The yellow cab industry is under threat from Uber. An industry group wants to convince you that taxis are more “New York.” Will it work?
One evening before last weekend’s snowstorm, Donovan Simmons was out in the city with a group of friends who decided to try Uber for the first time. Simmons, 20, a Bronx native, says he and his friends asked the driver whether the first ride was free if it was under $15. The driver told them they’d been misinformed. It turned out that a cab was cheaper.
“We’ve always been using those yellow cabs,” says Simmons. Spenser Grabow, 19, from Manhattan, says that the “luxury” of Uber is nice, cabs are just “easier.”
Taxi supporters are banking on this sense of tradition
Real New Yorkers don’t read billboards
Since the middle of January, more than 600 taxi tops have been flying a pro-taxi flag in lieu of more typical advertisements: “Real New Yorkers Ride Yellow.”
The ads are part of a larger campaign paid for by the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade to win back the hearts and minds of the street-going public, to both ride and drive yellow.
Addressing the elusive real New Yorker is tricky business, from Sen. Ted Cruz’s pilloried “New York values” attack to sycophantic subway ads for businesses like Seamless (“Avoid Cooking Like You Avoid Times Square”), to the at least more creatively targeted Manhattan Mini Storage billboards (“We doubt NYC’s biggest problem is large sodas”).
The taxi lobby’s appeal to the real New Yorker might be its best hope now, after Mayor Bill de Blasio released his long-awaited study on e-hail services and traffic congestion.
The mayor spent the summer railing against the Uber invaders but, after backlash from the smartphone-wielding hordes, retreated behind the safety of the study, saying he wouldn’t cap the e-hail industry at the moment but would see what the study concluded. The 12-page report does not suggest drastic action such as that, so Uber appears to have won this round.
It could be that the real New Yorker will help the yellow cabs survive, though taxis might be window dressing more than daily necessity in a New Yorker’s life — the traffic study notes that in 2014, New York City was host to 235 million trips in for-hire cars (including cabs and e-hails), as opposed to more than 2.5 billion subway and bus rides. Real New Yorkers, clearly, swipe their MetroCards.
And while they might not feel particularly warmly to a company that believes its drivers are not employees, they have to hand it to convenience. And as for the cabs — what real New Yorker hasn’t struggled to turn off the damn taxi TV; failed to find a cab in the snow or rain; looked in vain for a car outside Manhattan or hip Brooklyn; swerved on a bicycle to avoid a crazy cabbie. Be careful what village spirit you invoke.
Real New Yorkers look for convenience
Yellow cabs are constantly “robbing you,” says Mark Warren, 54, recounting the meter games of the stereotypical hack — going to Lexington from Midtown, but first darting one block west. Warren, who lives in the Bronx, described a cabbie trying to pull that on him once. “Where do you think I’m from?” he asked.
“People like Uber now,” says Ashraful Alam, 39, noting that competition between the two services is better for New Yorkers. Uber’s “drivers, cars are good,” Alam, who is from Queens, says, adding that with Uber there’s no opportunity for the typical street hustle of the person who opens the cab door for the tourist, begs a tip.
New Yorkers will take “whatever’s convenient, no loyalty to yellow cabs,” says a Bronx native who gave his name only as Will.
He worked for five years as a yellow cab driver, he says, and wouldn’t recommend the job to anyone. He remembers constant hassling — from the police with tickets, the Taxi and Limousine Commission with licenses, owners with leases.
Comparatively, the customers were great. “They might be the best thing about the industry,” he says.
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