Drivers Weigh In on Uber Boom in NYC

The Uber app displays cars available for a pick up at 100 Centre Street in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
The Uber app displays cars available for a pick up at 100 Centre Street in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

On a muggy summer evening, a woman stood on a midtown Manhattan street corner and switched between raising her hand for a taxi and glancing at her phone, possibly for an Uber car.

“She’s going to take whoever comes first,” yellow cab driver Jatinder Singh speculated as he scouted out the scene.

While New York City riders have increasingly more choices in how to get from here to there with the rise of e-hailing apps — and lawmakers grapple with how to regulate the booming industry — the drivers who keep cars moving are stuck in the middle.

Uber, a service that allows riders to choose a car type and pay by credit card from a mobile phone, has in four years gone from nearly non-existent to more than 26,000 drivers, doubling the city’s 13,437 taxis.

Some traditional yellow cab drivers say that since the arrival of Uber, the increased competition has cost them about 30 percent of their earnings.

Uber drivers also have complained the crowded streets are hurting their bottom line, a notion disputed by the company, which is moving forward with a goal of adding 10,000 drivers by the end of the year. The plan alarmed New York City lawmakers, who later backed off a plan to cap the number of cars on the street.

“In three years, there will be no taxis on New York City streets,” Uber driver Michael Keflom predicted.

The 48-year-old driver moved from Eritrea, in Africa, to New York City in the late 1980s, and during college started driving a yellow cab — a job he kept on and off for 26 years during a career as a commercial pilot.

Liang Wang has been driving for Uber for about a year and this is his first driving job. He chose the company because he believed the yellow cab shift schedule was just too rigid.

“The yellow cab schedule, you have to wake up at midnight or finish really late. And I have a daughter,” said Wang, who drives five to six days a week around his family’s schedule.

Driver Jatinder Singh has seen both sides: he drove with Uber and returned to driving a taxi.

“The drivers who are suffering, they want to come back to a cab, but they can’t, because they bought a brand-new car,” he said. “My friend bought a Hyundai Sonata hybrid and they’re stuck for good, for five years until the car is paid off.”

He owned a yellow cab, which he decided to paint black so he could start driving with Uber. That lasted about six months before he sold the car and returned to taxi driving.

Singh hoped the surge pricing at Uber — it costs more to get a lift when demand outpaces supply — would make up for the lack of tips, but the money never came.

“They had so many drivers, too many drivers.”

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