way in the sticks or anything.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:30 PM on November 9, 2009


I wish we had this custom here in NY

We do here in Jamaica, Queens. Guys hang out at the Jamaica LIRR station offering "Taxi" service in their own cars (usually parked nearby).

Many will give you their cell phone numbers and tell you to call them if you ever need a ride.
posted by Jahaza at 4:42 PM on November 9, 2009


> Oh yeah, all those people that can't afford regular cabs totally have iPhones.

You don't live in Baltimore I take it. If you're not at the train station, Hopkins, or Downtown, good luck getting a licensed cab, whether you can afford it or not.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:47 PM on November 9, 2009


Yeah, one of the weird things about calling a cab in Baltimore is that Veolia bought up a bunch of the local companies, so if you call Yellow, Checker or Sun (and a few others), any one of those guys may show up, since they're all the same company.
posted by electroboy at 4:53 PM on November 9, 2009


Getting a ride from a 104 year old is dangerous? I don't believe it.

No, getting a ride from someone who's desperate for money to buy drugs, especially if you're young and female, is dangerous. From TFA:

As such, Shorty (not his real name) doesn't endorse a newer breed of hack who, like Doug, pick up people off the street, but who, unlike Doug, are drug addicts hacking for "shot money--[quick] money used to get high."

"Guys are snatching people up," Shorty says disapprovingly of the addict hacks who he says now haunt grocery store parking lots. Trusting customers accept rides with people they don't know instead of "riding with that familiar face," he says. "And their groceries are getting taken."

posted by armage at 5:06 PM on November 9, 2009


"How come this is illegal? It doesn't sound any different from sharing lifts to work, or whatever."
"I know it gets into murky areas as far as insurance, but it's kind of insane that this stuff is regulated -- is this a holdover from taxi lobbies?"

Regulation of taxi service is there to address a very real problem. Specifically a safety death spiral race to the bottom as competitors literally nickel and dime each other to death. The capital cost to start a taxi service is very low but also has several operating costs. Wages, insurance, fuel, and maintenance all have to be covered every day. Which do you suppose is the first to suffer when receipts don't cover costs? The first two are mandated by the government and hard to side step; besides wages are already crap which is why taxi driver is so often an immigrant job. The third can't be side stepped at all if you want your cab to roll. So safety suffers. Bald tires, wore out brakes, worn mechanical components. All stuff you really can't see at a glance. Most places require annual or semi annual safety inspections of taxis but you put a lot of miles on a car when you drive it 16-24 hours a day.

A great way to scare off business travellers and tourists is to have a few high profile taxi disasters because of deregulation.

Having said all that it would be good if a "hobbiest" licence could be developed. Something that would let you make a couple trips a day. Don't know how you'd regulate that. Maybe some sort of punch ticket system like draw hunts.
posted by Mitheral at 5:11 PM on November 9, 2009


I'd never thought of that, re: taxis, Mitheral. Makes good sense in that light, it does. Huh.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:19 PM on November 9, 2009


Forgetting the DANGER element, which is everywhere overstated all the time, and also dismissing the ILLEGAL angle, which I think is such a sad way to deal with real people- this is inspiring.

If the cops can turn a blind eye and customers are going with drivers they know, you've got a beautifully simple system.

Yep, I will be milking this hacking business for all the inspiration I can get, because you simply cannot beat the feeling of people doing what needs to be done.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 6:14 PM on November 9, 2009


I was in Florida yesterday - my taxi drivers were showing me blank reports - showing that they had driven no one in the entire day.

There seems to be a disconnect between the state of the economy that I can see, and the one that is reported in the newspapers.
posted by niccolo at 6:18 PM on November 9, 2009


"accounts published in The Sun indicate that over the past decade as many as 13 Baltimoreans have been killed while driving hacks."

