New York’s New Breed of Cabs

In the last few years, the city’s iconic yellow cabs have had to make way for a new breed of car service. Mobile ride hailing and ridesharing services like Uber, Gett, and Lyft, that allow users to hail a cab via smartphone, have faced fierce opposition from yellow cab drivers, advocates and labor groups, and have been criticized as irresponsible and dangerous. Unlike yellow cab drivers, the new breed of cabby doesn’t need a medallion, and uses her/his own car. Drivers are considered independent contractors in most cases, which has shielded the rideshare companies themselves from culpability for the actions of drivers, as well as freeing them from the responsibility of paying for health insurance and other worker benefits. Despite all of this, the popularity of ridesharing services has increased dramatically, and there is a generally high rate of customer satisfaction. Drivers also seem happy, by and large, for the flexibility and the opportunity to earn a living wage that these services provide.

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Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Perhaps the most well known of all of the mobile ride hail services, Uber, has grown dramatically from its small beginnings in San Francisco. Users can now “uber” in 58 countries and 300 cities around the world.

Uber was founded by Trevor Kalanick and Garrett Camp (co-founder of Stumbleupon) in 2009, and was the first company to successfully pioneer the mobile ride hail platform, opening the door for the glut of mobile car services that followed. Like many trailblazers, Uber has weathered more than its fair share of controversy on the road to respectability. Accusations of sabotage on the part of Uber employees in New York City have been leveled at the company by both Gett and Lyft, and many journalists were said to have deleted their Uber apps after it was revealed that Emil Michael, the senior vice-president of Uber had suggested conducting surveillance and running smear campaigns against uncharitable journalists. Some have also accused Uber of price-gouging, due to their use of “surge pricing”, in which fares are doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or more during peak times. The company claims this is a way to limit demand and maintain satisfactory service during peak times.

Despite these issues, most New York and New Jersey riders who stay away from Uber during periods when surge pricing is in effect have given the service and its drivers glowing reviews on Yelp, praising the clean cars, friendly and punctual drivers, and the ease of use of the app, compared to standing in traffic and hoping against hope that a yellow cab stops for you. All payments are handled through the app, and many riders note that they prefer using Uber to a yellow cab. Uber offers a tiered system of services, and whether your Uber ride will cost less than a yellow cab is largely a matter of distance and circumstance. Some researchers have suggested that at least for shorter trips and airport service, a yellow cab is still a bit less costly. If you’re ever in doubt, OpenStreetCab is a free app that will tell you instantly which option is the cheapest depending on the situation.

Since the dawn of Uber, a parade of car services have rolled into town, each one vying for the opportunity to drive us around in a city that’s terrible to drive in. While these services are similar to Uber in many ways, a couple of these services offer a ridesharing option or are exclusively rideshares (meaning you might have to share a ride with a stranger who’s going the same direction) and are typically lower-cost.

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A Lyft with recognizable pink mustache. Photo courtesy of CBS New York

Lyft
Founded in 2012, Lyft currently operates in nearly 200 cities in the U.S., and is one of Uber’s largest competitors in NYC. In many ways the services are virtually identical, but Lyft seems to have a commitment to safety that surpasses Uber’s. Lyft offers three tiers of service: a black car for up to four passengers (Lyft), a vehicle large enough for up to six passengers (Lyft Plus), or a ridesharing option (Lyft Line). The standard service carries a base fare of $2.50, and the minimum fare is $8.00. There is also a $10 fee to cancel a ride.

Pros:
The app is easy to use and all payments are handled securely online.
Once you have hailed a ride, you can watch your car make its way to you in real time via the app.
Users of Lyft report clean cars, and friendly drivers.

Cons:
Some users have reported wait times in excess of 10 minutes, depending on the time and location.
Like Uber, Lyft uses surge pricing during peak times.

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The Gett app. Photo courtesy of International Business Times

Gett
The multi-national ride hailing service Gett has been operating in New York City since 2013, but it wasn’t until they began offering a $10 maximum charge for rides south of 110th Street late last year, that they began to raise some eyebrows. Gett promises flat rates and no surge pricing ever (in defiance of Uber and Lyft’s claims that surge pricing is a necessary evil), a feat which they have accomplished by increasing their fleet of drivers in New York from 2,000 to over 4,000 to meet demand during peak hours. With that said, some users have reported longer wait times, and occasionally, no available cars at all.

Pros:
Gett offers affordable flat rates and no surge pricing.
Users of Gett report that the cars are clean, and the drivers are friendly and courteous.
There is a $10 maximum charge for rides south of 110th Street in Manhattan.

Cons:
Gett users have reported wait times in excess of ten minutes.
There aren’t always cars available.

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Image courtesy of Via

Via
Via is a relatively new rideshare service that is currently only available in New York and Chicago. Users can request a ride on their smartphone, and an algorithm matches them with a car nearby that may already be carrying a passenger that is going the same direction. Users can hail rides between the hours of 6:30am and 9pm for $5.00 plus tax; after 9pm, the fare increases to $7.95 plus tax. Via claims an average wait time of five minutes, and is a great option for anyone who doesn’t mind sharing a ride with a stranger and is interested in reducing their carbon footprint.

Pros:
Via’s ridesharing structure leaves a reduced carbon footprint and helps to reduce traffic.
The fares are extremely reasonable, and the fare structure is simple and uncomplicated.

Cons:
This doesn’t have to be a con, but you will probably have to share a ride with someone you’ve never met.
Via is not operational between midnight and 6:30am, and will only go as far north as 110th Street in Manhattan.

In the end, each one of these services may be more or less ideal, depending on the circumstances, and how much money you are willing to trade for comfort and convenience. Variety is the spice of life as they say, and while competition may be a bad thing for the yellow cabs, its definitely a good thing for consumers and the city economy.

Categories: Innovation, Travel

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