The average cabby works nine and a half hours a day. A cab’s busiest hours are 6 to 8 p.m. And even as the economy has fallen deeper into recession, the number of cab rides each day in New York has remained relatively steady.
Those are among the most vivid bits of information about the yellow cab industry to emerge from a trove of new data collected by the Taxi and Limousine Commission from cabs equipped with new computerized systems that record each trip and fare.
Among the more surprising findings is that credit cards may be saving the industry from feeling the worst effects of the recession.
“The credit card that we put in cabs has helped keep them afloat,” said Matthew Daus, the chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
By last November, every yellow cab in the city was equipped with a credit card reader — as a part of the new computerized system — and as a result, Mr. Daus said, many corporations that once ordered black cars for their employees have begun telling them instead to take a cab (which costs less) and charge it.
That has hurt the black car business, which was already reeling from the impact of the Wall Street crisis on its main customers, financial services firms. The black car business is down at least 30 percent, Mr. Daus said.
But the shift has helped yellow cabs and appears to have made up for lost business as tourism and air travel have slumped and the disposable income of ordinary New Yorkers has dwindled.
For several years, data from old-fashioned taxi meters has shown that there are about 400,000 to 450,000 cab rides a day in New York (the data does not distinguish between weekdays and weekends). Now, information from the computerized systems, which the commission calls an electronic trip sheet, shows that the industry has maintained similar levels in recent months.
In December, cabs carried an average of 432,000 fares a day. That rose to 455,000 in January and 478,000 in February. (Because the commission has only a few months of data, it was not possible to tell the significance of the change from month to month or whether it was part of a seasonal pattern.)
Last month riders paid with a credit card for one out of every five trips. A year ago, only six percent of trips were paid for with plastic.
“Industries all across the city and across the land are losing revenue, and we’re showing signs of hope,” Mr. Daus said. “Taxi drivers have had a relatively consistent ride so far.”
Cabbies, however, were adamant in disputing the commission’s claim that business has remained steady.
Bhairavi Desai, the head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a drivers’ group, said the recession had pushed more people to drive cabs. As a result, she said, at any given time there are more taxis on the road than a year ago and, while the total number of fares may be fairly constant, each driver ends up with a smaller piece of the pie.
And she criticized the credit card system — which many drivers opposed — because drivers must give up five percent of each transaction in a processing fee.
Most drivers interviewed on Tuesday said they had seen a drop in business.
“It can’t be possible,” Mohamed Hillman, 45, who has been driving a yellow cab for four years, said of the commission’s numbers. He said that a year ago he usually carried 35 fares a day while spending 10 hours behind the wheel. Now, he said, he carries about 27 fares during the same time. And he said trips were often shorter than before.
Syed Shah, 60, a driver for 15 years, said he used to take home $150 a day after expenses. Now, he said, he takes home $90. He said he sees many more people sharing cab rides. Where he used to take one person to work in the morning, now four get in his cab to ride together. A year ago, those might have been four separate cab rides.
The data also gives other insights into the life and work of cab drivers.
On average, drivers work about nine and a half hours a day, the commission said. That covers the time from a driver’s first pickup to the last drop-off.
That is in contrast to what many cabbies have long told officials: that they often work 11 or 12 hours a day.
The data also shows that the greatest number of cabs are on the road at about 7 p.m. At that time on an average day in February, about 10,000 cabs were cruising the streets. At noon, an average of 8,700 cabs were on the road. The fewest cabs were available at 5 a.m., when about 2,600 cabs were out.
Mr. Daus said there were more than 47,000 people licensed to drive taxicabs, a record number. Commission staffers said that in recent years the number of licensed cabbies had generally been between 37,000 and 40,000. But Mr. Daus said that drivers’ wages appear to have remained steady at $14 to $16 an hour after expenses.
The data shows that at least in the last three months, there has been some earnings consistency. The average cab took in $32.11 (not counting cash tips) from 6 to 7 p.m. in February. In December the average for that time period was $31, and in January it was $30.96.
C.J. Hughes contributed reporting.