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All's Fare In the Wild West of Taxicabs

Lack of regulation leads to a glut of cabs in Boise


The city of Boise currently has 184 licensed taxi vehicles, with the majority being one-car companies. The free market of taxi cabs has turned into an administrative nightmare for the city, and created an over-saturation that's ultimately hurting all cab drivers on the road.

"I only make appointments with my attorney and my cardiologist," said Scott McCurdy, part owner of Boise City Taxi. "But I have breakfast every morning at Addie's, so meet me there before six a.m."

McCurdy's Crown Vic--clean and still painted like a police cruiser--was the only car in Addie's parking lot on an early Thursday morning. He ordered a breakfast skillet with eggs (basted), American cheese and ham. A double stack of pancakes on the side. He poured a generous amount of syrup over the top and dove in.

"I repossessed my first taxi cab," he told Boise Weekly. "I had loaned my soon-to-be ex-brother-in-law some money and the only thing I could get from him was his old taxi cab. So I would fly in and work the oil rigs in the Canadian Arctic for two weeks, then come into town and hop in the car. ... Rather than spend my hard-earned money, I'd earn more money. I just progressed from there."

McCurdy went on to own a 450-car fleet in the '70s, called Alberta Co-op Taxi. In the early '90s, he helped start Boise City Taxi, which now has 32 cars and three wheelchair-accessible vans. He leases the cars to 95 drivers on 12-hour shifts. Each of his cabs racks up close to 200 miles a day.

Boise City Taxi's biggest competitor is ABC Taxi, but most of McCurdy's competition on the streets comes from one-car cab companies. In Boise, almost anyone with a car and a cellphone can become a cab driver. It's a simple as installing a light on the roof of the car and getting a license from the city.

McCurdy said that 22 single-car companies failed in the past year alone, while 27 new companies started up.

"It's a revolving cycle of failure," McCurdy continued. "You get people that don't know the industry, haven't done any market investigation, don't know about the oversupply and everyone who jumps in thinks that the airport and/or the downtown pubs will support them and they find out quickly that there's just too many cabs."

Many cities don't have this problem. Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake City have a cap on how many cab companies are allowed. Like a liquor license, someone has to get out before another can get in. In New York City, taxi companies compete for "medallions"--a little plate on the car that can be worth more than $500,000.

"The business has always been a dog fight," McCurdy said. He finished his breakfast and smoked a Marlboro before the sun even came up.

"Tell anyone with any smarts to stay the hell out of this business," he said. "There's easier ways to make money."