Monday, August 13, 2018
New York Times: Riders Wonder: With Uber as New York’s Plan B, Is There a Plan C?
By Winnie Hu and Mariana Alfaro
Jenine James no longer worries about getting stranded when the subways and buses are unreliable — a constant frustration these days — or cannot take her to where she needs to go. Her Plan B: Uber.
So Ms. James, 20, a barista in Brooklyn, sees New York’s move to restrict ride-hail services as not just a threat to her own convenience and comfort but also to the alternative transportation system that has sprung up to fill in the gaps left by the city’s failing subways and buses. She does not even want to think about going back to a time when a train was her only option, as unlikely as that might be.
“It was bad, so imagining going back, it’s terrible,” she said.
The ride-hail cars that critics say are choking New York City’s streets have also brought much-needed relief to far corners of the city where just getting to work is a daily chore requiring long rides and multiple transfers, often squeezed into packed trains and buses. The black cars that crisscross transit deserts in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island have become staples in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods where residents complain that yellow taxis often refuse to pick them up. They come to the rescue in the rain, and during taxi shift changes, when rides are notoriously hard to find even in the heart of Manhattan.
New York became the first major American city on Wednesday to put a halt on issuing new vehicle licenses for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hail services amid growing concerns around the world about the impact they are having on cities.
The legislation calls for a one-year moratorium while the city studies the booming industry and also establishes pay rules for drivers. It was passed overwhelmingly by the City Council and is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, who attempted to adopt a similar cap in 2015 but abandoned the effort after Uber waged a fierce campaign against him.
The cap was supported by many transportation analysts who say the ride-hail cars have contributed to worsening traffic in Midtown and Lower Manhattan, and by taxi drivers whose financial plight has become precarious in the past year, underscored by a spate of suicides. Mr. de Blasio held a celebratory rally on Thursday with Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker who wrangled widespread support for the cap among his colleagues by focusing on the plight of taxi drivers.
Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant who has studied the ride-hail services, said that it was only a matter of time before city officials took action. Since Uber successfully fended off a proposed limit three years ago, the number of for-hire vehicles in the city has soared from about 63,000 to more than 100,000.
“You can’t have Uber and Lyft growing forever in Manhattan without having total gridlock,” Mr. Schaller said. “At some point, the city was going to have to say enough — and they have now said enough.”
But Alix Anfang, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the city’s “12-month pause” on issuing new vehicle licenses will threaten a reliable transportation option for New Yorkers without improving the reliability of the subways outside Manhattan. “As Uber continues to grow in communities outside of Manhattan, we will do whatever it takes to ensure that no New Yorker who needs a ride is left stranded,” she said.
Nisha James, 34, a nanny from Brooklyn, said she felt the cap on the ride-hail services had been a Manhattan-centric decision without regard for what it will mean for riders in the other boroughs. “I don’t think they were thinking about anywhere else,” she said, adding that the cap will likely send her and other Uber riders back to public transit when they cannot get a car.
In the Bronx, Jeff Gutierrez, 26, said that he only takes Uber now to commute to his job in media sales for a cable news station across the borough. Uber takes 15 minutes. The bus takes 1 hour and 30 minutes and is so crowded he cannot always get a seat. There is no contest. “We should not be stuffed like sardines in a bus,” he said. “Uber is so affordable and convenient. I will never ride the bus or train again as long I work in the city.”
Uber officials said that they planned to recruit drivers who already hold for-hire vehicle licenses in the city to work for Uber, a group that represents as many as 35,000 potential new drivers. Moreover, since the moratorium is on new vehicles — not new drivers — they also hoped to maximize the use of existing vehicles by encouraging their owners to allow other drivers to use them when they are sitting idle.
Though the cap would apply citywide, the ride-hail companies have warned that it could lead to fewer cars and worse service with longer wait times and higher prices, particularly in the boroughs outside Manhattan. With a limited supply of vehicles, too many drivers could opt to remain in Manhattan picking up well-heeled tourists and business workers, leaving too few drivers in the other boroughs where ridership has been growing the fastest. Yellow taxis, which are similarly limited in number, have traditionally been concentrated in Manhattan’s business districts, though they can legally operate anywhere in the city.
Mr. Schaller acknowledged such concerns, but added that unlike taxis, the ride-hail cars are dispatched with technology that allows the drivers to see exactly where the calls are coming in. He said that if they see more calls coming from, say, Queens, they will go there. “Water doesn’t bunch up at one end of the lake, it levels off across the whole lake,” he said. “The drivers chase the money — and if the money is all over the city — they go all over the city.”
Not all fans of the ride-hail services were disappointed by the regulations. Shiri Wolf, 38, a lawyer who recently moved back to the Upper West Side, said that even though she has come to rely on the ride-hail services, something needed to be done about the “horrendous” traffic on city streets.
“In the five years I’ve been gone, I think traffic must have doubled,” she said. “It’s fair to have cabbies earn a decent living, and they may have some efficiencies to gain, to learn from Lyft and Uber, but on the whole they’re more expensive because they’re regulated and I think regulation is a way to keep things fair for everybody.”
Still, some riders are bracing for the worst. Carmel Maurice, a client coordinator from Brooklyn, was seething as she waited for an Uber outside the Atlantic Terminal, a major transit hub in Brooklyn, on Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after the legislation passed. “I feel like it’s unfair,” she said, adding that she had opted out of public transit in Brooklyn because “it’s never reliable, it’s never on time.”
Darella Jasper, a Brooklyn security worker, said that if the rides become more expensive, she might have to cut back on her use of Uber and Lyft, even though they are the easiest way for her to get around Brooklyn and Queens. “To get from point A to point B,” she said. “We’re just going to have to find other alternatives.”
Copyright 2018 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.
Posted by James Shenwick