Are the days of hailing a cab in a large city like New York numbered? Not if the taxi industry has a say. Faced with the reality that Uber-type cars outnumber traditional yellow taxis today on New York City streets, the cab industry is fighting back with both information and attempts at more regulation.
Numbers released by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission on Friday show there are nearly 13,600 taxis on the city streets versus more than 14,000 so-called “For Hire Vehicles” or FHVs (these are largely Uber in NYC where Lyft just began operations last summer).
While it might seem that mobile apps that hail rides are eroding what is left of the taxi industry, the reality is more complex. The number of cars on the street overall for each type of ride does not reflect the real picture. Cabs rides reportedly number 440,000 a day in NYC. Uber’s ridership is, according to sources, less than 10 percent of that. This is largely because Uber and Lyft drivers use their own vehicles and drive for a limited period of time. Taxis, on the other hard, may be owned by a cab company and driven by more than one shift and on the streets all day long.
The taxi industry does not want to take any chances that the percentages will shift further. They are gearing up to propose a cap on FHVs. The proposed cap, currently being drafted, wants to halt the growth, until city officials can study the impact it’s having on traffic, parking and pollution.
A similar cap was placed on taxis in 1937. Because of the Great Depression, many unemployed people took to driving taxis to earn extra cash, which led to protests and taxi industry demands for increased regulation. It is no coincidence that the recent recession led many unemployed people to become Uber or Lyft drivers.
The cap on yellow cabs operating in NYC was put in place in 1937. Since then, in spite of increased population numbers, the city has only increased the number of yellow cabs by a little more than 2,000.
Besides the fear of competition, the other big issue is the ease of becoming an Uber or Lyft driver versus putting another taxi on the road. Drivers need to pass various background checks and have a vehicle that meets certain conditions (such as newness). They also must have a smart phone to connect to the Uber or Lyft app to accept and track rides.
Unlike taxi owners, VFH drivers are not required to purchase licenses to operate (known in NYC as medallions) from the city. Medallions reportedly cost $872,000 on average. Since taxi drivers generally do not own their vehicles, they do not own the medallion. They lease the cab and its medallion from the taxi’s owner per 12-hour shift.
Since its 2009 launch, Uber has introduced its service to more than 200 cities around the world. Lyft is newer and operates in less than 100. In all areas, they have fought the taxi industry. But the public, particularly younger people, like the on-demand services. While Uber cars may outnumber taxis now in NYC, however, the upstarts still have a ways to go and grow before making a serious dent in the taxi business – but they do have them worried.
By Dyanne Weiss