Anyone who has been to New York City in the past couple of decades knows that the place is massively overcrowded, and that’s particularly true of the traffic in the streets. When I’m forced to go there on business I always try to book a hotel within walking distance of where I need to be. On the few occasions when someone else has booked the trip for me and gotten me a room across town from my destination I’ve spent ungodly amounts of time sitting in the back of an Uber. (Or a taxi, back in the pre-Uber days.) It’s a horrible situation all around.
Now the New York City government is looking to step in and address the problem. Those of you familiar with Ronald Reagan’s warning about the nine most terrifying words in the English language probably already know what that means. If the citizens are experiencing a problem which may cause them to complain (or worse, not vote for you), figure out a way to levy a new tax or fee to correct it. And that’s just what the Big Apple is looking at now. The brain trust at City Hall is considering a new system of fees for using a vehicle on the city streets to discourage people from driving. They’re paying particular attention to “for-hire vehicles” including both ride-sharing services and taxis. But, of course, this coverage of the issue from the New York Times focuses almost entirely on Uber, as if they created the problem.
An explosion of ride-hailing app services has transformed the way that people get around the city and is choking the streets. Midtown traffic crawls at an average of 4.7 miles per hour from 6.5 miles per hour five years ago.
“You’ll see an entire row of Lyft, Uber and Juno drivers on the streets waiting to pick people up,” said Chanse Gierbolini, 27, a baker in Lower Manhattan. “It seems like everybody’s driving the same black sedan — they’re everywhere.”
About 103,000 for-hire vehicles operate in the city, more than double the roughly 47,000 in 2013, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Of those, 68,000 are affiliated with ride-hailing app companies, including 65,000 with Uber alone, though they may also provide rides for others. In contrast, yellow taxis are capped by city law at just under 13,600.
Now a new report finds that ride-hailing cars are often driving on the city’s busiest streets with no passengers — in effect, creating congestion without any benefits.
The list of complaints being aired here, primarily against Uber, is laughable. They begin with sightings of entire rows of Uber drivers on the streets waiting to pick people up. I don’t know if the Times reporter has ever actually used Uber, but that’s not how it works. Cabs definitely congregate at popular pick-up points and wait for fares, but Uber drivers arrive where they are summoned, picking up a specific rider. If there’s a long line of Ubers in the area that means they received a lot of hails.
They also cite a study which claims that “ride-hailing cars are often driving on the city’s busiest streets with no passengers.” Really? Perish the thought! Whether it’s an Uber or a cab, when you drop off a fair there generally isn’t another person waiting there for a ride unless you’re at the airport or a rail terminal. Ubers have to travel to the location of their next customer and cabs frequently have to ride around until someone else flags them down or head to the next pick-up the dispatcher feeds them. Again… have these reporters ever traveled in a cab or Uber?
And who would foot the bill for the proposed, new per-ride fee on all for-hire vehicles in Manhattan? The passengers, of course. That brings us to the reason it’s worth pointing out how bad this type of policy is. The article blatantly describes how the city has “proposed various toll systems to deter drivers from coming over bridges or piling into the busiest neighborhoods” since the 70s. Their solution to crowded streets has always been to make it more expensive to drive your car. Who does that hit the hardest? The working poor who need to get around and commute to work in a city where the dysfunctional mass transit system can often make you late for work or force you to allow hours to travel a dozen or so miles. The wealthy will simply pay the extra fees and drive anyway. That’s some real government for and by the people, huh?
The real source of the problem is that there are too many people in the city and the amount of available surface streets was unable to keep up with that growth. Making it more expensive to drive only hurts the middle class and working poor. You can’t ban “some” of the private vehicles without creating a caste system reminiscent of India. Until we get flying cars, the only real solution might be to create multiple levels of raised roadways above ground level, but that would be unimaginably expensive and open the door to humanitarian disaster if they ever began collapsing during a major quake or tsunami event.
This isn’t a problem you can fix on the cheap. And the situation isn’t going to be improved by simply forcing more and more taxes and fees on all the residents, including for-hire ride operators. That’s just a painfully obvious ploy to pump more money into the municipal government’s coffers.