End the Dulles Taxi Monopoly!

Greater Greater Washington says it’s time to dismantle the taxi monopoly at Washington-Dulles airport. The monopoly means taxis travel one-way to the airport and can’t pickup passengers on the return. Likewise, the Washington Flyer monopoly carries very few people back to the airport after dropping off arriving passengers. As a result, there are probably 2000 extra cab trips a day, wasting about $20,000 each day in gas.

My concerns aren’t environmental, my experiences with Washington Flyer have been bad — insufficient cabs at peak hours, and drivers with whom I’ve felt unsafe.

It really shouldn’t be illegal for other cabs to pick up passengers like they do at almost every other airport in the country (and even elseewhere in DC).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Similar situation at Newark, where monopolies are held in Terminal A by the City of Elizabeth and Terminals B and C by the City of Newark. They are required to return to New Jersey empty, and NYC yellow cabs are only allowed to drop off, not pick up, passengers. Very inefficient!

  2. Detroit Metro is the same: only Metro Airport Taxi and Checker Sedan can hail unsolicited fares at the airport. All others must be preapproved (you must have the name and flight number of the passenger you’re picking up, and it’s confirmed), with a *$10 charge* to pick up at the airport. It’s the most incredible of scams.

  3. One can pre-book a taxi for an IAD pickup if one wants. There is no rule against that.

    GGW’s actual complaint is that taxis licensed to DC or Maryland cannot pickup in Virginia. (IAD is entirely inside Virginia — and it is located 3 counties west of DC.) At present, none of the 50 US states permit an out-of-state taxi to perform a pickup. Those laws are not likely to change anytime soon.

  4. Sorry that entirely minimizes the complaint.

    Walk through the arrivals hall at IAD and you’ll hear announcements not to take any cab other than Washington Flyer, that it’s illegal and to report cab drivers offering you rides.

    And those are Virginia cabs.

    Oh, and they DO NOT make it easy to pick up even a pre-ordered Virginia cab. Besides, think for a moment how silly it is to privilege Virginia cabs over DC cabs? Which isn’t the issue in any case.

  5. IAD is my home airport.

    So I know a fair number of folks who regularly pre-book and use licensed VA taxis other than Washington Flyer. In many ways it is simpler to pick up a pre-ordered cab at IAD than to use the Washington Flyer — because pre-ordered taxis can use either the departure doorways or the arrival doorways, so one doesn’t have to go all the way down to the “ground transportation” doorways where Washington Flyer operates. One also doesn’t have to queue to obtain a taxi if one pre-books.

    I’d call that pretty easy to use — as do my friends who use those taxis at IAD very regularly.

    All 50 states prevent an out-of-state taxi from performing a pickup in their own state. So the practice is ubiquitous.

    Finally, DC taxis are notoriously bad/unsafe/dirty, even though they (finally — and only due to Congressional pressure) now have meters, so one doesn’t have to negotiate the fare with the driver any more. Nearly everyone would prefer any VA or MD taxi over a DC taxi any time of any day, on safety grounds alone.

    Cheers !

  6. @IAD Flyer — DC metered cabs are cheaper than VA metered cabs. And DC cabs unsafe? Have you ever TAKEN a Washington Flyer cab after a redeye? I stopped, used to scare the life out of me, truly.

  7. You’re comparing apples & oranges on the taxi fares. The DC meters only apply to trips solely within DC. DC taxi fares that cross jurisdictions are charged by the mile under DC law — rather than on the meter — and they are not cheaper than taking Washington Flyer (which is metered the whole way even across jurisdictions).

    I routinely take Washington Flyer cabs at all times of day and night. After all, it is my home airport. They are consistently safe, clean, and reliable, VERY unlike any DC cab I’ve been in (and again, I’m local to metro DC, so I have lots of first-hand experience in this area).

    GGW’s perspectives are pretty clear. GGW is consistently a DC fan and DC advocate, and that’s probably good since DC has so very few fans and so many decades of local mismanagement.

    What’s your angle ? The “consumerist” view just doesn’t make sense given the facts on the ground with taxi services at IAD.

    Cheers !

  8. Why in the world would you defend the Washington Flyer monopoly? How in the world is it better? Why not allow Virginia-based cabs (leave aside any cabs, though you’ve yet to articulate a benefit to preventing Maryland cabs from picking up after they drop off) pick up at the airport like any other cab, at most airports in the country?

    What’s your angle here?

  9. My experience (and I have LOTS of experience) is that at IAD there are always clean cabs waiting for me. The drivers know how to get to my destination. Reliable transportation is always provided.

    I know some people who regularly book a non-WashingtonFlyer taxi to pick them up at IAD. That works well too, for folks with some other preference. One person I know who does this has a disability — so prefers to use the same driver on every taxi trip.

    Taxi rates are the same for all taxi firms in a given Virginia jurisdiction, so using one firm versus another does not save any money.

    Note that WAS is my home airport, and I travel at all times of the day and night. I have MM status on several airlines, so I travel a huge amount of the time. DCA provides a great comparison, as Washington Flyer does not operate there. Both DCA and IAD are run by MWAA.

    By comparison with IAD, taxi shortages at DCA are not uncommon, taxis interiors are unpredictable (range from completely dirty to good), and taxi drivers often don’t know how to reach my destinations. There is no cost savings since taxi fares are regulated.

    I’m just being practical. The system at IAD is not broken, so there is no need to fix it.

    By comparison, GGW’s original comments were advocacy for the DC government and for DC generally — which is probably good, as someone needs to be a DC advocate (given the mess that DC government and DC taxis have been over the past decades). GGW’s blog is consistently “DC advocacy”, not just on this topic. As I noted earlier, the long-term fix for his main concern (travel between DC and IAD) is the WMATA Silver Line, which is currently under construction. That will let folks in downtown DC take Metro all the way to IAD airport, just as they can do right now to DCA.

    Your claim that “most airports” permit out-of-jurisdiction taxis to pickup is grossly misleading. Most airports do NOT permit out-of-jurisdiction taxis to pick up. Instead, pickups are limited to taxis licensed by the local jurisdiction. Taxis not licensed to Minneapolis can’t pickup at the Minneapolis airport, for example. And they don’t let Wisconsin taxis pickup at MSP either.
    At SFO, an Oakland taxi or even a San Mateo taxi can’t pickup, only SF City taxis can pickup. At JFK/LGA, only NYC taxis can’t pickup, not taxis from Connecticut or New Jersey. There are hundreds of examples like this across the country.

    Cheers !

  10. Talk about a shill, your username gives you away.

    There are plenty of shortages at IAD.

    The IAD system IS broken when you force double the trips to move the same number of passengers.

    The only agument in favor of the monopoly is to benefit the monopolist.

    What in the world are you afraid of, permitting non-Washington Flyer cabs to pick up at IAD? The in or out of jurisdication argument is utterly beside the point. Even if there was somehow something meaningful about Virginia/DC/Maryland, what we’re talking about is allowing only one single entity to pick up queuing passengers at a major international airport. How silly! It perpetuates itself because of the concentrated benefit (to the monopolist) and dispersed cost (to the rest of us) — basic public choice.

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