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Crunch Time

Fixing Manhattan’s rush-hour cab shortage.

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Every New Yorker knows the pain of trying to find a cab at four in the afternoon. The Taxi and Limousine Commission’s solution is two-pronged: Put 900 more cabs on the road in the next three years, and charge an extra $1 between 4 and 8 p.m. Will it work?

Ross Sandler, a professor at New York Law School and former Transportation commissioner, says the heart of rush hour won’t get any easier. “If it’s five o’clock on Park Avenue, you won’t notice much of a difference,” Sandler says. “But if it’s seven o’clock in the theater district, you will.”

Others are more skeptical. Bruce Schaller, a consultant to the taxi industry, says the “reservoir of unmet demand” at rush hour is too high for the changes to have any effect. Sam Schwartz, author of the Daily News’ traffic column, says the $1 surcharge isn’t enough to make cabbies brave gridlock. “We’ll just have 900 more cabs parked at Houston and Lafayette,” the most popular spot for a rush-hour break.

So what would fix the rush- hour cab shortage? Schaller thinks the answer is as simple as keeping cabs in Manhattan when shifts end at four, instead of permitting driver switches in the outer boroughs. For that to happen, “you’d need a location where the vehicle could be changed over.” Schwartz’s solution is more utopian. He thinks a more compact cab design would ease gridlock and therefore encourage more cabbies onto the streets. An egg-shaped, drastically shortened cab similar to Europe’s “Smart car,” says Schwartz, could handle most Manhattan trips, which usually involve only one or two passengers.


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