Spatial regulation of taxicab services: Measuring empty travel in New York City

David King, Juan Saldarriaga


Taxicabs are ubiquitous in cities throughout the world, and the industry is going through regulatory change with the growth of app-based services. In the United States, where taxicabs are typically regulated locally, licenses determine where taxis can pick up passengers. This means that for trips that end outside of licensed boundaries taxicabs are prohibited from picking up passengers and are forced to make “deadhead” return trips. This research estimates empty taxi travel associated with spatial restrictions on passenger trip origins in New York City. In 2012, New York introduced a special taxi category intended to improve taxi access in areas of the city considered underserved by taxicabs. The new green taxicabs, as they are called, can drop off passengers anywhere in the city but are restricted from picking up passengers in the central business districts and at any of the region’s airports. Using detailed trip data for each taxi ride, we estimate that up to 500,000 kilometers per week of deadhead travel are associated with restrictions on pick up locations, and more than 20 percent of all green taxicab trips end in an area where the driver is prohibited from picking up a new passenger.


taxicabs; regulation; deadhead trips; excess travel

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