Need a Taxi at a Taxi Station? You Lose!

A taxi station is the worst place to be in Helsinki when you need a taxi (unless there’s one already there).

Last night I was playing a board game late at a friend’s place. I left at 01:30. It was too late to catch a normal bus and I would have had to wait an hour for a night bus. So I decided to take a taxi.

This wasn’t the first time I take a taxi home from that location. Previously, I have called the taxi dispatcher and given my friend’s address and it has worked fine. I have also walked to the nearby taxi station when there has been a taxi there.

Last night, there were no taxis at the station, so I called the dispatcher and gave my friend’s address. The dispatcher told me that it is the address of a taxi station and she can’t send a taxi there. I said something like: “Oh it’s the bad service again.” The taxi call center refusing to send a taxi to a taxi station was not news to me, but the taxi station sharing my friend’s address was news. She said that it’s not bad service but the drivers don’t like to be called to taxi stations. She said that if I gave the name of a nearby restaurant I could get a taxi there. But I wasn’t coming from restaurant. I was coming from residence. I started running to the next intersection to find out the name of the next street. On my way I said that this is impractical. She said “Isn’t it.” and hung up on me.

I should point out that I didn’t use any profanity and wasn’t drunk. I understand that the dispatcher doesn’t want to listen complaints nor keep the line open for more that a couple of seconds, but who do you complain to if not the customer interface? And it was their policy that caused the whole call take more that a few seconds. I was tired and rather annoyed for having to do the discovery of street names when she obviously was the one with a map.

Waiting at a taxi station for car to show up is a really bad deal. It works at the airport or at the central railway station. You don’t know if it is going to work at night in a non-central residential area. That’s the sort of place people take taxis to at that hour, but there’s no guarantee that the taxis come and check the station on their way back to the city center. On the other hand, if you had a reservation, there should be plenty of taxis wanting a customer going in the unlikely direction.

I actually sympathize with the taxi drivers who don’t want to take reservations for taxi stations. Of all places, the probability that the customer doesn’t show up is the highest on taxi stations, because another taxi can show up and the customer will be tempted to take it. The problem is very real.

But I think refusing business is the wrong solution. The right solution would be to get rid of the bad probabilities by getting rid of the taxi stations! What is taxi station anyway? It’s a pole with the phone and space for a couple of cars. The phone exists only for backwards compatibility with the habits of elderly people who learnt to call the taxi stations directly 30 years ago and haven’t updated their habits to centralized reservation systems that are aware of the locations of the cars and can transfer reservation data wirelessly. As for the waiting space, if a driver decides to stop the car while waiting for the computer to tell where the next customer is, outside the city center there’s plenty of space to stop a car ad hoc. If the places where the taxis waited were random, no spots with permanent bad probabilities would be created.

Until the system is fixed, if you need a taxi and you see an empty taxi station from where you are standing, you lose. No matter how absurd the situation feels, no matter how much you’d like to protest, no matter if it rains or is cold, no matter how much stuff you have to carry, no matter how tired you are, the best course of action you can take is to walk a few hundred meters in the direction you’d be going anyway, look up the address of the place you ended up at and send an SMS of that address to the fully automated system.