By Don McCurdy
Recent articles regarding the medallion "crisis" in New York City have led me to the question: What does the public think Uber and Lyft style companies are?
Well, the news media lumps Uber and Lyft vehicles together with taxicabs at nearly every opportunity. A recent article said there was a "renaissance" for taxi drivers. This statement was meant to include Uber and Lyft drivers as taxi drivers. Further, it stated that the primary job of "taxi driver or chauffeur" has nearly tripled. What does that mean?
Does the public perceive Uber/Lyft drivers as chauffeurs? They certainly don't dress the part. That would seem to leave taxicab drivers as industry chauffeurs.
Is a taxi driver a chauffeur? Of course not. I think it is fair to say that most people, even and especially journalists writing about the taxi/car service industry, do not know the difference between the way the Uber and Lyft vehicle operates and a taxi operates.
Uber introduced their taxi/car service business as a ride share and not a taxi or car service option. They steadfastly maintain that Uber is a ride share service and not a taxi service.
Is it a taxi service? Of course it is. However, Uber absolutely maintains that the image you see (of them) is not what you think you see. Confusing? It shouldn't be. Things are what they are. Nothing more. Uber is a taxi service functioning as a car service/livery operator.
Like the livery minicab of London fame, Uber/Lyft are not traditional taxicabs. Neither are the livery cars New York City was famous for prior to the Uber/Lyft market entry, even though the media routinely referred to the livery drivers as taxicab drivers. However, they are in the business of taxiing passengers from point A to point B.
Uber has replaced the taxicab in the minds of the public as the go to, on demand service. While some inroads were being made for the handicapped community within the taxicab industry, it remains to be seen how the Uber/Lyft style companies are going to approach the issue. There most certainly are a lot more vehicles competing for the transportation dollar.
Recent reports on the "medallion predatory lending scandal" are that the city believes the amount of money involved is around $13 billion. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance puts the price tag at only $2.7 billion.
While some members or the city council believe the city had a role in the escalation of medallion prices, nobody is talking bailout. At least, nobody in authority to make it happen. The city did do a report on the issue which is what politicians do to make it look like they're doing something, but no concrete steps have been taken that have improved the situation.
The article quoted Mayor de Blasio as saying "If you're a cab driver in New York City, know we're in your corner and that this is just a start. We will never stop looking for ways to help."
Seriously? Gee Wannabe President Bill, besides a report and an investigation what exactly have you actually done? Real politicians are always looking for ways to help, but they never seem to get it done.
The Port Authority or New York and New jersey has decided to place a $4 surcharge on Uber/Lyft style vehicles for permission to pick up and drop off passengers at the airports they control. They also instituted a $4 surcharge for taxicabs picking up at their airports.
This, of course, sparked outrage in the for-hire industry with the usual complaints about reducing the number of fares because of the increased charges.
What I thought was enlightening was the comment attributed to a representative of the authority, Lindsay Kryzak:
"I can only say that we made toll and fare adjustments. This proposal was modeled from other airports around the country and we felt this was a natural place (the airports) to ask people to pay."
Of course, airports are a natural place to pay a passenger fee. What wouldn't be for any taxing authority, Federal, State or City. Ask any taxing authority spokesperson what is a "natural place to pay" and they'll tell you: anyplace!
A recent auction of coveted New York Taxicab medallions is reported to have netted a top price of $138,000, with only 3 of the 16 available being bought.
The same report states that last year 131 medallions sold for $170,000 each. At the rate the medallion "value" is dropping, the city ought to subsidize future medallion owners to take on the medallions as they become available. I wonder how much more help the industry can stand?
So, when do we suppose Waymo One is going to be able to ditch the "safety driver" and go full on auto? Reports are that Waymo One is now licensed in California to "test" its autonomous vehicle technology.
While Waymo One is reported to be the only autonomous vehicle company to be allowed passengers, they are not allowed to charge passengers, yet.
Waymo One is reported to be adding perks to their rides, like free Wifi and music service. While the focus has been on the driving side of the technology I would have to wonder about the software on the dispatching side of the operation? Without a driver how optimal could their routing be in rush hour situations?
Reports are that Lyft has carried their 50,000th paying passenger in their autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas. While they still have a "safety driver" those who have ridden in the vehicles give them a very high rating.
Lyft is reported to be using Aptiv sensors, cameras and software in their Vegas operation. No mention of the number of safety driver interventions in any of the reported trips.
If you have any comments regarding this or any of my articles please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. – dmc