Milwaukee’s taxi-ing problem

Want to grab a cab in Milwaukee? Good luck with that. Want to grab a cab at Milwaukee’s under-construction airport at 2:00 AM? You silly dreamer, you.

That’s where I found myself early Tuesday morning. The ride I finally snagged was a chatty and pleasant cabbie from (a suburb) who had no problem filling me in on the heartache that is trying to make a living as a cab driver in Milwaukee.

I want more cabs. He wants to drive more. What stands in the way? It appears that answer is an archaic system of permit holding and one Republican legislator: Joe Sanfelippo.

Plenty has been written about Sanfelippo’s hold on the cabs in Milwaukee. (1, 2, and 3.) Also, a judge recently ruled that the system has to be expanded to give more opportunity to those who want to drive.

I’ve asked a couple of folks quite bluntly if there is mafia involvement. The only person who wouldn’t divert the conversation when asked that question was the cab driver. His answer was, “of course.” It is, for the most part, a cash business.

His story was interesting. He confirmed that daily rental prices were going up. He also said it made him angry every time he handed Joe Sanfileppo (yes, he said, “Joe” without my asking) $700 or so for the day and the man didn’t even bother to say thank you. Finally, the driver was really animated when describing the gas card he was forced to buy and how it took a chunk out of his driving day to only buy gasoline at the overpriced Sanfelippo station.

It is not an exaggeration to say the driver was ecstatic that change is in the works for Milwaukee. He is already signed up as a driver for Uber.

For me it was impossible not to see this taxi-ing problem as a symptom of bad governance. I’ve gone out of my way more than once to back Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on a number of issues, but dang. This time he’s embarrassed himself. There is no way this level of corruption should have been allowed. Furthermore, it has cost the city dearly.

There are more drunk drivers because too few cabs are available.

There are fewer conventions because transportation from and to the airport and within the city is so miserable.

There is more crime because too few cabs are available and those going from place to place without a car are forced to be out late on the street.

For all we hear about Tom Barrett wanting to throw money at cute little streetcars and super-subsidized fast trains, why did he ignore this taxi problem and continue the burden on Milwaukee residents and visitors?

By the way, I am quite aware that it’s not just Barrett’s fault. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele never did anything about it. Nor did former Milwaukee County Executive turned Governor Scott Walker.

It’s sad, really, that our politicians deny simple and elegant solutions. So much of Milwaukee’s transportation problem could be managed by ensuring safe and efficient bus transportation and reliable and plentiful cabs. No one needs to bury power lines or secure federal funding to accomplish either goal.

Beyond Milwaukee, or even Milwaukee County, this is a regional problem. We need to be connected in order to work together. From economic development to tourism, transportation is at the core of increasing value in our region.

Change can’t happen fast enough. Lets hope no one stands in the way of some upcoming improvements.

(I’ll probably put together a couple of posts later as I find out more.)


  1. ” There is no way this level of corruption should have been allowed.”

    Sounds like a law enforcement issue to me. Where’s the state’s top cop when you need him? Why are you letting J.B. Van Hollen off the hook?