I hate to say it, but as someone who used to live near Baltimore this isn't such a bad statistic. Anybody driving a car through certain neighborhoods of west Baltimore is asking for trouble. So yeah, more power to these people. Official cabs are a scam in general, and it's bullshit to think those "proper" cars get the servicing on the brakes and steering that they're supposed to. I'd just as soon take my chances with a gypsy hack. At least the money is going straight to the person who needs it, and not some leech at the top charging guys 1,000 bucks a day for the privilege of driving one of their shitty vehicles.

On top of that, these under-the-table drivers are providing a valuable service in neighborhoods where I'd have to guess many "real" cabs won't go. Back when I lived in DC in the 90's, I lived in what I considered to be a nice, middle class neighborhood. It was also predominantly black, and the mostly-Middle Eastern drivers refused to take me their after dark. So fuck 'em.

(Now the dude with a 70's Buick spewing smoke from an obvious oil leak outside the DC Greyhound Station who offered to drive me to New York for half the price of a bus ticket? Yeah, I didn't get in his car.)
posted by bardic at 8:12 PM on November 9, 2009


"Wages, insurance, fuel, and maintenance all have to be covered every day."

Granted it's a novel, but Dan Fante's Spitting Off Tall Buildings will put to rest any notion that NYC cabs (and by extension those in any big city) are well taken care of, or that the cab shop owners do even a small percentage of the safety and regulation that they're supposed to.
posted by bardic at 8:15 PM on November 9, 2009


Interestingly, there was an unregulated taxi industry of sorts where I grew up in rural Indiana. We had a lot of Amish people, and it was pretty common for old retired "English" guys (that's what the Amish call the non-Amish) to buy a van and start ferrying Amish around. (They're not allowed to own or drive cars, but they can ride in them.) I never really thought of it as being similar to the mini-cabs in London, but I guess it kind of is.
posted by web-goddess at 8:53 PM on November 9, 2009


I was in the Reed cafeteria the other day, ethnomethodologist , and as it was pointed out and described to me, there was a table where a person could choose to drop off their meal tray after they had enough to eat, and the folks around it would scrounge off that.

You don't have to put your tray there ( in case you were sick or something, I suppose) but I was pleased to see a lot of people around the scroungin' table, and a lot of trays getting dropped off there. I thought it was really neat.
posted by redsparkler at 11:12 PM on November 9, 2009


The factors that developed this situation are the real cause:

Public transportation is terrible
People can't afford cars, or gasoline
People are shopping at supermarkets miles away instead of simple corner stores
...
and then finally a solution comes up, filling the market need: gypsy cabs. And that's the problem?

Now I'm not saying that gyspy cabs are good, just that it's an obvious consequence of the situation. And the situation is, when you think about it, really absurd. In many cities most can manage grocery shopping without a car, by using a hand cart and shopping at a market within walking distance.

Why do people regularly need to take a taxi from the supermarket? (And why do people without cars decide to buy carloads of groceries at once?) To me that's plainly the real problem. Maybe it's a problem of urban planning, maybe it's behavioral, I don't know. But I do find it disingenious to then call out a novel, grassroots, albeit illegal solution to the problem.
posted by cotterpin at 12:42 AM on November 10, 2009


We have a legal-ish version of this in France (probably elsewhere in Europe too): Covoiturage (ride share). To be legal, drivers can't make a profit off the ride; the site says that "in theory, you should pay about 5 cents per kilometer". Ikea has even set up a its own ride share program, "gratuit" ("free") but in reality you share the costs, of course. I've honestly been considering the Ikea rideshare since I don't have a car and it's a pain to get to the nearest Ikea via public transportation (it's 150km/95 miles away).
posted by fraula at 2:32 AM on November 10, 2009


"And why do people without cars decide to buy carloads of groceries at once?"

I spent a decades without a car, because I lived in a city with fairly adequate public transportation (San Francisco) and had a limited income. However, even with adequate bus service I would buy a week's worth of groceries at a time. Why? Because if it took half an hour to get to the store -- a reasonable assumption with a decent bus service -- I wasn't going to do that every other day.

