June 28, 2017

Grains of Salt (v22): All Hail Ride-Hailing

Just after midnight, Uber and Lyft become legal in our neck of the woods here in Central NY, across Upstate, and on Long Island.

Long a staple in New York City, it wasn't until this most recent legislative session that our State Legislators figured out a way to make it happen, and even then, they had to reduce the normal 90-day effective date to 80 days so that the services could be available for the Independence Day weekend.

A year ago this week, I published a post raising some concerns beyond the ones that had been raised by politicians and the editorial board of the paper. While many of them were concerned about things like background checks, past issues with the drivers (contractors of, not employed by the ride-sharing services), lack of accessibility for the disabled, and so on, I questioned how this would impact the existing infrastructure of taxi drivers, who are heavily regulated under the Syracuse Municipal Code.
Furthermore, Syracuse has regulated rates, from the drop charge (the initial charge that's on the meter before the taxi pulls away from the curb, currently $2.80), the per-mile price (currently $2.50), and, for airport taxis, the flat rate zone price to get from Hancock International Airport to downtown, the University, to my house here in The Valley, or anywhere else.

And, don't forget the licensing fees, renewal fees, and the limitation on the number of ground transportation licenses that can be issued in the city, currently 200 plus whatever is needed for the airport. 

Would all of the current rules and regs that apply to taxis apply to ride-hailing companies? Would the number of licenses be expanded to accommodate an unknown number of entrepreneurs, those jobs the mayor and others are looking forward to? Would the same rates, metering and other rules apply?
Last night, I checked the codes for taxis and, to no real surprise, found no changes to the regulations. Syracuse is still limited to 200 taxis outside the airport service; there are still specific fees for mileage, wait time and the meter drop charge; all of the licensing and other requirements are also still in place.

The local news was all over the new service, including letting us know that Lyft (but not yet Uber) had signed a deal with the airport to provide services, giving people a choice between the unregulated entrepreneur and the regulated existing business. And, we learned that thousands of people have signed up to be Uber drivers (Lyft has not disclosed their numbers).
In January, Uber announced that 50,000 people in Upstate New York had gone through initial steps of becoming drivers, and 10,000 of them were in Syracuse.
Pretend even a fraction of them make themselves available for pickup on Thursday -- there'll be cars everywhere!

Fares have not yet been announced, that I can find. I tried an Uber rate estimator, to get from my house to the airport, but came up empty. However, I was assured on the website that even with a 20% tip, the fare should be cheaper than calling a cab.  We'll see if that's true with the taxes that's being added on - a 4% assessment fee which goes to NY's general fund, and a 2.5% surcharge to cover workers comp insurance for the driver.

But from what I did read, there will be a similar structure as that for taxis - as noted in the link above on tipping, which looks to b boilerplate language with dropped in city names.
There is a base fare, a charge per mile and a charge per minute. It looks like the pricing structure you know well from all the miles you have logged in Syracuse,NY cabs. But Uber Fare Estimator actually uses a bit different pricing model. Uber taxis in Syracuse, NY charge riders per mile when moving, and per minute when idling. Even so, Uber rates do beat cab fares in Syracuse, NY.
In addition to regulatory differences and pricing differences, there's also a potential concern about coverage. For example, it was reported that some taxi drivers are dropping out of those ranks to become hailed ride drivers because they didn't like being dispatched to certain parts of town.  Said one driver (who may not fully understand how the new service works)
(Driving a taxi) was dangerous because sometimes the dispatcher would send us to like the real bad neighborhoods. The dispatcher would just throw you in there, to the wolves. With Uber, I will decline it if they send me to a bad neighborhood.
On the plus side, there are discussions underway with Centro, our public transportation service, to see if there are ways to serve populations of the city that rely on public transportation the most - low income folks - who are currently underserved in some locations and at particular times of day.

Much more to come on this as things move along; time will tell whether ride-sharing will take off here as it has in other areas. I hope that if it does, it's not because we failed to make it as easy for existing businesses to be successful as we're trying to make it for the new model to work, and that we end up with more accessible service to all residents, not less.