Uber cars, often black sedans that can be summoned with smartphone apps, now outnumber the yellow taxis that city riders have hailed with a whistle and a wave for generations.
It was a changing-of-the-guard moment that passed with little fanfare this week in figures released by the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission: 14,088 registered Uber cars compared with 13,587 yellow cabs.
But it hardly means yellow cabs are out of favour. In fact, there are about 440,000 yellow cab rides a day, compared to just 20,000 to 30,000 Uber rides. That's because Uber drivers often own their own cars and work less than 40 hours a week, while most yellow taxis are owned by cab companies, have more than one driver and are on the road close to 24 hours a day.
"Yellow cab rides significantly outstrip the number of black car rides," said Meera Joshi, chairwoman of the taxi commission. "So the number of their affiliated vehicles in and of itself doesn't paint a complete picture."
Uber was introduced in New York City in 2011 and has grown steadily in popularity, particularly among tech-savvy customers who are comfortable hailing rides through an app that shows when a car is on the way. A customer can even follow its progress with a blip on a street map. Similar companies such as Lyft use apps to connect with riders.
Prices are comparable, but some Uber riders have complained about fare add-ons for larger vehicles and "surge pricing" during rush hour, bad weather or holidays.
"I absolutely do love the convenience, and if it's not surge pricing I find the costs very comparable and in some cases cheaper than yellow taxis," said Kerry Farrell, a paralegal who uses Uber about three times a week.
Uber spokesman Matt Wing declined to comment on the significance of the numbers of Uber cars surpassing yellow cabs.
But some drivers and their advocates grumbled that Uber's growth has flooded the market, lowering average incomes for all drivers.
"Uber having an unlimited number of cars means no drivers — taxi or black car and livery — will earn a decent living," said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, an advocacy group that includes both Uber and yellow cab drivers as members.
Mamadou Diallo, who has been driving a yellow cab since 2004, said he once could count on at least 30 fares a day. But his take has dropped 30 to 40 per cent since Uber and other such car services entered the New York market.
"It's a jungle," he said, "and the big fish always eat the small fish."
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