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Taxi app test-drive: Uber, Lyft, Gett, Arro vs. hailing a yellow cab by hand

The days when the most popular way to hail a cab may be fading from the streets, with a rush of smartphone apps allowing commuters to call a ride with a few swipes.

But one thing hasn’t changed: Midtown Manhattan traffic.

A test-drive of some of the most popular apps, between Herald Square and the Port Authority, compared to the traditional method of hailing taxis, demonstrated that even newfangled technology may be no match for the crush of vehicles that clog some of the island’s busiest streets.

However, some factors increased the chances that a commuter could hail a ride quickly and efficiently — especially whether a particular service had enough cars available on the road to meet demand and whether they had a robust navigation system. Those two factors could mean the difference between time spent waiting for a cab and the cab actually picking you up at the right spot.

For the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, having more options is good for commuters.

"It's TLC’s priority to ensure that passengers can choose from a variety of options ranging from high tech to hand hail, and that they get the benefit of all of our consumer protections no matter which method they choose," said TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi.

Here’s what we learned from our quick commuter test drive -- a by no means scientific study, but a taste of the new world of taxi riding.

Yellow cab: Hailing from the street

Even on a recent rainy day at 9

Even on a recent rainy day at 9 a.m., when yellow cabs are typically in short supply, one appeared within seconds of beginning the test-drive at West 35th Street near Eighth Avenue.

M.D. Mian, the driver, said he had been driving yellow cabs for 26 years. But in recent months he's also been using two apps to pick up passengers. He said he often gets a hail on an app, arrives at the location and the person is gone, probably because they've caught another cab. "I think this is good for the passenger, and not too bad for the driver," he said.

Time and cost: The ride lasted five minutes and cost $6.96. An estimated fare for travel between Herald Square and Port Authority is $7.88, according to YellowCabNYC.com, which is not affiliated with the city.

UberX: Biggest and busiest

On the same rainy day, this time from
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

On the same rainy day, this time from the Port Authority to Herald Square, a call for Uber's UberX taxi service proved frustrating. The first driver that accepted the ride bailed after a few minutes. Several Uber cars passed by with passengers, as well as yellow taxis that lined up at the Port Authority ready for pickups. By this time, the second car had canceled. Finally, a third car accepted the trip. He called a few minutes later to say he was waiting on 40th Street between Eighth and Seventh avenues a half-block away from where this reporter was standing.

Driver Raul Roman, who has been working for Uber for nine months, tried to explain why he didn't arrive at the exact pickup location. "I didn't want to go around," he said. The Port Authority is on Eighth Avenue, which runs one-way north. "There's so much traffic right now."

He said he wasn't surprised that it took three different tries to get an Uber car. "Probably because it's a lot of traffic," he said. "Some people they just cancel. Like I did to you I just called."

Uber didn't respond to a request for comment.

Time and cost: It took nearly 19 minutes to get a ride. The total cost was $8 for a 4-minute trip. Uber estimates that a typical ride between the Port Authority and Herald Square should cost between $10 and $14.

Arro: The yellow cab hailing app

Arro, designed to work with the city's yellow
Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

Arro, designed to work with the city's yellow cabs, promised a speedy pickup with no surge pricing. The first attempt failed; the app cancelled the trip without a message. Perhaps the cabbie found a more lucrative pickup. The second attempt was successful.

Driver M.D. Islam said he started using the Arro app two to three months ago. "It's good but sometimes I accept but a few seconds [later] they decline the service. They can't wait. They take a different cab," he said. His opinion was that people wouldn't wait more than five or seven minutes before picking up another cab.

Arro spokesman Michael Woloz said e-hails were proving "very convenient."

"In Arro, you get the convenience of an e-hail and the affordability and certainty of a taxi meter that never surge prices," he added.

Time and cost: It took approximately 15 minutes to get a car using Arro. Woloz said the average wait time for Arro is around three minutes. It cost $11.15 including $1.85 tip. Arro provides no fare calculator but bases its fees on TLC regulations. Strangely, payment had to be made through the in-car credit card system instead of the app. Woloz said it was unusual that payment had to be made through the cab's fare system, instead of via the app.

Lyft: The Uber challenger

Lyft is probably Uber's biggest challenger in the
Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

Lyft is probably Uber's biggest challenger in the app-driven taxi market. On a reasonably clear morning recently, Lyft's app showed a number of cars available for pickups near Herald Square.

Driver Pasang Lama said he'd been working for Lyft since the start of 2015. "It's okay," he said. "It's not that busy." In comparison to yellow cabs, which he drove in the past, working with Lyft was more convenient and he made more money. But like a lot of drivers who use apps, he also works for Uber. "They are both the same," he said. But Uber was "busier."

Lyft didn't respond to a request for comment.

Time and cost: It took approximately three minutes to get a car. It cost $8, though it was discounted by $6 under a promotion. Lyft estimates the cost at $8 between Herald Square and the Port Authority.

Gett: The black car hailing app

Gett has positioned itself as the black car
Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

Gett has positioned itself as the black car industry's answer to Uber, but there are still hiccups with its service.

Unlike the other apps, the map for Gett showed only one car in the vicinity of the pickup spot at the Port Authority on Eighth Avenue. The driver's name and the type of car, a Toyota Camry, showed up on the app but not an actual picture of the vehicle (which differed from Uber and Lyft). At one point, the car was shown on the map two minutes away from the pickup, but then it appeared blocks away and unlikely to arrive in midtown traffic within that time. The time on the map then dropped to one minute, then climbed back up to two minutes. The car was still located 4 miles from the pickup location, the map said.

By the time driver Oumar Seck called to say he'd arrived at the spot, the car was nowhere to be seen. He said he was parked around the block on 40th Street. A short walk up the block and the car was seen parked off to the side, its hazards blinking.

"We have problems sometimes with Gett navigation," he admitted. "It tells you a different location. That's why they say when you're coming to call your pickup."

Seck, who has been driving for the service for about a year, said he was happy with it. "It's good. Pretty good." But he said there are not enough drivers on Gett to meet the demand. Still, he is convinced that by the end of the year that will be resolved since the company has been aggressively courting drivers.

"The only problem they have is the system, the navigation," he said. "Uber will always be here. But Gett will compete. They will be on their back."

Gett didn't respond to a request for comment.

Time and cost: It took approximately 19 minutes to get a car. The ride cost $11.85 with $2 tip. The app estimates that the base cost of a ride between the Port Authority and Herald Square should be $8.98.

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