The Reign of the Yellow Cabs is Surely OVER...but What Will the Riding Public Do When Uber is the Only Game in town?

The reign of the yellow cab in NYC is surely over. While the yellow cab itself may be a symbol of the city itself, the actual number of yellow taxis on the road is dwindling. The yellow cab may be as synonymous with New York as pizza, Broadway and the Empire State Building, but for more and more people, it is no longer the ride of choice. The yellow cab was once the main alternative to subways and buses, hailed by rich and poor alike. Cabdrivers were a kind of ambassadors of the streets. But the Yellow cab owners did not see what havoc that was going to be caused a few years back by a new form of technology. Now, fleets of cars are summoned by an army of "ride-hailing apps" like Uber and Lyft.

The yellow cab numbers are comparatively bleak: today, there are 13,587 yellow cabs on New York City streets. The total number of black cars: 60,000, more than 46,000 of which are connected with Uber, though they may be hooked up to other car services as well. Back in the pre-Uber days (the good ole days) around 2010, yellow cabs made 463,701 daily trips and brought in $5.17 million in fares during the month of November alone. Six years later, the numbers have not just dropped, but yellow cabs are on a fast downward trajector.

Uber and Lyft have flooded neighborhoods where taxis once flourished. And they appeal to a new generation of tech-skilled riders who live on their phones, ordering everything from groceries to books and movies. Uber and Lyft  (the so called “Ride-hailing apps) have gained a huge market share in a short period of time. They have expanded the market tremendously, but have also stolen market share from taxicabs and all other for-hire vehicle services alike. Yes, I said stole because they entered the market and operated illegally for so long that by the time the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission got around to regulating them, it was too late to do anything. The means by which the public can obtain for-hire transportation has changed along with the expectations of the riding public. The new generation of tech-skilled riders want pretty much what everyone else wants, transportation on demand. 

Black cars have long served Wall Street banks and law firms, but they were not for casual or last-minute users because they had to be prearranged. Traditional livery services primarily provide transportation to those in the people who live in the outer boroughs of NYC. Both the liveries and the black cars have been hit hard  by the rise of Uber. Many of the long standing car services, like Carmel Car and Limousine Service, have been able to overcome the "Uber challenge" and adapt by having an app of its own that provides pre-arranged transportation and what also amounts to transportation on demand.  

While the yellow taxis have ben hit hard, the livery and the black car bases have been harmed as well and such harm to the car services has caused harm to the public in ways that most people are not aware. Since traditional livery services primarily provide transportation to those in the people who live in the outer boroughs of NYC, the rise of Uber has caused many drivers to deflect from the traditional car services in order to drive for Uber. This has caused those people who live in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx to have less means available for transportation. Unlike in Manhattan, not everyone who lives in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx (and Staten Island too) have quick access to the subway or other public transportation. These residents have always relied upon livery bases to provide reliable transportation. Contrary to popular opinion, Uber is not so readily available in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. So what are those residents supposed to do to get to work, to the doctor and to the food store. 

Fortunately, some car services, like Carmel, have been able to adapt to the changing needs of the public and continue to provide the arrangement of safe and reliable transportation for the riding public. But this is not true of all livery bases. Many have either died or are dying a slow death. They don't have the money or technology to compete with Uber. Just like the taxi's, some car services have been rendered irrelevant. 

While most people will take a hands off approach and say that if Uber is winning the transportation game by having a better product and service, then so be it. But the problem is that it is not that Uber's service is better than anyone else, but that Uber has gotten to where it is by competing on a unfair playing field. Uber has engaged in many underhanded tactics in order to lure drivers away from other car services and to get people to use their service rather than the service of the long standing car services. The Federal anti-trust laws were set in place in the late 1800's in order to prevent illegal monopolies and unfair competition. The problem is that the NYC government and the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission let Uber operate in an unregulated manner for so long, that it expanded in ways that those who are properly regulated, were not permitted to do so. This is tantamount to improper favoritism by a municipal entity. This is not competition on the merits, but an un level playing field that the City of New York was instrumental in causing.  

 In the old days, taxis were the only ones allowed to pick up people on the street. But now, with smartphone apps that can dispatch cars in minutes, there is little practical distinction between taxis and Uber. This is the whole point....while there is little practical difference between the means by which Uber and other for-hire vehicles operate, the New York State government, and particularly the governor, is trying to push legislation forward that will allow Uber to essentially operate throughout the state with very little if any regulations. It is important to keep in mind that compliance with regulations is a large cost of doing business for the for-hire transportation industry. If Uber does not have to be regulated or regulated in the same manner as other for-hire transportation providers, then the State Government is also seeking to become complicit in creating an unloved playing field between Uber and all other for-hire transportation providers. 

In the end, this un level playing field is going to be detrimental to the riding public. Most people do not see it just yet, but consider this: what will the riding public do when Uber is the only game in town? and what will the riding public do when Uber decides to no longer subsidize the cost of trips for the public. When Uber becomes a true monopoly and there is no other service available, do you think Uber will still charge competitive prices. Of course not. They will squeeze every last nickel from the riding public and there will be nothing anyone can do about it. Then the public will have no choice but to pay the high prices Uber will demand. This is true because the public has become so heavily reliant on obtaining transportation on demand that they will pay the high costs, but what about those who previously relied on the car services in the outer boroughs for transportation. Livery services that used to be the low cost means by which those in the outer boroughs relied upon, will not get transportation because the car services they used will be gone and this sector of the public will not be able to afford to use Uber. 

So service expands in Manhattan but severely contracts in the outer boroughs. Isn't this what happened with the yellow cabs? They became a government backed monopoly that provided service primarily only in Manhattan and had no incentive to innovate and provide better service. So what will Uber do when it is the only game in town. They will not only charge high prices for transportation, but will have less incentive to make their app more user friendly to the public....and once again the cycle continues.... with the public having little choice in service providers and being forced to pay high prices. The difference here is that the City and State Government have taken away the government backed monopoly of the yellow cabs and made Uber a defacto government backed monopoly.  

Lets face it, the yellow cab industry is in sharp decline and long standing car services being forced from the market because Uber pays politicians to write laws that are favorable to them....and the politicians are all too happy to take campaign contributions from Uber. That’s it. End of the game. Politicians who make the laws are favoring one company over another and are seeking to change the laws to allow Uber to operate essentially how Uber sees fit. The best thing that the riding public can do is to contact their local City Council member and the elected officials in the Assembly and Senate in order to express frustration and outrage over what the state is proposing. Write a letter to your elected official, make a call or do anything to bring awareness to the public of the ills that Uber is causing. 

Remember, it is you, the riding public, that elects the officials that are allowing Uber to wreak havoc on the for-hire transportation industry. You have the right to call them up and tell them your opinions. You have the right to vote for someone else who does not so obviously favor Uber. You can do many thing, but the option to do nothing is not a good option because doing nothing now will only cause problems later on. Remember the old can ignore your problems, but ignoring them will not cause your problems to go away. 

Take a look into the future and think for a moment what will happen when Uber is the only game in town. In the 1800's, Standard Oil was essentially the only game in town and look how they caused harm to the public. This is why the US Supreme Court ordered Standard Oil to be broken up into many smaller entities. Because consolidation of power in the hands of one is a danger to the public that is anathema in our democratic society.