Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Yellow Bellied Varmints

A couple of interesting statistics jumped out at me in this Village Voice story about the rise and decline of illegal cabs in New York City, against the backdrop of the two existing fleets. Essentially, you have the Yellow cabs, which have been around for decades and are licensed to serve the entire city, and you have the newer Green cabs, which are licensed for “everywhere but Manhattan.” You also have the illegal cabs, which are the focus of the story, and it’s very compelling and you should read it but I’m not touching here.

So yes, New York City has two separate taxi fleets. This might seem a little silly if you haven’t spent a lot of time in New York City. If the Yellow cabs serve the entire city, why did they make another set of taxis just to serve a subset of the city? Well, there are reasons. One of them is that the Yellow cabs can serve the entire city, but they don’t:

A [Taxi and Limousine Commission, the regulatory body for all taxis in New York City,] analysis released in 2012 found that 95 percent of yellow-taxi pickups happened either in central and Lower Manhattan or at airports, leaving the outer boroughs badly underserved.

In 2012, there weren’t any Green taxis at all. So that’s almost all of the taxis in New York City serving just one small area of the city. (Specifically, the area with all the money.)

Well, is that because there are just a lot of people in Manhattan? Maybe it has almost all the people?

When the green cabs finally arrived, in August 2013, they were met with immediate praise from residents of the outer boroughs, where more than 80 percent of the city’s population resides, according to U.S. Census data. In the program’s first year, the green cabs collectively made more than 43,000 trips a day. They flocked to popular neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Harlem and Astoria, though they also fanned out into the further reaches of the outer boroughs.

So that’s a no. Most of the people don’t live in Manhattan. Okay. So not only does the vast majority of New York City not live in Manhattan, but when Green taxis hit the streets, there are more than 40,000 people every day that want a ride. It sounds like that’s a lot, but the Yellow taxis do 485,000 trips per day. That’s absolutely insane.

The Yellow taxis do 95% of their pickups in Manhattan, and then when Green taxis are out and about, the Yellow taxis have 93% of the combined Green and Yellow rides. It may be that the 20% of the population living in Manhattan just needs to use taxis more than the 80% living outside Manhattan.

One last fact, I promise:

And [Green taxis] proved that they weren’t a major threat to Yellow taxis, which only saw their fares and tips dip by 2 percent from the previous year.

So, to recap, Green taxis only serve the parts of New York City where 5% of Yellow taxi pickups happen (despite those parts having 80% of the population). Green taxis are now 7% of all taxi trips in the city, a change which has cut into taxi revenues by 2% year over year. Inflation last year was 1.7% – so Green taxis ate into the Yellow taxi business just about as much as a sluggish recovery from a global recession.

Of course, they’re both happening at the same time; the Yellow taxi lobby can’t do anything about inflation, but there are ways to do something about Green taxis.