Alaska Cabbies Keep Their Cool

GEOGRAPHY

Geography is destiny for cab drivers in Bethel, Alaska, home to the most taxicabs per capita in the United States—66 cars serving a population of just over 6,000. (Anchorage Daily News)

Zoom into Bethel on our MapMaker Interactive.

Watch this terrific, five-minute slice of Alaskan life, and discuss the issues below.

Discussion Ideas

  • The small town of Bethel, Alaska, is home to the most taxis per capita in the United States. Bethel has about one cab for every 91 people. (Just to contrast, New York City averages about one cab for every 630 people.) Why do people in Bethel use taxis so often? Watch the video above and take a look at our MapMaker Interactive to get an idea.
    • Bethel is pretty isolated. As Naim Shabani, the man in the video, explains, “There are absolutely no roads in or out of Bethel.”
    • The population of Bethel is fairly small, and the weather (even in southern Alaska) can take its toll on cars and the limited number of services available in town. Shabani again explains: “There have been blizzards, and many extreme cases where nobody else has been driving . . . We’re always prepared with our own tow service, and our own auto shop.”
  • Bethel is a hub for a network of more than 50 far-flung villages. If there are no roads in or out of Bethel, how do visitors arrive and leave?
    • Air: Villagers use Bethel’s airport to access the hospital and other social services not available in their rural communities. Shabani says his company’s business is dominated by airport traffic, and most visitors only stay a day.
    • Sea: During summer and spring (when there’s no ice!) the Kuskokwin River is a popular means of transportation for both people and cargo.
  • What other modes of transportation could residents or visitors to Bethel use? Why aren’t these modes more popular?
    • Private transportation. Most Bethel residents probably have cars, and use them. However, as the video shows, Bethel roads can be icy and the taxi companies seem to be a reliable part of the community. Taxis may be a safe, reliable, and affordable alternative to driving in winter.
    • Public transportation. The region around Bethel could invest in public transportation, such as buses or trains. However, Bethel is a small town and such a financial investment in infrastructure may be out of proportion to the benefits it would bring the community.

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