Uber be damned. One of the most iconic sights for visitors to New York City is the vast numbers of yellow taxis that line the streets of Manhattan.
Mathematical modelling from a team led by Mohammad Vazifeh from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, however, reveals that around 40% of the vehicles that comprise the city’s taxi fleet are superfluous.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, Vazifeh and colleagues outline a new model for determining taxi efficiency, based on 150 million trips taken in a single year, that shows that more than one-third of the current fleet could be removed without requiring changes to regulation, business models or customer habits.
The model changes a critical assumption in previous attempts to establish a viable answer to what mathematicians call the “minimum fleet problem”. Earlier approaches have based calculations on ride-sharing – that is, two or more passengers occupying a vehicle at the same time, but being delivered to geographically different locations. Vazifeh’s team ditched that assumption, and used instead the notion of vehicle-sharing – wherein each taxi is in continuous use for 24 hours a day, driven in three eight-hour shifts.
(In this scenario, routine car maintenance is assumed to take place periodically on weekends, when the number of passenger requests drops.)
The researchers approached the problem by identifying the essential variables involved in each taxi journey – pick-up time and location, drop-off time and location, and how much time passes between a passenger being ready for pick-up, and pick up actually occurring.
Journey times were calculated using GPS data arising from real New York City streets rather than an idealised model.
Setting the variable for waiting time turned out to be the greatest challenge in the model, because it also determined a number of other real-world outcomes, including costs to the fleet operator, customer satisfaction, and traffic flow.
At one end of the scale, the researchers explained, setting the waiting time to an impossible zero seconds resulted in the assumption that taxis simply materialise and disappear at the start and end of journeys. This was not only unfeasible but also prohibitively costly.
On the other hand, they show, increasing the wait time into the region of hours results in the need for a much smaller fleet – but also produces what they term, euphemistically, “operational and traffic efficiency problems” – a phrase that could be understood to mean “a very large number of very angry New Yorkers”.
For the sake of the exercise, thus, Vazifeh and colleagues set optimal waiting time at 15 minutes.
Putting all the variables together and running the numbers, based on the previously collected data, the results were impressive.
“The efficiency breakthrough provided by network-based optimisation, when compared to current taxi operation in New York City, [revealed] the number of circulating taxis can be reduced by an impressive 40%, and kept fairly constant through the day,” the researchers conclude.
Two other conditions, however, informed the results – a high level of knowledge on the part of the operators concerning journey destination as well as start-point, and a centralised dispatch system.
The researchers then ran the numbers again, varying these conditions. When knowledge of destinations was absent in a large number of vehicle hires before the passenger is picked up, and when dispatch is through localised hubs, the total taxi fleet could still be reduced by 30% without loss of service.
Why I love congestion pricing but hate the taxi-Uber surcharge
For half a century the dream of taming New York City traffic with congestion pricing has eluded a Nobel economist, a billionaire mayor and legions of transit champions, myself included. Yet on Thursday I’ll be joining other advocates and stakeholders in court to ask a state judge to strike down the first phase of a congestion pricing plan.
The initial phase would raise hundreds of millions for subway repairs through surcharges on yellow cabs and Ubers in Manhattan’s central business district. My argument, submitted in an affidavit to the court, is that the surcharge is discriminatory, arbitrary and unjust. I’ll be asking Supreme Court Judge Lynn R. Kotler to invalidate the enabling legislation that Albany concocted last March with its customary shortsighted stealth.
And in the coming weeks, alongside thousands of fellow transit advocates, I’ll be campaigning for fair and more inclusive congestion pricing that eases the squeeze on cab drivers and medallion owners rather than tightening it. (Disclosure: Since Nov. 1 I have been retained by taxi medallion interests to evaluate legislation and regulations concerning congestion pricing surcharges for for-hire vehicles.)
Such a program is simple to sketch. Indeed, an expert panel convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo did just that a year ago in its “Fix NYC” report. Just charge private cars and trucks a toll to enter the central business district via 60th Street or an East River bridge and add a surcharge to trips in cabs and Ubers in Manhattan south of 96th Street. Using a spreadsheet model I’ve spent years constructing, the panel found that this combination could raise over $1 billion a year for mass transit while cutting travel times by more than 10% on trips within and to the CBD.
Alas, this comprehensive approach didn’t advance past first base last year. The legislature’s consolation prize—taxicab and Uber surcharges—was really a sucker-punch to cabbies and medallion owners. Here’s why:
Without a charge for personal vehicles, city and suburban motorists will fill up much of the street space cleared out by diminished use of for-hire vehicles. In effect, taxis and Ubers will subsidize faster rides in private cars.
