The chief executive of Uber said New York City should impose a fee on app-hailed rides and taxis to help taxi medallion owners who are struggling with debt.
CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told the New York Post on Monday that the city should put the surcharge into a fund to help taxi owners who bought their medallions at sky-high prices. He did not say how much the fee should be.
“In circumstances where medallion owner-operators are having a hard time, where technology has changed and demand patterns has changed their environment, we would support some kind of fee or pool to be formed, a hardship fund, call it,” Khosrowshahi said.
Because taxi drivers in New York City are required to own them, medallions were once extremely valuable and highly coveted because the demand for cabs was stable. But in the years since Uber and similar companies disrupted the industry, a medallion’s value has fallen from as much as $1 million to $200,000.
Drivers working for Uber and other app-based companies don’t need medallions, and many taxi owners who thought their medallions would continue to grow in value say they are now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Advocates have blamed five apparent suicides of drivers since last November on the taxi industry’s woes.
In the most recent case, yellow cab owner-driver Yu Mein Chow was found floating in the East River last month. The city medical examiner has not determined a cause of death, but Chow’s family members believe he jumped to his death.
A livery cab driver shot himself to death outside City Hall in February after writing a Facebook post blaming politicians for the taxi industry’s decline.
Groups that represent drivers blasted Khosrowshahi’s proposal.
“Dara Khosrowshahi’s proposals are a slap in the face to struggling drivers and an attempt to get out of being regulated,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents Uber drivers, said, Khosrowshahi “needs to address the widespread hardship faced by drivers for his own company before considering taking another cut from our sub-minimum-wage pay.”
Uber booking has been removed from Google Maps for Android
Google Maps can no longer be used to book an Uber on Android. It brings the app in line with the iOS version, which lost the feature last summer, as noted by Android Police.
Google has had the ability to show price estimates and pickup wait times for ride-sharing apps for a while. Back in January 2017, Uber alone gained the ability to actually book rides in the Google Maps app by pulling up your account window and hailing your ride without ever leaving the app.
But for whatever reason, Google has officially removed the feature from the Android app, demoting Uber back to the same level as the other ride-sharing apps it supports, like Lyft and Gett. You’ll still be able to see the estimated cost of different Uber rides in Maps, but you’ll now have to go to the actual Uber app to finish the booking process.
It’s not entirely clear why Google is removing the feature. For what it’s worth, Alphabet’s venture capital business has made a large investment in Lyft. But the Google Maps help page regarding the function has been updated to explicitly note that “you can no longer book Uber rides directly in Google Maps. But you can still look up the route in the Maps app and then request the ride from the Uber app.” That applies to both the iOS and Android versions of the app, so it appears that this feature is gone for good.
By Chaim Gartenberg
from theverge website
The New York taxicab bubble couldn’t last forever
Bloomberg News on Monday posted an article about something that has become a pretty big deal in New York City: taxi driver suicides.
Since November, six drivers, beset with financial difficulties, have taken their own lives, most recently last Friday. After every death, there are calls from the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents the drivers — and plenty of others — for the city to start restricting the number of Uber and Lyft cars on the road. Taxi drivers view Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. as not so much disrupting their industry as destroying it.
I suppose you can’t really blame them for portraying Uber and Lyft as the enemy. In 2011, before Uber entered the New York market, there were 13,587 yellow cabs in the city of 8.5 million people. The number of cabs in New York has been capped since 1937, after a Depression-era glut made it impossible to make a living as a taxi driver. The mechanism the city used to restrict cabs was a medallion that one had to buy to own a cab. Because there were so few cabs for so many people, the law of supply and demand kicked in, driving up the price of medallions. According to the New York Times, the value of a medallion topped out at $1.3 million in 2014.
On Monday, according to Bloomberg, there are an astonishing 80,000 “app-based transportation vehicles,” driving around New York City. If 13,587 cabs were too few, then it’s fair to say that the current 100,000-plus cars-for-hire are too many. The price of a medallion has dropped as low as $130,000. Taxicab operators who thought their medallion would finance their retirement are now drowning in debt. Cabbies — many of whom lease their cabs from medallion owners — can no longer make their lease payments because their business has dwindled. And there is one other downside: All those app-based cars have slowed down traffic in New York by 23 percent since 2010, costing the city an estimated $34 billion a year.
On the other hand, is it really fair to blame everything on Uber and Lyft? I would argue that before throwing rocks at the competition, the New York taxi industry would do well to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Like internet stocks in the late 1990s, and real estate in 2005 and 2006, medallions were a bubble that was bound to burst. Uber and Lyft mainly provided the pins that popped it.
As was the case in many cities, yellow cabs in New York held a monopoly on cars-for-hire — and as is often the case with government-mandated monopolies, the result was an industry that put its own needs before that of its customers. As my colleague Barry Ritholtz pointed out recently, the taxi industry changed shifts between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. — the exact moment when the largest number of people were trying to hail cabs. It was impossible to get a cab when it rained, or if there was a subway breakdown. Cars were often grimy.
