Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.
This little taxi ride is going to start where Mary Morgan’s milestone column last month left off – she drew a comparison between news media choices and transportation choices.
This column also will deliver readers to a destination that asks them to consider applying for a mayoral appointment to Ann Arbor’s taxicab board.
If you’d like to take a shortcut, then go ahead and download the application form for the city’s boards and commissions, and return it to the mayor’s office. The address is printed right on the form.
But the longer route will include some discussion about who’s paying the fare for this media cab we call The Ann Arbor Chronicle.
Last Friday evening, Mary Morgan and I ordered an actual cab to cover the 3/4 mile from our Old West Side neighborhood to the near edge of downtown Ann Arbor. Who on earth orders a cab to cover that short a distance? A journalist who needs a piece of art for a column involving taxis, that’s who. The trip required a detour from the planned route. That’s because Washington Street between Ashley and Main was closed for the FoolMoon festival – which we were headed downtown to see.
The taxicab driver circled around to have another go at it from Huron Street. And he told us he’d knock a quarter mile off the final distance on the meter. He could exercise that discretion, because taxicab drivers function essentially as independent contractors, who lease the vehicles from the taxicab company each night.
There’s a limit to a cabbie’s discretion. I’m guessing he wouldn’t earn a livelihood if he decided just to let passengers ride for free, for as long as they liked, and expect that they might later send him an equitable fare. Yet if operating The Chronicle were like driving a cab, that’s what the voluntary subscriptions part of our business model would look like.
The Chronicle Cab
So The Chronicle’s business model is different from that of a taxicab. But when Mary Morgan drew an analogy in last month’s column between media choices and transportation choices, I asked myself: If The Chronicle were a transportation option, which form of transportation would it be – pedestrian, scooter, bicycle, car, bus, train, dirigible or something else?
And I concluded that reading The Chronicle is in many ways similar to taking a ride in a cab.
Cab drivers are stereotypically a talkative bunch. And I think that The Chronicle’s reports of public meetings that routinely exceed 10,000 words qualify us as a “talkative” publication. On a personal level, let’s just say I generally achieve some fairly robust words-per-mile statistics. Plenty of people can vouch for that – for example, anyone who has been trapped in a conversation with me, and has simply walked away to get me to stop talking.
For those who’ve never met me, I’ll offer this vignette by way of illustration. A few weeks ago, I bumped into the city’s transportation manager, Eli Cooper, on the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue, between Huron and Washington, across the street from the offices of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Early in that conversation, Amber Miller, who’s a planning specialist with the DDA, walked past. It was around lunch time, so I imagine she was headed to lunch. Later in the conversation, she walked past us in the opposite direction. Cooper had stood his ground for a whole lunch period!
It’s worth noting that Amber exchanged pleasantries with us, but she had the sense not to stop and chat. She’s been there before. And she learns fast.
I think all those words The Chronicle uses to describe what goes on in our community are also probably a little bit like getting into a cab with a driver who wants to show a tourist the scenic route – the path through every back lane and alleyway of the city. It’s a path that does not use the major thoroughfares that would get you to a destination fastest. You know, the larger avenues, with names like Story-Telling Street, Conflict Crescent, Bombast Boulevard, and Rile’em-Up Road.
Unlike the stereotypical cabbie, who might be using the scenic route to add miles to the meter to boost the fare, we’re not adding those words to increase revenues. The scenic route doesn’t cost extra for a passenger in The Chronicle cab. To those Chronicle riders who send in a regular voluntary fare, thank you.
Close readers of The Chronicle will have noticed that Stephen Kunselman announced at two recent city council meetings (Dec. 19, 2011 and March 5, 2012) that the city’s taxicab board has some vacancies. Kunselman is the city council representative to that body, which consists of seven members total, two of whom are non-voting ex officio members.
Before pitching readers the idea of at least considering an application for an appointment to the taxicab board, here’s a question: How would anybody know about vacancies on city boards and commissions if they weren’t announced at city council meetings and reported by The Chronicle? During public commentary at the council’s Dec. 19 meeting, resident Michael Benson pointed out that the city’s online Legistar system did not at that time accurately reflect the full range of vacancies on city boards and commissions.
But since then, the Legistar system has been updated. It’s currently possible to generate online a list of all boards and commissions with vacancies. [The vacancy indicated on the AATA board is not accurate, but I believe the others to be true indications of vacancies.]
Back to the taxicab board. With two vacancies on a board of five voting members, the board needs perfect attendance to achieve a quorum. Recently the board needed to hold a special meeting – at a different time from the usual 8:30 a.m. on the last Thursday of the month – just to make sure it could achieve a quorum.
I’m not suggesting that a Chronicle reader apply for a mayoral appointment to the taxicab board just to fill the seats, or out of a sense of civic duty. There’s a place on the application labeled “Reasons for Seeking Appointment (Areas of Interest, Goals, etc.)” So you should have something sensible to write in that space.
Maybe you’re interested in mobility issues, and you see the availability of taxicabs that are safe, efficient and well-regulated as an important piece of a transportation system for the city. Maybe you have legal expertise and are attracted to participation in the hearing and grievance procedure for revocation of licenses. For any applicant, it’s probably worth reading through the taxicab ordinance. That’s the piece of legislation the board is responsible for administering. [.pdf of taxicab ordinance]
Taxicab board membership is not compensated. So what reward do you get for your three-year term of service? I think you might get some potential social capital out of the deal – you’ll expand your network and at least increase the number of “weak ties” you have in the community. With the other citizen members of the board, you never know who you’ll get, but right now they include a former candidate for city council (Tim Hull) and an attorney (Tom Oldakowski).
Also baked into the taxicab board membership are a city councilmember (currently Stephen Kunselman), and two ex officio non-voting positions – the city’s chief financial officer (currently Tom Crawford) and a representative from the police department (currently William Clock).
In the end, someone will need to step forward to serve on the taxicab board to pay the “civic fare” for the rest of the community. That someone could be you. Or maybe you know someone who might be interested. Thanks in advance for helping fill those slots.
And to the folks who help pay The Chronicle’s fare for the rest of the community, thanks for your support too. We’d love to have more of you on board with that in the future.
About the writer: Dave Askins is editor and co-founder of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. The Chronicle could not survive to count each milestone without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local government and civic affairs. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!