Uber’s Latest Innovation, Apparently: Yellow Cabs

Uber’s Latest Innovation, Apparently: Yellow Cabs
Photo: Chris Hondros, Getty Images

Despite contributing to the overall gutting of New York’s traditional cab system, recent reports suggest Uber may be turning to yellow cabs for help.

That’s based on a September city lobbying disclosure spotted by the New York Post in which Uber executive Josh Gold reportedly lobbied New York’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) chief Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk over the possibility of dispatching the iconic NYC cabs. If the rumoured partnership comes to pass, Uber users could potentially see a yellow cab icon appear floating alongside Uber’s other assortment of ride offerings, like UberX, UberXL, and maybe soon, Uber Pool.

Over the years, the combined force of Uber and Lyft have gradually eaten away at TLC’s customers, with Uber eventually surpassing yellow cabs in terms of average daily ridership for the first time in 2017. Ride hailers actually used to be able to select yellow cabs from their apps, though that was subject to several lawsuits. The city’s yellow and green cabs launched their own surge-free ride-hailing app called Arro back in 2015.

Neither Uber nor New York’s TLC responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment on the potential deal, but in a statement to the Post, TLC said it “meets frequently with all its Licensees to discuss ideas, individually and including during our monthly Taxi Working Group convening.” Meanwhile, in another statement sent to the Post, New York Taxi Workers Alliance President Bhairavi Desai said she would remain open-minded to a potential Uber and yellow cab alliance.

The current nationwide labour shortage linked to the pandemic has had a profound impact on a ride-hailing industry built off the backs of overworked and underpaid workers. In January, the number of unique rideshare drivers was down 45% compared to pre-pandemic, August 2019 levels, according to research from firm Gordon Haskett viewed by the Wall Street Journal. Driver shortages eased a bit by this August but were still down 29% compared to two years ago.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi acknowledged the shortage earlier this year. “We have not seen driver supply keep up with the demand growth in the U.S.,” Khosrowshahi, said at the J.P. Morgan Technology, Media and Communications Conference in May.

In some cases, added safety concerns from the pandemic and even the slightest government assistance were enough to send already disenfranchised drivers away from the apps.

“I’ve been with them for five years and I’m not coming back,” a former D.C.-based Uber driver told Motherboard earlier this year. “All the drivers I know either stopped and don’t plan on coming back, stopped and are waiting for things to really change before they come back, or are asking every moment why they are still driving. It’s not just the money.”

This lack of labour has resulted in sustained higher prices for consumers as well. According to an analysis from research firm Rakuten Intelligence, ride-hailing prices were 37% higher than the same time a year prior.

News of the rumoured proposals come on the heels of a nearly 15-day hunger strike by NYC taxi drivers demanding the city relieve years of oppressive debt linked to the cost of taxi medallions. The strike ended last week after an agreement between New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Marblegate Asset Management, the firm that controls most of the city’s taxi medallion loans. As a result of the agreement, Marblegate will restructure any outstanding loans to $US200,000 (A$269,556), and cap all debt payments to a maximum of $US1,122 (A$1,512) a month.