Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Secret Shopper Reports Expose Austin’s Taxi Problems

Photo by I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Taxis that never arrive, cabbies who won’t take a credit card payment for short trips, rude drivers. Those are some of the experiences reported by secret shoppers in a new study on taxi service conducted for the City of Austin.

In one secret shopper report, the dispatcher told the passenger to call back if the cab didn’t arrive on time. This was on a Friday morning.

I called back at 22 minutes and was told the cab was 10 minutes away; the cab did not arrive. I called again at 12 minutes, was told the cab was still 10 minutes out. The cab did not arrive. I called again and was told “10 minutes.” By 11:00AM the cab had still not arrived. As it had been nearly an hour and 3 additional calls I could not wait longer.

In another report, a secret shopper said the cabbie made comments on a woman in the car next to him.

He said he wasn’t looking at her breasts, but that she was scantily clad, but he was just looking at the traffic and she thought he was looking at her. He then made a comment about how people don’t know how to dress these days. I was a bit offended at what he said initially, and thought his comments were unprofessional.

While Austin cabbies are more likely than those in similarly sized cities to accept credit card payments for amounts of less than $10, “Some simply lie, saying that the company computer is down or they do not have the equipment while others simply say, ‘No way for an amount that small!’ the report says.

To be fair, the study by St. Louis-based transportation consultant Ray Mundy notes that not all the reports were negative, and that it is difficult to generalize from that kind of feedback.

The single biggest problem reported in secret shopper reports, surveys and interviews was this: lack of taxi service on weekend evenings and during major events.

The cause? According to the survey it’s not a lack of taxis. It’s that most vehicles are owner-operated, and the drivers would rather work during the day when they don’t have to deal with drunk people.

The solution? Mundy writes that the city needs to provide an extra 100 taxi permits that can only be used in peak demand times: Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 7pm to 3am during the calendar school year and SXSW, ACL, Halloween, New Years Eve, UT Football home games and the upcoming F1 Race weeks.

Mundy’s report tackles a lot more than just cab service. He also examines pedicabs and those golf cart-style taxis (electric low-speed vehicles or ELSVs). Check out the 113-page study for yourself, and let us know of anything interesting you find by commenting below.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
Related Content