New York green cab drivers see red over Uber, Lyft

Published September 3 2018
Updated September 3 2018

NEW YORK — Mohammed Uddin was having a bad day, and it was only lunchtime. He was fourth in line at a green-taxi stand in Astoria, Queens, and not happy about it.

But he was not waiting for a green cab to pull up. He was in a line of green cabs waiting for passengers to pick up in the shadow of the Astoria Boulevard subway station.

"I started at 9 o’clock," said Uddin, a green taxi driver since he left a hotel job on Long Island in 2014. "I made $47 so far. That’s very bad. If Uber hadn’t come in, it wouldn’t be like this."

Uber and Lyft, the rideshare services that have transformed the way many New Yorkers get around, have plunged the yellow cab industry into an existential crisis. But green cab drivers are no less angry about app-connected rides, saying that Uber and Lyft have torpedoed their fledgling segment of the taxi industry before it even had a chance to establish itself.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently signed a bill into law that capped rideshare vehicles at their current level, around 100,000, making it the first major U.S. city to impose a limit on the booming industry. But drivers like Uddin said the cap was unlikely to create a new window of opportunity for green cabs, in part because rideshare cars outnumber green cabs 30 to 1. City officials estimate the number of green cabs on city streets to be around 3,500.

The city wanted green taxis to be an antidote to a long-standing problem: Yellow cabs rarely pick up people outside Manhattan, except at the airports. But their arrival more or less coincided with the rise of Uber, which, after establishing itself in Manhattan, expanded across the city.

"Uber and Lyft really decimated the green cab sector," said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents taxi and rideshare drivers. "There was high expectation among drivers that this would be an opportunity to earn without the same level of pressure that you face in the yellow cab industry."

Uber counters that it helps green cabs, because many green taxi operators also drive for Uber. But Uber riders say it is often much easier and faster to get an Uber car with a couple of taps on a cellphone than it is to look for a green cab to hail on the street.

Figures from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission underscore how much business for green cabs has declined since rideshare cars arrived. In May, green taxis made 25,693 trips a day across the city, a 55 percent decrease from May 2015, the busiest month on record, which had 57,637 trips. By contrast, Uber says it handled more than 84,000 trips to or from a single neighborhood, East New York, Brooklyn, between July 18 and Aug. 15.

As for whether Uber had hurt the green cabs, Uber spokesman Jason Post said, "I would say Uber has built a better mousetrap."