After almost a decade of fights and lawsuits, Uber and New York taxis are making nice. The ride-hailing firm and two companies that build technology for taxis, Curb Mobility and Creative Mobile Technologies, announced last week that they had reached a deal to put taxis on the Uber platform. For riders, that means the UberX they order could show up as a yellow cab. Taxi drivers, meanwhile, will be offered Uber trips alongside other electronic hails from other apps.
A time traveler from the mid-2010s would hardly believe it. Back then, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said his company was engaged in a global political campaign, “and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi.” In New York, taxi drivers blamed ride-hail companies for the sharp dip in rides, for the collapse of the value of taxi medallions, a license that allows a taxi to operate in the city, and eventually, for a series of tragic driver suicides. When the city tried to crack down on ride-hail, Uber called on its customers to rain complaints onto City Hall and poked at the mayor within its app. New York responded with more onerous regulations, aimed at cutting ride-hail vehicles’ traffic and environmental effects. The lawsuits flew.
But Uber has a less truculent CEO now—the former Expedia executive Dara Khosrowshahi—and all that “asshole” stuff seems to be behind it.
“Uber has a long history of partnering with the taxi industry to provide drivers with more ways to earn and riders with another transportation option,” Andrew Macdonald, the company’s senior vice president of mobility and business operations, said in a statement.
“To quote [songwriter] Jerry Garcia, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’” says Matthew Daus, a former New York City taxi commissioner who is now president of the International Association of Transportation Regulators, a nonprofit professional association of government officials.
The taxi technology companies say the deal is designed to give taxi drivers access to more potential customers. Today, New Yorkers can hail taxi cabs on the street, or through the companies’ apps, which only offer taxi rides. But Uber’s app already lives on many city residents’ and visitors’ phones. “I strongly believe that [the taxi industry] has much more room to grow,” says Amos Tamam, the CEO of Curb Mobility.
Uber, meanwhile, gains access to nearly 14,000 new cars and their drivers, at a time when both might be in short supply. Many workers stopped driving for the company during the pandemic, and the ride-hail industry had 22 percent fewer drivers in New York at the beginning of this year than it did at its height in April 2019, according to data from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. And that’s before gas prices led many ride-hail drivers to reexamine whether driving made financial sense. (Uber says it now has the most US drivers on the app since the pandemic started, and that it hasn’t seen a decrease in drivers in the US and Canada over the last few months.)