|Uber, Surging Outside Manhattan, Tops Taxis in New York City|
By WINNIE HU
New York Times
OCT. 12, 2017
Drivers double-parked in a designated Lyft pick-up and drop-off zone outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. After focusing on Manhattan, ride-hailing apps are expanding in New York City’s other boroughs that are not as well served by public transportation or yellow cabs. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times
Taxi or Uber?
It is not even a question for Samantha Forrest, 22, a single mother who sees so few taxis that she does not consider them an option. There is only Uber when she is late for her cashier’s job, lugging groceries home, or going to the doctor with her young son.
Ms. Forrest lives in the Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx, a working-class enclave that is one of the fastest-growing bastions of Uber riders in New York City. Uber pickups in the area surged to an average of 6,132 a week in August, from 1,189 the year before.
“Uber is everywhere,” Ms. Forrest said. “When I think of cabs, I think of Uber because that’s the main thing to take now.”
Uber has deployed thousands of black cars across Manhattan, going bumper-to-bumper with yellow taxis for passengers and fares in lucrative commercial and tourist areas. But the ride-hail app has increasingly shifted its focus to the city’s other four boroughs, where frustration over subway overcrowding and delays and fewer taxi options have made it the ride of choice for many.
As a result, Uber is booming in the other boroughs, with half of all Uber rides now starting outside Manhattan — up from one-fourth just two years ago — not including pickups at the city’s two airports in Queens. The growth has been so explosive that it has helped produce a milestone moment — for the first time, more people are using Uber in New York than the city’s fabled yellow cabs. In July, Uber recorded an average of 289,000 rides each day compared with 277,000 taxi trips.
While some of this growth is in freshly gentrified outposts filled with millennials and families priced out of Manhattan, it is also happening in more diverse neighborhoods, including some poor and minority areas that have long been shunned by yellow taxis.
An Uber driver along Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Half of Uber’s trips now start outside Manhattan, a boom that has allowed Uber’s ridership to eclipse that of the city’s famous yellow cabs. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times
“It gives safe transportation to people in communities where the cabs don’t stop, where the color of your skin prohibits you from access,” said the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, 68, who is African-American and a senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Westchester County. Many of his church members live in the city, and now arrive for service in Uber cars.
Reverend Richardson said that drivers of yellow taxis have sometimes refused to pick him up because they assume the worst about blacks — that they will rob a driver or jump out without paying. He said he has yet to be turned away by an Uber driver. (Nonetheless, Uber and other ride-hailing apps have been accused in other cities of refusing service to African-Americans.)
Uber has showered the boroughs with “neighborhood love” promotions such as free rides, $5 car pools within each borough and free pizza just for showing the Uber app. It has also opened driver support and recruitment centers, called “Greenlight Hubs,” in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, while closing its only one in Manhattan this year. Much as it has done to New York’s yellow cabs, Uber’s popularity is coming at the expense of livery cars and green taxis that operate in northern Manhattan and the other boroughs.
Uber closely guards its ride data, but agreed to provide The New York Times with recent numbers that show its service expanding rapidly in 50 sample residential areas in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and on Staten Island with limited access to public transportation. Uber made a total of 167,194 weekly pickups in these areas in August, nearly triple the 56,721 weekly pickups from the year before.
A similar pattern has emerged in other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago and Houston, with the demand for Uber service initially concentrated in the downtown or central business district and then spreading to outlying neighborhoods and suburbs. This has helped Uber continue building ridership amid a series of high-profile missteps and scandals that have provoked widespread condemnation and incited a global backlash against the company, with some riders deleting the app in protest. In a significant setback, London declined to renew Uber’s operating license, declaring that the company was not sufficiently “fit and proper.”
For many passengers, though, the bottom line is that Uber gets them where they need to go. Leo Martinez, 30, a sales agent who has taken Uber around Queens, said that while she has heard the concerns about Uber, what matters most to her is that it is cheap — usually less than $10 a ride — fast and reliable. “Every single company has complaints,” she said. “It’s not just Uber.”
An Uber driver center in the Bronx. The company has opened similar centers in Brooklyn and Queens, while closing its only center in Manhattan. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
More than half of the 50 sample areas with increased Uber pickups were in Queens, a sprawling borough where many residents live far from the subway. In St. Albans, weekly pickups rose to 6,370 from 1,870 the year before, while neighborhoods including South Jamaica, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, Bayside and Glendale also saw large increases.