" a hand cart and shopping at a market within walking distance. "

The "market" within walking distance tends to cost about 200-300% more for the same items, and has a limited selection. Corner convenience stores aren't good places to buy groceries. You'll have a couple of different kinds of processed, sliced bread, a dairy case that consists of one brand of milk in very small sizes, and you're almost never going to find meat or fresh produce. The selection of snacks and beer will probably be acceptable, and you may have a non-trivial canned food and dry goods aisle. However corner stores are liquor stores, really, not food stores.

If I want a fresh sausage, a clove of garlic, a bundle of green onion, a potato, a little bit of non-Kraft cheese product, and maybe some spinach, I'm not going to get that at a corner store. I have to go to a grocery store, and chances are that's a nontrivial walk away. If I'm going to that much trouble to get my food after a long work day I'm coming back with enough that I don't have to go again tomorrow or the next day.
posted by majick at 7:00 AM on November 10, 2009


Why do people regularly need to take a taxi from the supermarket? (And why do people without cars decide to buy carloads of groceries at once?)

A monthly taxi might be less expensive than eight to twelve bus/train trips for "smaller" loads during the month, especially if it's two or more people shopping. Or maybe buying in bulk creates costs savings, and one can't exactly haul those Flintstones-sized grocery items in a messenger bag.

I can imagine many scenarios in which the taxi could be an easy money-saver rather than some kind of silly luxury. Then again, I do live in the taxi capital of the western world. I don't think I could survive without them.
posted by rokusan at 7:14 AM on November 10, 2009


Wake me up when they're whipping around in coco taxis.
posted by rokusan at 7:16 AM on November 10, 2009


I used to live in Boulder Creek, a village/crossroads up in the redwoods outside Santa Cruz, CA. I moved there for the express purpose of driving very fast on twisty roads (a popular pastime, judging from the number of Life Flights).

I spent many hundreds of hours driving around those mountain roads. One of the things I noticed, compared to other parts of the peninsula and south bay, was the number of hitchhikers. I picked up one or two a month. While small in absolute terms, this was much higher than anywhere else I've lived in the Bay Area.

Few were long distance travelers. Most people I picked up were local residents going into town or coming back home. Nearly all were men in their teens or twenties.

Since I was usually driving for the sake of driving, I was rarely in a hurry. So I would generally offer to take my passengers directly to their destination. On occasion, this took me as far as downtown San Jose. Everyone was very grateful for the ride, but I don't recall a single person ever offering me money at the end of the trip. However, about one in four offered me weed, which I found endlessly amusing.

Ok, I dunno where I'm going with this tale. Watch out for stoned gypsy cabs outside of Santa Cruz, I guess.
posted by ryanrs at 8:44 AM on November 10, 2009


Er, for many people, cars are the silly luxury, not taxis. You're dropping, oooh, more than $5K a year on owning a car. That's a lot of taxi rides.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:57 AM on November 10, 2009


In some places you'll be dropping $5k per year just on parking (probably not in Baltimore, though).
posted by ryanrs at 9:18 AM on November 10, 2009


$5k will actually buy you a house in Baltimore. You could tear it down and park there.
posted by electroboy at 9:50 AM on November 10, 2009


zizzle: "This exact same thing happens in Russia, particularly in Saint Petersburg.

It's called "chastnik" there.

The very Russian thing, though, is that the chastniki were often safer than the licensed cabs.
"

True : I knew it was very common in Russia. My wife has lived in Moscow for some time, and once an ambulance gave her a ride. I only requested a taxi once when I was in Moscow, and it didn't show up (on the day I had to catch my flight back to France).
posted by nicolin at 11:03 AM on November 10, 2009


This is a hasty comment before I leave work, but there was an economist who suggested that the fastest and cheapest route to alleviating poverty would be to just give cars to poor people. Cheaper than building transit to serve poor neighborhoods. This is obviously not environmentally-friendly and engenders other problems, but this particular danger (of hacking) would be obviated.
posted by desjardins at 6:02 PM on November 10, 2009


Those of you making The Wire jokes shouldn't be so glib. Rumor was that David Simon had a whole hacking storyline planned out for season 6.

