Fighting over a yellow cab is a long enshrined tradition on the streets of New York City.
But now a new service gives passengers in thousands of yellow taxis the option of making space in the back seat for a stranger, in return for discounted fares. The New York Times reports that shared rides are being offered through an unusual partnership between two competing ride-hailing apps: Via, which runs carpools in parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens; and Curb, an alternative to sticking out an arm to hail a cab.
The service is the latest effort to help the city’s troubled yellow taxi industry, which has steadily lost ground to the extraordinary growth of black cars dispatched by Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps. It is intended to give New Yorkers another option for getting around at a time when the subway system has been overwhelmed by crowds and delays, and to create a more efficient transportation network with fewer cars driving around empty or clogging streets.
In doing so, it will also redirect passengers who have defected to the ride-hailing apps for convenience and cost back to the yellow cabs they left behind. Yellow cabs made an average of 332,075 trips per day in March 2017, down from 393,886 the year before, according to the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates the industry.
“I think New Yorkers may be more willing to share than we give them credit for, especially if the price is right,” said Daniel Ramot, one of Via’s founders and its chief executive.
The shared taxis are currently operating in Manhattan. The service will eventually include green taxis, which operate in northern Manhattan and in the city’s four boroughs. Passengers can opt for a shared taxi through the existing Via or Curb app, and each party will pay 60 per cent of the metered fare for the shared portion of his or her ride. There will be a limit of two different parties - totalling three people - at a time in a yellow cab. The move to share cabs is not as new to New York as it might seem. There have been other initiatives, but they were limited and did not really catch on.
The new service involves 7,000 yellow cabs, or just over half of the city’s fleet.
“This is an area where we believe the private sector can excel in ways that have eluded our own best efforts, and we are pleased to see this new option available to the riding public,” said Meera Joshi, the commissioner of the taxi and limousine agency.
In recent years, ride-hailing apps have conditioned more people to the idea of sharing. Via, which started in 2013 with carpools on the Upper East Side, has grown to about 600,000 registered users in New York who pay a flat fee of as little as $5 to ride in a sport utility vehicle. Uber also has its own version of a carpool, called UberPool, while Lyft has Lyft Line.
Another app, Bandwagon, has been offering shared rides in yellow taxis since 2015 to travellers at the city’s airports, Pennsylvania Station, and the Port Authority. It has about 100,000 users and is working to expand its service.
The new service is voluntary for drivers, who do not pay anything extra to participate and stand to earn more from longer metered rides.
Samuel Pekoh, 62, of the Bronx, said he hoped it would “open the door for us to have more passengers.” He picks up about 25 people in a 12-hour shift, he said, down from 43 people just five years ago.