As soon as August 8th, The New York City council will vote on two proposals to set new restrictions on ride apps. These measures include a moratorium on further Taxi & Limousine Commission licenses to app drivers.
Medallion Financial reported that in the core of Manhattan alone, smartphone car services gained the exact amount of rides that yellow cabs lost: 8 Million.
This isn’t only a sign that yellow cabs’ disappearing customers have been swept up by ride apps; customers that would never even have used a yellow cab are opting into the new technology as well. I am one such customer.
For NYC transportation, I’ve been reliably stingy most of my life, opting to take a train and/or bus to get where I need to go. But on a few occasions recently, I folded and ordered a Lyft.
One such occasion was a midnight emergency which required me to go from Washington Heights to Jamaica to retrieve a family member. The subway would probably have taken me three hours for the following reasons: during late nights, trains run infrequently, so the wait time to get on one would be longer than usual; during late nights, the express trains run local, so the ride would have taken longer than usual; this late night was a weekend, when track work often results in a need to take extra shuttle busses and whichever trains are still in operation run super slow for the safety of the workers on the tracks. All this created a three-hour timeframe for getting to the house that my cousin was locked out of.
I checked Lyft. Lyft would take 35 minutes. Yes, the Lyft ride cost about $47, but time was the mitigating factor in this situation. And an increasing number of New Yorkers will be opting for Lyft/Uber rides as the trains, now officially in a state of emergency, get less and less dependable.
But couldn’t I have taken a yellow cab or boro cab (the uptown equivalent to yellow cabs)? Yes, I could have, if I wanted to wait indefinitely on that rainy night for one to actually pull over (a notoriously nuanced and crapshot skill) and not have a clue what my bill would be until I arrived at the destination. See, the TLC’s prices and availability are as frustrating as the MTA’s operation. According to TLC, this is how prospective passengers can estimate their fare:
The initial charge is $2.50.
Plus 50 cents per 1/5 mile or 50 cents per 60 seconds in slow traffic or when the vehicle is stopped.
In moving traffic on Manhattan streets, the meter should “click” approximately every four downtown blocks, or one block going cross-town (East-West).
There is a 50-cent MTA State Surcharge for all trips that end in New York City or Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange or Putnam Counties.
There is a 30-cent Improvement Surcharge.
There is a daily 50-cent surcharge from 8pm to 6am.
There is a $1 surcharge from 4pm to 8pm on weekdays, excluding holidays.
Passengers must pay all bridge and tunnel tolls.
In other words, assuming enough luck to even get a yellow cab, one can only vaguely estimate the final ride fare by completing a tedious math assignment involving: multiple umbrella, time-sensitive, and geographic surcharges; knowing which tolls will be encountered, which can be anywhere from $7-17; having to keep track of the fifty cent increased rate whenever the car is stopped; and worst of all, trying to predict what exactly the TLC defines as slow traffic, then trying to predict how much of the ride will be charged the extra per-minute slow traffic rate.
Other than – with luck – in the wee small hours of the night, there’s always slow traffic throughout the city. Every day a double-parked car, roadwork, or a wreck freezes the grid for dozens of surrounding blocks. Because of this, the “slow traffic” TLC rate can make for a relatively astronomical fare.
How are fares calculated in apps such as Lyft and Uber? The user sets the destination in the app, and the app displays what the fare will be, including tolls and regardless of the trip’s time-length. This incentivizes drivers to take the fastest route instead of the slowest one that the TLC rates encourage.
Yellow cab drivers are losing their life savings, and even committing suicide over devalued medallions. Medallions are resalable permits for yellow cabs to be hailed by passengers. They’ve simply become obsolete, connected to a maddening fare system and inconsistent availability.
If our government finds intervention necessary on the behalf of suffering yellow cab drivers, it should couple transition assistance and a one-time public bailout with the $100 million medallion bailout that Lyft offered.
NYC’s subway system has failed. Owning and traveling by a personal vehicle is actively discouraged by tolls, parking restrictions, and continually narrowed roads in favor of bike and bus lanes. Yellow cabs can be hard to get and somewhat expensive or very expensive. Yellow cab riders can’t even gauge the cost until their trips are finished and they’re obligated to pay.
This leaves us with hardly any decent options to get around while municipal and state administrations feud and fuddle indefinitely over the ailed subway. Voting in favor of the new proposals to impede Lyft and Uber expansion will severely choke the already limited mobility of eight million New Yorkers.
Sean Blair is an author for Ozy Media and winner of the 2014 Labor Arts Award.