I remember a time some 40 years ago when two-way radios were used inside more than half of all NYC Yellow Cabs. Back then, a prospective passenger would call the radio base, the base would announce the call on a frequency actually heard inside the taxi, and the driver would respond with his microphone. Once a yellow driver received a radio call, he turned on the light on top of the roof-light that read, “ON RADIO CALL.” I remember passing by dozens of hailing passengers to pick up the more lucrative radio call.

Ultimately, there was mass public outcry because there simply were not enough Yellow Cabs picking up street-hails… period. New York City politicians reached out to the yellow taxi industry at that time and came up with a solution that benefited the existing yellow drivers with a 2-way radio – the city would allow those yellow drivers and fleets to buy another vehicle for each owned medallion and place the two-way radio inside that vehicle and use it solely to pick up radio calls.

That is how the Black Car Industry began in New York City.

Obviously, all Yellow Cabs were then mandated to do what they were licensed and mandated to do: pick up street-hails.

I was watching the news the other night and saw a yellow taxi fleet owner describing a “historic” deal that had just been consummated, to add all Yellow Cabs to the Uber app. The news report said over 14,000 Yellow Cabs would be using Uber, although I assume that includes all yellow Standby Vehicles as well.

What do you think is behind this “deal,” and who really benefits here?

Let me start with a distant relative’s technological invention that allowed credit card payments to be made over the internet. Susie was earning (and maybe still is given) 1/8th of a penny for every internet credit card transaction. It doesn’t sound like much until you think about the millions of transactions that occur every hour globally. To this end, it seems to me that existing companies that control yellow cab credit card transactions would greatly benefit from an Uber deal like the one described above. Remember, you must give Uber a credit card to charge your fare.

 

I certainly don’t begrudge someone earning money, particularly in the current environment, I just hope the industry at large is being considered. In my opinion, Uber has proven that their drivers are expendable, and my concern is that struggling drivers will gain no ground financially, but a select group of people will profit tremendously. My even bigger concern is that this could actually lead to the extinction of yellow taxi drivers.

There are so many questions that remain unanswered, at a time when drivers are struggling and the industry is very fragile. Will there once again be a public outcry when 14,000 yellow cabs start passing by street hail customers to pick up an Uber call? Did every medallion company agree with this, or were they included at all? The drivers certainly were not included in any “deal.”

I think the yellow taxi industry has been all but decimated since Uber was allowed to operate in New York City, leading to the major reduction in the yellow cab workforce. Out of desperation, a huge number of those drivers chose to go with Uber. Today, taxi companies are desperate to bring some of those drivers back, so they can again have an abundant workforce – that includes the belief that this deal will provide additional fares for yellow cabs and will thereby cause a migration back to driving yellows.

Maybe taxi companies are in on the deal, maybe not. But one thing is for sure, the drivers are the workhorses for taxi companies and thereby for credit card companies, but to my knowledge they were never included in the actual financial benefits – meaning more and better rides – that this deal promises.

 

History has indeed repeated itself, only this time at the expense of yellow taxi drivers. I can only hope this: yellow drivers have a choice of picking up a street hail or passing them by for an Uber call, they choose the street hail, as mandated by law since before you were born.

We want to know what you think. Please email me your opinions at taxihail@aol.com, so we can include them in an upcoming issue.