[Lots of spoilers about season 6, which necessarily relies on developments in seasons 1-5 ahead]

One of Valchek's friends gets ripped off while hacking. He calls in a favor from Carcetti, who pressures Daniels into coming back to the force to lead a special undercover task force. At first, Daniels refuses, but then tragedy strikes. Michael has now taken to robbing hacks, since with Marlowe out of the game and Prop Joe gone, Slim Charles has taken over and locked down security. Avon Barksdale is running the West-side hacks, and he doesn't take kindly to Michael's interference. He plans a trap for Michael, but in the crossfire, Cedric's ex-wife Marla is killed by s stray bullet -- she happened to be in the area for an illicit rendezvous with her new lover, Judge Phelan. Daniels takes a leave of absence from his new job as a lawyer to temporarily head up the investigation. He wants McNulty back, but Rawls refuses. He does, however, agree to hire Lester Freamon as a civilian consultant. Lester wants to get Bubbles to do some snitchin, but Bubbles is trying to stay clean. He does, however, point Lester in the direction of the newest snitch/junkie in town: Dookie. Dookie does some snooping around, and discovers that the shooters who were trying to cap Michael had been hired from the Greek, through Avon's prison connection to the Russian "Boris." Daniels gets Sydnor to head up the wire-tap operation, but Rawls doesn't want to pony up the money. Daniels convinces Pearlman to fudge the warrants a bit and put pressure on the police to let Daniels run the investigation. Sydnor gets a few low level hack soldiers to flip, and he follows the chain up to Maurice Levy's office -- turns out Herc helped arrange the deal when Barksdale hired the gunmen from the Greek. Carver finds out and is furious. He confronts Herc, who unintentionally reveals that Marlowe has been, behind the scenes, taking a cut of all hacking money in Baltimore. Apparently, he's been using his laundered drug money to fund all anti-public transportation lobbies, and he's got a street crew that goes around slashing tires and putting potatoes in the tailpipes of all the cabs. Then -- and this is where it gets crazy -- Brother Mouzon returns. He found out that Omar had been killed, and out of a sense of respect, he's trying to find the killer. He hunts down Kenard, who has been hiding out with Donette, ex-girlfriend of D'Angelo & Stringer -- Kenard knows Donette's son from school. Brother Mouzon tries to kill Kenard, but is shot and killed by Donette. Donette is questioned by Bunk, who finds out that she had been sleeping with Stringer way back in season 2 while D'Angelo was still alive and in prison. He tells McNulty, who now has better proof that D'Angelo had been killed by Stringer. Even though he's not a copy anymore (he's been working as a bodyguard-for-hire for the honest hacks around town, who have been getting harassed by the Barksdale hack crew) he feels like he has to go to Brianna Barksdale and tell her about what he's found out about her son. She freaks, and reveals what she knows about Avon's operation. Daniels and his men take down the central HQ of the Barksdale hacking operation. In the raid, Randy Wagstaff is shot and critically wounded -- having got out of the group home, he had been living on the streets, making ends meet by doing some hack hustling. The Barksdale crew had tried to hire him as a soldier to protect their hacks from Michael, but was in the process of turning them down -- he wanted to go straight, and he couldn't hurt his old friend. While Randy is in the hospital, Roland "Prez" comes to visit him. Having failed to save Dookie, Prez feels like he needs to do something for Randy, and he decides to adopt him. He uses his connection with Daniels to get Pearlman to push the adoption through before Randy's death. At the end of the season, Valchek tries to get Daniels to take over the special unit again, but he refuses, instead deciding to stay with his new career as a lawyer. McNulty, dissatisfied with the life of the hack bodyguard, decides to become a private investigator and starts drinking again. Tony Gray finds out that Pearlman has been bending the rules for Cedric, and plans to blackmail her into helping him undermine Carcetti's run for governor. Valchek decides to run for mayor, and we find out that Maurice Levy is a closeted homosexual and has been having an affair with Rawls since the very beginning of the show.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:00 PM on November 10, 2009


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