Los Angeles Rethinks Taxis as Uber and Lyft Dominate the Streets

Pricing was not the only factor. In 10 percent of the taxi trips in Ms. Brown’s study, the driver traveled twice as many miles as necessary, adding $5 to the trip’s cost.

Interviewing the students afterward, Ms. Brown said: “They felt the unreliability of taxis did not end when they got in the car. They didn’t know how much the trip would be. There wasn’t always a recourse if they were unsatisfied with the driver. Uber and Lyft, they could complain and get their money back.”

It is these issues that Los Angeles is trying to address with its new taxi permit system.

Taxis have tried to innovate, Ms. Brown said. Many cab companies have developed their own apps, but they work only for that individual fleet, and that fleet might not operate in the area where a customer needs a ride. While at least one app developer has tried to bring all the cabs’ apps under the same tent so they can operate in a manner more like Uber or Lyft, that app does not work well, she said.

And that raises the question: If Uber and Lyft offer superior service at a better price, and if taxis’ attempts to emulate ride-hail technologies are not working, why not just let the taxi system fail?

“Taxis are this legacy service,” said Ms. Brown, now an assistant professor at the University of Oregon. “They’re a really important mode for so many travelers.”

Specifically, they are important for travelers who do not own a car, or who may not have the necessary smartphone or debit or credit card to use a ride-hail app.

Ms. Brown said taxis were used most often by the city’s lowest-income people, who pay with cash.

Taxis serve another purpose, according to Mr. Murray, of the city’s Transportation Department. As part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Transit Administration requires cities to provide complementary paratransit service to people with certain disabilities. The Los Angeles Transportation Department saves money by subcontracting 65 percent of those rides to its taxi companies, he said.