Did the taxi industry care? No. So long as cabs remained scarce, the value of their medallions kept going up — and that’s all that really mattered. As the price rose, people wanting to buy medallions had to take out loans that were as big, or bigger, than their mortgages. But that was OK too. They made the same assumption that homebuyers made in 2006: that the price could only keep rising.
There are any number of things the industry could have done to minimize the impact of Uber and Lyft. The most obvious was to have increased the number of cabs over the years, something that could have been sensibly calibrated so that cabbies could still make a good living while riders had an easier time finding a taxi. It could have embraced technology so that people could hail a cab via an app instead of having to stand at a corner and hope for the best. And it could have replaced medallions with renewable licenses, which would have ended the bubble before it got out of hand.
But the taxi lobby was powerful, and so was the industry’s view that medallions were a sure-fire way to get rich. The situation was untenable, however; if Uber hadn’t come along to burst the bubble, something else would have. Because the taxi industry had treated riders so shabbily, people embraced the new cars-for-hire even though they were usually more expensive than a taxi ride.
What is astonishing to me is that the industry still doesn’t seem to realize that it sowed the seeds of its own destruction. For instance, in a case decided late last year, two medallions owners sued the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission for failing to maintain the “financial stability” of the medallions — as if that were somehow a government responsibility. But, wrote the judge, the plaintiffs “have pointed to no statute or regulation that compels the Taxi & Limousine Commission to artificially inflate the value of medallions.” The suit was tossed.
In another case, medallion owners and their lenders sued the city and the commission for, as Reuters put it, “jeopardizing their survival by imposing burdensome regulations and letting the Uber ride-sharing service take passengers away.” That suit got tossed as well.
At a rally outside city hall Monday, the Taxi Worker Alliance once again pointed to Uber and Lyft — “Wall Street companies,” an alliance official called them — as the reason for the cabbies’ struggles. She called on the city to both regulate them and reduce their number.
I have some sympathy with the latter request. A cabbie — or an Uber driver — ought to be able to make a living driving a car-for-hire, and that doesn’t appear to be possible now. But any reduction should involve every kind of car-for-hire, not just Uber. There is no law that says the number of Uber cars must shrink so that all 13,587 taxis can be saved.
Medallions are a different story. When the internet bubble burst, nobody bailed out tech investors. And when the subprime loan bubble burst, the federal government took the position that it had to let foreclosures run their course, no matter how much pain they inflicted on homeowners. Why should medallion owners be treated any differently?
Medallion owners had a sweet deal for a long time. Now that sweet deal is going away. It’s painful, yes, but it’s not the job of government to protect a monopoly. Once medallions are no longer prized for their ability to make people rich, everyone in New York — taxi drivers included — will be better off.
By Bloomberg News
Sixth New York City cab driver dies of suicide after struggling financially
A Yemeni immigrant is the sixth driver to die of suicide in the past eight months, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
A sixth New York City taxi cab driver took his own life on Friday night, the latest in a string of driver suicides that has shaken the industry and brought attention to its economic hardships.
Abduel Saleh, 59, is a Yemeni immigrant and the sixth driver to die of suicide in the past eight months, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA).
Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of NYTWA, said that Saleh had been out of work for two weeks. He and his driving partner Qamar Chaudhary had turned in their taxi cab after splitting night and day shifts that went as long as 12 hours for seven years, she said. Chaudhary’s cousin had offered him an opportunity to drive with Uber, and Chaudhary offered Saleh a similar opportunity, Desai explained.
Mr. Saleh still wanted to drive a yellow cab, so he was deciding what to do,” she said. “But even before then he was falling behind on the lease. He was behind as much as $300 on the last week that he worked.”
Saleh’s friends said that he tended to work the airport and hotel lines in hopes of picking up fares, a strategy that has seen fewer and fewer of returns in recent years because of ride-sharing services, Desai said.
he added that cab and livery drivers do not have retirement to fall back on and would only suffer greater poverty if they turned to Uber or Lyft.
“He drove for over half his life,” Desai said. “This is what he knew. This was his job. This is how he knew to earn a living for himself and his family overseas in Yemen. Your days are spent hearing about your family in the middle of such a devastating war and then you having little means to financially support them to relocate them.”
Chaudhary told the New York Post that Saleh “sounded upset and depressed.”
“I know he wasn’t making enough money to pay his lease,” Chaudhary added. “He was short here and there, and I used to have to help him out. He said he didn’t know how to survive.”
The NYTWA plans to have a press conference outside of New York City’s city hall on Monday to address Saleh’s death and the economic hardship they say drivers currently face.
Many cab drivers work more than a dozen hours a day, seven days a week, yet are left cash-strapped after paying off car and taxi medallion loans, according to the NYTWA.
One problem that many in the industry point to is a glut of drivers, as ride-share companies such as Lyft and Uber increased the number of cars in the road.
Five other New York City livery and cab drivers experiencing economic hardship have taken their own lives in recent months, most notably Douglas Schifter who killed himself on the steps of city hall. Schifter said that the ride-share companies were contributing to the financial strain that led him to such drastic measures, according to a manifesto he wrote on Facebook.
“We’re just so angry,” said Desai. “We’re really angry that we now have gone to six funerals.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
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