Friday, May 17, 2013

Site/app idea: Citizen Summons

I just almost got killed by taxicab. Again.

This is an exaggeration (I was able to brake in plenty of time after the cab cut in front of me, and then called me and the female coworker I was biking with faggots, because yeah that makes sense), but not much of one. I've found that taxicabs in Boston are frequently the ones hurling invective at cyclists, blocking bike lanes, dooring cyclists (oh, no, wait, the City found that), failing to yield to pedestrians, driving with their lights off at night, and generally driving in ways that endanger the public, and especially vulnerable road users.

And while every car has a license plate, cabs are particularly well-adorned with identifying markings: they have the medallion number on the front and rear, and frequently on top of the cab, and their license plate also frequently matches the medallion. In addition, taxicabs have (or at least should have) more scrutiny regarding their driving habits, as they are on the road constantly, and have more of an opportunity to be the cause of accidents (or conversely, by driving well, part of the solution). Driving a taxicab is certainly a difficult and low-paying job, but that is no reason that taxicab drivers should not be safe and courteous. With thousands of taxicabs hurtling around the area, there are certainly dozens of near-misses a day, where dangerous, reckless and even malicious behavior by a taxicab driver results in a situation where a vulnerable user is put at risk. Yet there seems to be no easy way to report these behaviors, and therefore there is little accountability.

In other words, there is certainly not an app for that.


So here's the idea: a website and app that would allow for the collection of data by bicyclists, pedestrians and other standers-by about the driving behavior of taxicabs. This would include a variety of features and the data could be used in several ways:

  • The data from this could be used to match poor behavior to certain cabs or operating companies, as well as to find particularly problematic locations. 
  • The program could easily send reports to the various taxi licensing agencies in local cities and towns, and to the appropriate police contacts. 
  • It would allow citizens—the ones who are almost bumped when cabs pull in to crosswalks at red lights, or the ones who see cabs lined up neatly in bike lanes awaiting fares or nearly mow down pedestrians because they can't be bothered to turn their lights on at night—to easily send a report to the right authorities. 
  • It would allow anyone interested to view reports and find dangerous areas or medallions with particularly abhorrent safety records. 
  • It could be scaled in to a full-scale reporting system based on license plates, and focused on dangerous urban driving habits. It's one thing to yell at the guy who honks at you and then cuts you off. It's another to publicly shame him.

Cabs in particular seem to operate with some amount of impunity from police enforcement, but that's no reason we shouldn't try to gather data and hold them accountable. Plus, such a site could also allow bicyclists, pedestrians and even cab passengers to laud good driving in cabs which were courteous to bicyclists and yielded right-of-way to pedestrians in crosswalks. If nothing else, we—people who walk and bike—account for much of their customer base. We should demand accountability.

If anyone is interested in helping set this up, let me know. I've created some simple user-generated content sites (this and this), but this might be a bit beyond my technical expertise.


  1. Give em a break..have you ever drove a cab? I have an its a miserabe slimey dirty business. Stresful as hell,dangerous..ahole ppl, shit $$$, but at same time, no excuse for behavior verbally or the wreckless driving

  2. No, I haven't driven a cab. But stress and poor pay is no excuse for flaunting traffic laws and shouting expletives at other road users. Perhaps the city should also look at taxicab compensation, but that is not my purview if I am lying bloodied on the pavement because a cab made an illegal U-turn, is it?

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