New York Taxi Drivers Hated Uber. Now They’re Going to Help It

Uber has been especially squeezed in New York, because the city has since 2018 capped the number of ride-hail vehicles allowed to operate on its roads. As of January, there were just over 96,000 vehicle licenses granted in the city, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, though 30,000 of them weren’t used that month. This new partnership will allow Uber to give more rides without adding more cars to the road.

The move also has a convenient upside for the once-fractious company: It might endear Uber to the very regulators it used to clash with. From nearly the start, Uber dodged government taxi rules by insisting it was a tech platform, not a taxi company. Relations worsened in 2017, when The New York Times reported that the company had used special software to evade government oversight. But now, when it comes to partnerships between entrenched local taxicabs and ride-hail, regulators “want to make this ethos work,” says Daus, the former taxi commissioner. More partnerships between taxi companies and ride-hailers will be good for customers, he says, because it will give people access to more rides, more easily.

Uber has struck partnerships with taxi companies in other places in the world, such as Spain, Colombia, Germany, Austria, and Hong Kong, where it acquired a taxi-hailing app last year.

The deal will have to be approved by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. In a statement, acting commissioner Ryan Wanttaja said, “We are always interested in innovative tools that can expand economic opportunities for taxi drivers.”

Putting cabs on the Uber app could be good news for wheelchair users. There are under 4,000 wheelchair-accessible ride-hail vehicles on the city’s roads, and riders have complained they have to wait twice as long to catch a wheelchair-accessible ride than those who don’t need them. Though the city is behind on its court-mandated goal to make half of its yellow cabs wheelchair accessible, adding taxis to the Uber app could double the number of cars available with a few phone taps.

New York drivers, meanwhile, are still figuring out what the partnership will mean for them. The New York Taxi Worker Alliance, which represents 21,000 drivers in the city, says that taxi drivers will make an average 15 percent less per trip by picking up rides on the Uber app than they would with the traditional metered fare.

Uber says that when taxis first start to appear on its app this spring, drivers’ earnings will be based on the rules set out by the city, but it didn’t answer questions about what may happen in the future. “If Uber and Curb think they can slide in with a payment structure that’s broken for Uber drivers and piece it together on the backs of yellow cab drivers, they’re in for a sobering surprise,” the group’s executive director, Bhairavi Desai, said in a statement.

Taxi drivers who spoke to the Times last week said the new deal could help them pick up more trips. Accepting UberX rides could make taxi drivers’ journeys back to the city’s core more profitable, because the app’s users are more likely to request rides outside of dense Manhattan. But others were skeptical of Uber because of the role the company played in upending the industry in the last decade. Unlike other Uber drivers in the city, taxi drivers will be able to see where and how much a trip is worth before accepting the ride, and won’t face penalties for rejecting them before a trip has started. Taxi drivers will also be able to opt out of Uber hails entirely, says Tamam, the Curb Mobility CEO.

An app-based workers’ group in the city had a slightly different message. “Whether we started driving for Uber five years ago or five minutes ago, what app drivers have in common is that we are underpaid and under-protected by app companies in their relentless pursuit of profits,” said Emma Woods, a spokesperson for Justice for App Workers, which represents 100,000 ride-hail drivers and delivery workers around the city. “We are fighting for all app workers, and we welcome the yellow cab drivers to join our movement.”

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