To Catch a Cab


Robert Lynch's efforts to get a cab of his own may finally mean relief for the millions of Boston visitors stranded in long lines at the airport and in front of hotels every year.

A 13-year veteran of the city's streets, Lynch decided a few years ago that he no longer wanted to drive other people's cars. (Translating those long lines into dollar signs and overhearing dispatchers turn down cab requests may have helped him reach that decision.)

He went to the Boston police to obtain an owner's medallion, but they refused to give him one. So he did some legal research to find out why. He learned that a 1934 state law placed a ceiling on the number of medallions in the city at 1,525.

Lynch appealed to the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU). The city supported him, citing discontent among hotel and restaurant owners and convention organizers, and asked that 300 new medallions be issued. (Between 1983 and 1988, the number of visitors to Boston increased 31 percent, and 7,000 new hotel rooms were added.) In addition, elderly persons—many of whom rely on taxis as their only source of transportation—complained that cabs were harder to get. And poor residents claimed cabs no longer came to their neighborhoods.

"Any direction you looked, you would see there was a strong demand for taxicabs," says Lynch. "When you looked out onto the street, you'd see people waiting in line."

The demand on cabs has more than doubled the market value of a medallion in the last 10 years. Lynch says he originally tried to purchase a medallion from a broker but was unable to meet the price, now $100,000 or more. Those prices have kept a lot of drivers like Lynch out of the market, which has increasingly come under the control of large fleet operators.

The taxi owners' associations vehemently opposed Lynch's—and the city's—attempt to increase the number of medallions. They claimed problems had been overstated and that limited accessibility of taxis was due to traffic congestion and a shortage of drivers.

Despite the opposition, the DPU in March ordered the immediate release of 300 new medallions and an additional 200 over the next two and a half years. Two cab organizations, the Boston Neighborhood Taxi Association and the City of Boston Cab Association, are appealing the decision to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The state attorney general, the city, and Lynch (who is represented by New England Legal Foundation) are all fighting the cab owners' appeal. Capt. Donald L. Devine, commander of Boston's hackney carriage unit, says there is little chance the courts will overturn the DPU decision. Good news for those of us planning to pay a visit to the city soon.