Apps let New Yorkers share yellow cab

Two ride-sharing apps Via and Curb offer discounted fares and help ailing yellow taxi industry

The yellow cab industry has lost ground to Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps.
The yellow cab industry has lost ground to Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Fighting over a yellow cab is a long-enshrined tradition in New York City.

Who has not heard arguments erupt over who got there first or who needs the cab more? As words turn into shoving matches or even fistfights, the outcome is the same: The winner rides away in the back seat, leaving the loser at the kerb.

But instead of fighting, how about sharing?

Starting on Tuesday, a service gives passengers the option of making space in the back seat for a stranger in thousands of yellow taxis, in return for discounted fares.

The shared rides are being offered through a partnership between two ride-hailing apps: Via and Curb.

The service is the latest effort to help the yellow taxi industry which has lost ground to Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps.

Yellow cabs made an average of 332,075 trips a day in March, down from 393,886 the year before, according to the city's Taxi & 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 Mr Daniel Ramot, one of Via's founders and its chief executive.

Passengers can opt for a shared taxi through the Via or Curb app and each party will pay 60 per cent of the metered fare for the shared portion of their ride.

There will be a limit of two different parties - totalling three people - at a time in a yellow cab.

"It's not a bad idea," said Mr Raul Perez, 28, an engineer. "It's a way to meet people. You might even meet the love of your life in a taxi, you never know."

He recalled that he had shared a taxi with a tourist from Sweden six months ago. The latter talked so much about Sweden during the 20-minute ride that Mr Perez said he is now interested in visiting.

But store manager Samuel Cohn, 44, said he would never share a taxi. "There are a lot of crazy people out there and I don't know who they are," he said. "Never trust anyone."

Sharing cabs is not as far afield for New York as it might seem.

There have been other initiatives, but they were limited and did not catch on.

For instance, in 2010, the city designated stands for group rides in yellow taxis at La Guardia Airport and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and on the Upper East Side for those going to lower Manhattan.

In addition, a group ride service was started in parts of Brooklyn and Queens when bus services were reduced.

The new service involves 7,000 yellow cabs, or more than half 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 Mr Meera Joshi, 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 US$5 (S$7) 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.

Ms Hadas Fischer, 32, a graduate student who has taken UberPool, said while she would prefer riding by herself for privacy and comfort, she was willing to share a seat to save money.

"You are with strangers, but you don't have to interact with them - that's New York."

The new service is voluntary for drivers, who do not pay anything extra to participate and stand to earn more from longer metered rides.

Mr Samuel Pekoh, 62, hopes it would "open the door for us to have more passengers". He estimated that he picks up about 25 people in a 12-hour shift, down from 43 just five years ago.

He added that he has seen passengers willingly slide over for another.

But then there was that time when he pulled up beside a man and a woman in the Wall Street area. The man offered to share the taxi. She said no. He then got inside the taxi and left her behind.

"I was laughing behind the wheel and that's not the first time," Mr Pekoh said. "People are capable of sharing rides but, at the same time, you will have New Yorkers who will say no."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Apps let New Yorkers share yellow cab'. Print Edition | Subscribe