New York’s turf war on wheels reached fever pitch Monday as City Council members grilled representatives of the app-based Uber service — a fierce competitor of the city’s 13,000 yellow cabs hailed with a flailing hand.
When first offered in New York in 2012, Uber rides were less expensive than traditional black car services but more than cabs. Now, critics say, pricing has become increasingly unpredictable, and rides can cost up to seven times more in high-demand times or when riders get stuck in traffic.
At the hearing, Uber public policy expert Colin Tooze acknowledged that a $100 ride, say, could snowball to $700, but only if a customer doesn’t pay attention to a pre-ride estimate.
Councilman David Greenfield shot back that New Yorkers don’t take kindly to being ripped off — even by consent. And when fares soar, “it’s cheaper to take a helicopter than Uber.”
The Brooklyn Democrat said Uber has touted rides as costing less than a yellow cab — but only in certain quiet times, like in summer.
“Then they hit you over the head … bam! … with a higher price,” Greenfield added. “If that’s not price gouging, I don’t know what is.”
Tooze responded by saying that under what he called “dynamic pricing” at peak demand, users who preregister with a credit card must first accept a price estimate before getting into a vehicle.
The bottom line, Tooze said, is that in New York, Uber’s fleet of cars and 10,000 drivers offer “a hassle-free way to move around.”
Some lawmakers want rates capped. Greenfield outlined legislation that would bar livery services from charging more than 100 percent of the price even during emergencies.