About 6,300 words into his State of the City address on Jan. 15, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg spent three sentences on a new proposal, under discussion in his office and at the city Taxi and Limousine Commission, to set up a limited system of cab-sharing at designated locations throughout the city.
Owing to the space constraints of a major speech, the mayor’s proposal was brief, leaving plenty to the imagination.
Here is what Mr. Bloomberg said, in its entirety: “We’ll also experiment with a common sense idea that will help New Yorkers stretch their own dollars further: the option of taking multiple-fare taxi and livery rides from, for example, airports and other locations. Riders will save money and drivers will make money. It’s a win-win — what’s not to like?”
The answer to that question will depend on just how the concept is implemented. Aides to the mayor emphasized this week that most of the details are still under consideration. They, along with the Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman, Matthew W. Daus, and the commission’s board, will be discussing the idea in the coming months. There some hints, though, about the direction those talks are headed.
Jeff Kay, director of the mayor’s Office of Operations, said the priority is to craft a system that is beneficial to both drivers and passengers — and safe for both groups as well. The general idea, he said, is to designate a few locations, like airports and similar places, and like train stations, where people can get taxis or livery cabs for “group rides” — rides shared, that is, with other people headed in a similar direction.
Informal taxi sharing between friends and acquaintances already happens all over the city, of course, but this would be a formalized process, with rules for both drivers and riders to follow and, probably, preset fees assessed to each rider. It is similar — but, pending those continuing discussions, not necessarily identical — to the cab-sharing, with zones, that the city allowed on an emergency basis during the 2005 transit strike.
The question of how passengers would pay for these shared rides is still undetermined, Mr. Kay said, adding, “We’re still trying to figure out whether you want to do a flat fee or you want to use the technology that already exists.”
But with the electronic meters, credit card readers and GPS systems, he said, “The technology that we’ve installed in the taxis makes this limitless.”
The designated sharing locations in Manhattan would be served by yellow cabs, Mr. Kay said, but at locations in the other four boroughs where yellow cabs are much less prevalent, livery cabs could fill a similar role. This, too, would involve a rule change: As things stand, livery cabs can legally pick up only riders who reach them through a dispatcher, not those who try to hail them. In areas that are underserved by yellow taxis, Mr. Kay said, the law could be loosened so that livery drivers could find passengers at the designated stands as well, without having to go through a dispatcher.
Yellow cab drivers gathered at the John F. Kennedy International Airport taxi depot reacted to the ideas this week with a mix of wariness and skepticism, with some cautious optimism thrown in. The drivers’ reactions, gathered on Wednesday afternoon, are the subject of the Dispatches feature in this weekend’s City section.
The J.F.K. taxi depot is a fascinating corner of the city, a jumble of cultures, of overtired men from dozens if not hundreds of countries, waiting in forced proximity for a dispatcher to send them out to a terminal to pick up passengers. Somehow they mostly get along, or at least coexist. The scene was described in much greater detail in a Times article in 2005, four years after it opened.
In general, some of the drivers at the depot seemed ready to embrace the idea. Even those who disliked it agreed that, generally speaking, they could make more money from carrying multiple customers at a time — if all goes well. But there, those drivers said, was the rub: Their objections tended to come from uncertainty over whether the ride-sharing program could ever operate smoothly.
One driver, Ngoran Dje, asked whether there would be a line at the airport for riders interested in sharing cars, separate from the regular taxi line.
From here, the questions multiplied: What if, in that sharing line, the first person is headed for the Upper East Side, for example, and the second person is headed for Greenwich Village? Who decides if they should share a cab? If their destinations are deemed too far apart, what then? Does the nearest person to the front of the line who also wants to go to the Upper East Side get to skip ahead? Where does this leave the Greenwich Village person, who has now been skipped? What if there is no other Greenwich Village person in the line for that rider to share with? Does he or she have to wait until another downtown person arrives?
Similarly, if people who want to share are in the same line as people who don’t, will the line attendants be able to sort them out in a way that leaves everyone happy?
The drivers at the taxi lot, who seemed to take a dim view of human nature in these cases, had their doubts.
At any rate, some of them said, many passengers just want to be alone.
“A lot of time, the people, they get nervous because a lot of times you don’t know who you’re sharing the back seat with — they look strange,” said Michael Surgent, a Romanian (from Transylvania, actually), who has been driving a taxi in the city since 1983.
He was speaking from experience in other experimental taxi-sharing programs over the years, and added, “A lot of times, people say, ‘Listen, take me by myself and I’ll give you more.’”
Daleap Paul, another driver, said: “People do a lot of business from the back seat. Now they have the little televisions in the back; they look at that.”
About the potential added cost of riding alone, he said, “These airport people are rich people, so they would not mind.”
By JAKE MOONEY