An interesting editorial from Crain’s New York: “Taxis need more flexibility from the city to survive the advent of Uber.”
For decades the city’s taxi industry was in the driver’s seat.
Yellow cabs were the only way to get a quick and personal ride anywhere in the five boroughs. No other for-hire vehicle could legally make pickups that were not arranged in advance. In exchange for that monopolistic position, regulators imposed strict rules on the industry, from how the cars were outfitted to how long drivers could stay behind the wheel. For example, cabbies are not allowed to turn down passengers because of where they want to go in the city, and drivers must charge rates set by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Another standard is 12-hour shifts, which are not only grueling but also entail driving at times when customers are scarce. The mandate, which many cabbies circumvent, is to ensure that taxis are available any hour of the day, just like subways. Furthermore, hacks must pay upfront to lease cabs and then try to make that money back, rather than work on commission.
But in the past few years, Gett, Lyft, Uber, Via and others have broken the taxi monopoly, allowing New Yorkers to get cablike service with a few taps on a smartphone—and usually for less money. As customers flocked to taxis’ new rivals, so did drivers, not only to try to earn more, but also to have more control over their terms of employment. Suddenly cabs were sitting idle for lack of drivers.
Times have changed drastically in the industry. Regulation should change with them. The Taxi and Limousine Commission realizes this and has started to relax some of its rigid rules. Sept. 4 marks the formal launch of a pilot project that allows the industry to better compete for drivers. Participants can work on commission rather than pay upfront for a daylong lease. By not starting their day in debt, drivers will have more flexibility to work when they want to and for as long as they want to. In the pilot, New York City Taxi
Group drivers will use an app to locate and lease a taxi near them, saving them the trek to a far-flung garage. The change will likely lead to shorter shifts and more taxis on the road during rush hour than at other times, but that’s as it should be. There is no reason for lots of cabs to be cruising around, wasting gas and pounding asphalt in a lonely quest for customers. Taxis can be hailed by an app now too, in theory allowing them to provide sufficient service with fewer vehicles.