Cab Glut In The Big Apple Hints At Ridesharing As Salve?

Is the Big Apple overrun with one of its ubiquitous signifiers — the yellow cab?

CNNMoney reported recently on an MIT study, which, earlier this week, said that a staggeringly low number of four-person cabs/sedans — how about 3,000? — would be adequate to cover as much as 98 percent of the riding demand that exists city-wide.

Contrast that 3,000-car fleet with the 13,600 taxis and 45,000 drivers tied to Lyft, Uber and other ride-hailing services that currently putter about the city, and it seems glut may be a good word to use.

The caveat here is that, as the MIT study pointed out, to move to that 3,000-vehicle armada, carpooling would have to be the norm, and trips would necessarily be elongated. The upshot is that pollution and congestion would decline. Perhaps the longer waits may be palatable, as travelers would have to wait a little less than three minutes to grab a ride and the trips would take an average of 3.5 minutes longer. Move into a roomier class of vehicles, said the study — say, 10-passenger vans — and the fleet size needed declines to 2,000 vehicles.

There’s a long way to go before such shrinkage would become the norm. Consider the fact that the taxi and the for-hire ride industries would push back vigorously. If 3,000 taxis were shared, that means a considerable number of drivers out of work.

Does the study give a quantitative/qualitative push to ridesharing as a business model for transportation around the city? Maybe — and pollution and congestion cost $160 billion, annually and globally. But the balancing act might be a tricky one for Uber and others. Ridesharing, as CNNMoney noted, must leap a hurdle of customer preference (read: privacy), and even the economic incentive of relatively lower fares may not be enough. The ride-for-hire model also has as its own lure the promise of several trips and shorter ones, cumulatively, which translates into more money for the driver. But the rideshare, in addition to the ride-hail, seems to be catching on, as Uber has said that more than half of its New York City rides, for example, in March, were carpool in nature.

Here’s the kicker: The MIT study offers up an algorithm that can reduce both traffic congestion and wait times for the vehicles, and the side effect here for Uber and others would be more efficient route planning and execution. Perhaps the carpool mantra then — with a nod to better traffic flow, environmental impact and ride turnover (and dollars to the drivers) — could be “doing good by moving well.”


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