Time to Ground the Washington Flyer

Travelers to and from Dulles airport probably wonder why there is a monopoly taxi service, the Washington Flyer, serving the airport. I am aware of only one other major US airport that has a monopoly taxi service. With rising concerns about climate change and the DC area's status as a non-attainment area for air pollution, the millions of empty miles taxis drive due to this anachronistic service need to be eliminated.

In 1962, when Dulles International Airport opened, it was located out in the middle of nowhere. There were legitimate concerns that passengers would not be sufficiently served by existing taxi services, so the airport created its own, which currently operates as the Washington Flyer Taxi (a monopoly service under contract to three different companies). Dulles is no longer in the middle of nowhere, and the original reason for the existence of the Washington Flyer no longer applies. Dulles is now surrounded by businesses and residential areas, and thousands of people arrive every day in taxis from all around the region—taxis which then leave the airport empty to return to Alexandria, DC, Montgomery County or wherever else they started from.

According to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Washington Flyer taxis provide 2,500 to 3,000 rides per day from the airport, but only provide 300 to 350 rides to the airport—that means more than 85% of return trips are made empty. It's probably a fair assumption that a similar number of people arrive at the airport by taxi as leave, so that means that more than 2,000 local cabs drop passengers at Dulles and then drive back empty. Let's do the numbers.

Assuming a 25-mile, 1-way trip on average, taxis to and from Dulles drive more than 100,000 miles per day empty. Per day! 38,000,000 miles per year. At 20 mpg and $2.25 per gallon, that's 2,000,000 wasted gallons of gasoline, costing taxi drivers more than $4 million per year for gas when no passenger is in their cab. Last summer, when gas prices were higher, drivers were paying more than $20,000 per day for gas to drive back empty to the airport or their home jurisdiction. Those wasted miles also contribute to our poor regional air quality and add 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide, the primary climate change pollutant, annually to our atmosphere.

The current situation benefits virtually no one, with the possible exception of the cab company owners, since monopolies are always a good deal for the businesses that have them. Eliminating the Washington Flyer taxi service will not change the fares paid by airport patrons: the same number of people will still be flying in and out of Dulles. Drivers, though, will save millions of dollars and thousands of hours of wasted time. It's likely this will reduce the need for as many drivers and taxis, but taxicab drivers as a whole will collect just as much in fares while saving millions of dollars on operating costs. Reducing this waste will also reduce the pressure to raise fares on customers while introducing competition may result in better service, too.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) does not need to be in the taxi business. At DCA they manage the dispatching of the taxis without providing service themselves, so they already know how to do it.

I don't suggest canceling the current contract, but MWAA should start planning now for the transition out of the taxi business at the end of this contract. Eliminating the Washington Flyer will improve service, reduce waste and significantly reduce unnecessary air pollution.

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