New York has ~13,000 traditional yellow cabs and over 80,000 Uber and Lyft cars.
The New York City Council voted Wednesday to set a cap on the number of ride-hailing vehicles in the city, a move that will see Uber and Lyft’s growth curtailed. No new licenses will be issued for a full year as the city studies the issue further; legislation also allows the city to set a minimum pay rate for drivers, who, as legal contractors, are not subject to federal or state minimum wages.
“We are pausing the issuance of new licenses in an industry that has been allowed to proliferate without any appropriate check or regulation,” Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, told the New York Times before the vote.
Uber has blazed the trail for the ride-hailing industry by ignoring local regulations, clashing repeatedly with city governments and often threatening to shut down service in response to legislation. Although a number of cities have tried to shut down Uber and Lyft altogether, or attempted to force the companies to operate exactly the same as taxicabs, this marks the first time a major city has passed legislation that will regulate ride-hailing apps as their own industry.
Uber has campaigned against the legislation, warning riders that a cap on drivers will create higher prices and longer waits for cars. “We take the Speaker at his word that the pause is not intended to reduce service for New Yorkers and we trust that he will hold the TLC accountable, ensuring that no New Yorker is left stranded,” the company said in a statement. “In the meantime, Uber will do whatever it takes to keep up with growing demand and we will not stop working with city and state leaders, including Speaker Johnson, to pass real solutions like comprehensive congestion pricing.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted to pass similar legislation in 2015, but was defeated by a complex counter-campaign from Uber. This time around, he didn’t waste a second issuing a statement praising the legislation, which he is expected to sign. “Our city is directly confronting a crisis that is driving working New Yorkers into poverty and our streets into gridlock,” de Blasio said. “The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action—and now we have it.”
Video: At the latest Ars Live, labor law expert Veena Dubal beaks down on-demand realities.
Uber and Lyft have famously destroyed the taxi industry by enabling anyone with a not-too-beat-up Toyota Corolla to start carrying passengers for money. But it’s also no secret that down the line, both companies want to challenge traditional car ownership as a concept.
For Uber, that means heavy investment (by whatever means!) in autonomous vehicles. For Lyft, that means a publicity stunt that will give 100 individuals in Chicago $550 a month in transport credits to give up their personal vehicle.
Lyft’s proposal is intriguing: it will offer its guinea pigs $550 in credits for a handful of diffferent shared transportation options. They’ll get $300 in Lyft carpool credit, $45 for a monthly Divvy bike-share pass, $100 in Zipcar time-share credit, and $105 for “L” train and bus service. Lyft claims that the total cost of car ownership in Chicago, including gas, parking, and maintenance, can be as high as $1,000, so this is supposed to prove that you can get around the city more conveniently for less money if you don’t own a car.
“We are literally asking people to get rid of their cars,” David Katcher, Lyft’s general manager for the Midwest, told The Verge. “Basically, we’re giving people this opportunity to park their cars for 30 days, and here’s everything you need to get around this city.”
The promotion fits into Lyft’s more general mission, which has spread from car ridesharing to be more specifically about the future of urban transit. The company recently acquired bike-sharing company Motivate for $250 million, and its app now showcases public transit options as well as cars. Uber, on the other hand, thinks the future will involve a lot of very cheap Uber rides once it can build fully autonomous cars and cut the drivers out of the equation entirely.
Ride-sharing services like those from Uber and Lyft are great for all of you outgoing types who love meeting new people. Not so much for those among you who recoil in horror at the thought of small talk, who pretend that there’s music actually coming through your headphones when your airplane row-mate tries to ask a question, who just want to enjoy your anti-socialness in peace.
Even so, fear not. A Lyft exec says the company may roll out something just for you.
In an interview with The Verge, Lyft’s head of product for autonomous driving Taggart Matthiesen responded not unfavorably to a question about whether the company would ever add some kind of “Do Not Disturb Me” mode to the app (Taggart, in the interview, describes it as a kind of “zen mode” for users).
“We have thought about it,” he acknowledges, adding that the company may end up playing around with the idea.
It was a point he made within the larger context of the greater personalization of rides that’s offered via self-driving cars, which of course is a very specific goal Lyft is working towards.
“The autonomous car is going to know a lot more [about you],” Matthiesen says in the interview. “It’s going to know your temperature that you’re going to want. It’s probably also going to know that it’s early in the morning, and so it’s going to have a dark-lit cabin to let you sleep. Maybe you can even relax in the seat, and the back will extend into some sort of lie-flat mode. Maybe not complete lie-flat, just based on the area, but a good recline.”
Rides in an autonomous car offered by Lyft would, of course, offer the ultimate human-free “Do Not Disturb Me” mode.
Both Lyft and Uber, to be sure, have ambitious plans for self-driving cars. In March, for example, came word that Lyft has joined forces with the automotive supplier Magna to put self-driving cars on the road. In May, Lyft announced it would be putting 30 self-driving cars on the road in Las Vegas, which follows a similar experiment in Boston in 2017.
“After lagging behind Uber,” the New York Times reported about Lyft earlier this year, “Lyft has recently made a concerted push into self-driving cars. The company opened a research facility in Palo Alto, Calif., and has aggressively recruited engineers.
“It also has a major asset for self-driving technology — a ride-hailing network picking up and dropping off passengers 10 million times a week. This provides Lyft with a customer base to introduce and test the vehicles and a way to collect information that can be used to ‘train’ autonomous cars.”