Uber and Lyft can use their deep pockets to absorb some of the new surcharges at the outset. Yellow cabs, with no such cushion and with fares strictly regulated, will lose even more business.
Every fare trip in a yellow is continuously wired by GPS to city officials; not so for Uber or Lyft. Guess which sector will have an easier time evading the surcharge?
Albany mandated surcharge discounts of nearly 75% for so-called pooled rides in Ubers and Lyfts, even if no additional passenger comes on board—another nail in the coffin of yellow cabbies.
It’s no exaggeration to speak of coffins. In the past 17 months eight professional drivers have taken their own lives—an epidemic without precedent and unquestionably related to the industry’s financial meltdown.
The policy remedy is straightforward. The Legislature should delay any yellow-cab surcharge until congestion fees on cars and trucks take effect. It should require Ubers and Lyfts to be wired up to the Taxi and Limousine Commission and add a “trawling” fee on each minute those vehicles spend hanging out in Manhattan, clogging traffic while waiting to be pinged. And it should dial down the discount on pooled rides to a level that encourages shared trips but discourages gaming the system.
Such a program could generate more revenue for transit than the surcharges that the legislature enacted last March, while preserving the taxicab sector, according to my traffic modeling.
The first step is for the judge to permanently enjoin the surcharges. Legislative sausage-making that could peremptorily plunge thousands of hard-working New Yorkers deeper into the fiscal abyss may have been the norm in 2018, but it’s time to turn the page.
Cabbies along with the rest of us deserve lawmaking that’s judicious, not capricious. And congestion pricing is too essential to our city to discredit it before it’s had a chance to shine.
Woman, 34, critically hurt after falling to the ground as she exited yellow taxi in Brooklyn
A 34-year-old woman was critically hurt in Brooklyn on Sunday when she took a bad fall to the ground after she stepped out a yellow cab, police said.
Cops responding to the scene found the woman lying on her back on Waverly Ave. about 100 feet from its intersection with Willoughby Ave. in Clinton Hill about 4:45 a.m., authorities said.
She had injures to her right ankle, a puncture in her left thigh, bruising on her left elbow and swelling on the right side of her face. Medics took her to New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in critical condition.
Surveillance video from the scene shows the woman getting out of the cab on the driver’s side. Though police initially thought the cab struck her, the video showed that wasn’t the case, an NYPD spokesman said.
Woman Delivers Baby Girl in Backseat of N.Y.C. Taxi: ‘Everyone Started Clapping,’ Witness Says
A 33-year-old woman delivered her baby girl in the backseat of a yellow cab on New York City’s Upper East Side, Tuesday morning, PEOPLE confirms.
New York police found the woman with her baby inside the vehicle on the corner of East 70th Street and Second Avenue after receiving a call about a “female in active labor” at around 7:55 a.m. local time.
“Upon arrival, officers observed a 33-year-old female who had just given birth to a baby girl inside of a yellow taxi at that location,” a spokesperson for the New York Police Department tells PEOPLE.
“Police did not assist in the birth of the baby.”
The woman and the baby were taken to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in stable condition and remained in the hospital late Tuesday morning, the spokesperson says.
A witness, Oliya Fedun of Scootercaster, tells PEOPLE that bystanders thought there had been “an accident or someone sick.” Fedun says that, along with the taxi driver, there was another man tending to the woman.
“He was making sure everything was covered from the cameras and then he collected her items from the cab,” Fedun says. “Once the baby was brought out everyone started clapping! ‘Oh, it was a baby! She was giving birth!’ The cheering crowd made the whole experience very powerful.”
Video of the scene shared on social media showed police and medical officials surrounding the car, and shielding the mother and baby with white sheets as they worked to place both in an ambulance.
The woman isn’t the first to have a headline-making birth in 2019.
On New Year’s Day, 32-year-old Jessica Killian, of Grover, North Carolina, gave birth along the side of the road as she and Randy Sain headed to a nearby hospital, according to the Gaston Gazette.
Sain was able to catch the baby boy, who they named Atom Bomb Sain, before he hit the floor of the car.
“If he wouldn’t have been there, there’s no telling what would’ve happened to Atom,” Killian told the publication of Sain. “He could’ve went to the floorboard or anything could’ve happened to him. He pulls over, jumps over to my side and basically caught him as he was coming down.”
And Killian said the baby’s name is fitting: “He really did come out like a bomb.”
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