In the Flatlands neighborhood in Brooklyn, which has no subway station, there were 13,380 weekly pickups, or nearly four times the 3,598 pickups the previous year. In Starrett City, a vast housing development, weekly pickups rose to 2,261 from 699.
Nine areas were on Staten Island, a borough where public transit is sparse, including Port Richmond, New Brighton, Westerleigh and Arden Heights. In the New Springville area, weekly pickups soared to 1,494 from 591.
“We really want to make sure we’re fulfilling the needs of New Yorkers wherever they live,” said Sarfraz Maredia, Uber’s general manager for the Northeast. “Taxis have long ignored some of these communities.”
Mr. Maredia said that Uber complements the public transit system, especially in “transit deserts” outside Manhattan where subway stations and bus stops are far apart. Uber cars ferry riders from their homes to the closest station, or provide a one-way alternative.
Other ride-hail apps, like Lyft and Via, are also finding customers beyond Manhattan. Just over half of pickups on Lyft, not including the airports, now come from outside Manhattan. It has stationed its operations staff in Queens, where it also has a driver support center, and hosts monthly social events for drivers in Brooklyn. Lyft is the official rideshare partner of Barclays Center, offering up to $10 off the first two rides to the arena. Other promotions have included 50 percent off 10 rides in the boroughs outside Manhattan.
Inside the Uber center in the Bronx where in one neighborhood, Soundview, Uber pickups grew to 6,132 a week in August from 1,189 the year before. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Via, which started in Manhattan, has branched out to Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and to Long Island City in Queens. It also has a driver center in Queens, and has dangled a $5.95 flat fee for rides between Brooklyn and Manhattan, $7.95 for rides between Long Island City and Manhattan, and $5 for rides within Brooklyn.
Meera Joshi, the commissioner of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, said all these new choices have improved the transportation landscape. “More options expand mobility for passengers, and they become a greater part of our city’s social and economic life,” she said.
There are about 61,000 black cars providing rides for Uber, though they may also work for the other apps, too. In contrast, yellow taxis are capped at 13,587.
Though more for-hire cars means worse traffic in some neighborhoods, Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant who has found that the ride-hail apps contribute to congestion, said that their expansion outside Manhattan was generally positive. “I think the incremental increase in traffic is way overshadowed by the improvement in mobility in these neighborhoods,” he said.
Just as the apps have upended the yellow taxi industry, their expansion has hurt the green taxis, which were started in 2013 to serve northern Manhattan and the other boroughs, and neighborhood livery services. Currently, there are 4,251 green taxis on the road; in July, the green taxis provided an average of 29,503 daily rides, down from 42,979 the year before.
Sergio Sanchez, who once owned five green taxis, said Uber siphoned off his drivers with hefty signing bonuses and other incentives, and won over riders with heavily discounted rides. “People were standing on the corners waiting for Uber,” he said. “The green taxis were invisible, like they weren’t even there.”
Uber has seen its ridership increase in many minority neighborhoods that residents say taxis have long shunned. Ride-hailing apps have also become popular in areas that are far from subway stations. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times
Mr. Sanchez said he simply could not compete and his taxis were repossessed by his lenders. He now drives for Via.
Some livery services have banded together against the threat from Uber and the others, pooling their cars and creating a unified network to ensure that there is always a car available to pick up a passenger. Jose Altamirano, the president of the Livery Base Owners Association, said that may not be enough if the apps continue to rapidly expand. “If they go up, we’ll go down,” he said. “There’s only so many customers.”
The ride-hail apps have not only benefited passengers but also drivers, many of whom are immigrants with few good job options. At the Bronx driver center, which opened in February, 2,000 drivers come through the door every week.
Sabrina Ortiz, 28, earns about $800 a week driving for Uber, or twice as much as she did as a receptionist for an auto shop. Another benefit is that she can set her own hours and does not have to check with anyone to stay home if her two children are sick.
Ms. Ortiz said that she is aware of Uber’s scandals and strained relations with drivers who have criticized the company for underpaying them and cutting rates so low they cannot make a living. One passenger recently asked, “How can you work for Uber?”
“It does kind of bother me,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I haven’t had any experience like that.”
Ricardo Peña, 24, who lives in the Bronx, began hopping into Uber cars two years ago because he could not bear another packed bus or subway. Soon he was taking Uber up to 10 times a week. He eventually quit his job as a security guard and went to work for Uber as a driver.
“A lot of people need this form of transportation,” he said. “They need the convenience.”
A version of this article appears in print on October 13, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Uber, Booming In the Boroughs, Passes City Taxis.