As City Mulls Car Service Curbside Pickup, A Look at the Economy of Liveries

Thursday, May 05, 2011

New York City livery cab New York City livery cab (Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

When it comes to catching a cab, New Yorkers living outside of Manhattan often have a tough time. This year, Mayor Bloomberg proposed to allow car services, also known as liveries, to make curbside pickups. But there’s a catch – they’d have to install meters.

At the moment, Bloomberg's proposal faces strong opposition from the yellow cab industry. But given that liveries don’t currently use meters – how exactly do they set prices?

Matt Mohammed of Blue Car in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, said the answer is simple: price is calculated by distance. Mohammed pointed to a laminated map of New York City on the wall of his Atlantic Avenue dispatch office.
"We set the prices as like circles," Mohammed said, tracing concentric rings around his location. Every few inches, another sticker was affixed to the map showing the price. Park Slope: $10. Flatbush: $18. Canarsie: $30.

Mohammed said fares aren't calculated precisely point-to-point, as in taxis, but more roughly, neighborhood-to-neighborhood. Trips to Manhattan cost a little extra because that can mean traffic. Airport trips, which are seen as a cash-cow, are generally discounted.

Carlos Bolano, owner of Continental Car Service in Park Slope, said the rate for most trips works out to roughly $3 a mile.
Yellow taxis cost less — 40 cents per quarter mile, or $2/mile. But there are so many surcharges, Bolano said there's usually little difference in the final price, and car services are sometimes cheaper.

Stickers on a map show the fares at Park Slope-based Continental Car Service. (Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

Recently, photographer Virginia Sherwood showed up at Bolano's plexiglass window, and informed him she had a torn retina. She had to get to her eye doctor on the Upper East Side, and fast. Bolano quoted her a price — $32 — and told her the car would be ready to go momentarily.

Sherwood said she walked past three yellow cabs on the way to the dispatch office, and that she prefers to take liveries.

"It's about the same price. You don't get any attitude from the drivers," Sherwood said, before getting into the car.
There are roughly 22,000 thousand livery cars in New York, compared with 13,000 yellow cabs. Since they started appearing in the 1970s, liveries have gone places some cabs are reluctant to go. They set their own prices, determine the color and make of their cars. And people depend on them.

Bolano's base is a dingy office on 9th Street behind a door with a sign that reads "NO DRIVERS." The tools of his trade: three telephones and a two-way radio. Even in the off-hours of the late morning, there's seldom a moment of silence between the ringing of the telephones and the static cough of a radio transmission.

Above the desk hangs portrait of Bolano's childhood hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, wearing a diaboloical smile.

"That's my main man. That's the man I dreamt all my life," Bolano said.

Bolano's own army is considerably smaller than the Corsican's. He has 70 drivers. And as with any army, loyalty depends on pay. Bolano lets his drivers keep all their fares, and takes a weekly fee of about $100. People in the business call this the "Latin" model because it was pioneered in the 90s by Spanish speakers.

"It's a way of getting more drivers so you can give better service to the public," Bolano said.

The Latin model stands in contrast to an older system, where the owner takes commission between 20 and 50 percent of the fare. Livery owners call this "Arabic" or "American" model, though they tend to use ethnic terms loosely.

Blue Car's Matt Mohammed said his little fleet of 20 company-owned vehicles, whose drivers work for commission, is being squeezed by Latin-model operators.

"We have no way to compete with these people," he said.

Average Brooklyn car services fares come from Arecibo, Continental, 7th Ave. Car Service, Eastern Luxury and Castle Car Service on April 4, 2011.

(Graphics by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Average Manhattan car service fares come from Carmel, Delancey Car Services, Tel-Aviv Car and Limousine Service, Allstate Car and Limousine, Dial 7 Car and Limousine. Note that Manhattan fares go up about $5 from 2:45 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.

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Comments [9]

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Nov. 22 2013 05:56 AM
NYtruckdriver from BX NY

All i have to say on this matter is; They drive like crap, or the large majority does. I spend my entire work week on the streets of the Bronx driving a city truck, I would estimate that 75% of the cars I witness causing backups, making illegal moves, generally driving like jerks, etc, are Liveries. They constantly cut you off to then drive slow past crowds of people beeping for curb pickups(illegal), "pull over" suddenly or stop without warning in a driving lane when plenty of free curb space is available 10 to 20 feet ahead. They are constantly making more illegal moves like u-turns through crosswalks while the light is red than i can list.
I am not trying to make a comparison to yellow cabs, they have their % of real crap drivers also. I understand they provide a service that is not available in the area otherwise, but if they want to gain more respect they must begin to police themselves and learn to drive better. Largely being immigrants they bring the chaotic driving styles of their home country to streets that have rules. I understand they are not the only offenders, but as a profession/group they can be singled out.

TL;DR : They drive bad, they need to drive better before the average good driver will respect them as more than predatory road hogging traffic causing pains in the ass.

Jan. 08 2012 08:37 AM
Frank Cicero from Brooklyn

This all about dirty politics and the local government digging deeper into the drivers pockets and the general public. 600,000 dollars for a medallion,??? 850 dollars a week to rent a cab for one shift??? no wonder why u have nasty drivers and a high level of stress. A medallion system in the boros is dirty politics, hire more tlc inspectors and enforce no pick up in the street rules and increase the fines so that the risk is far greater than the fare in the street. The mayor is a heartless, godless greed machine and wants more pollution , more traffic congestion and more accidents that will produce more revenue than a army of tlc inspectors.By the way after the new bill is passed he will hire more inspectors so the the benefit is on both sides of the fence and he will add the 50 cent mta surcharge too.

Jun. 27 2011 12:52 AM
Harry Matthews from Brooklyn, NY

First a major correction: livery services did not "begin appearing in the '70s" but have been around for decades. They simply operated in neighborhoods where the elites who dominate government and media rarely ventured. The creation of the Taxi and Limousine Commission brought standards and visibility to the industry in the '70s.

Also, the story overlooked the fact that installing meters would increase costs to the livery companies and create an uncertainty that might discourage customers of limited means. For instance, if you know a livery cab costs $12 for a trip to the doctor, you know exactly how much to set aside. But a metered trip could be less or more, and you might not have enough money left for the trip home.

May. 10 2011 10:51 PM

Here's the thing, you put a meter in the car and you deal with the backhanded tactics of drivers trying to squeeze every dime out of you. If you get a quote up-front and that is what you are paying, it is far less annoying when the driver decides to take the scenic route and gets jammed up in traffic.

I'm not sure what the concern is? If it is that the outer boroughs are being under-served, get more yellow cabs out there or allow the livery's to do curb-pickups (which most do anyway and I am thankful for that) and continue with their own business model...or do both. To change one option to mimic the other is only taking away all options available to the consumer.

May. 05 2011 04:45 PM
GrimaceNYC from East Village, NYC

I hope the city allows Livery cab drivers to have paid meters and pick up fares. The service is always SO much better then most yellow cab drivers. I can't think of a worse service in the city (yellow cabs) via destination refusals, passenger screenings, and near-violent attacks. Last year, a yellow cab started taking off down 5th Ave in Park Slope with the door open and my 2-month old baby still strapped in (as we were unloading). When he finally stopped, I slammed the door shut out of disgust and he popped out of the cab and started cursing off me off, threatening to hit me and my family (despite I'm 6'3") for slamming the door shut. I played it cool, took the high road, and reported this to 311. After a ton of paperwork, it went to trial about 6 months later, where the cabbie made up a BS story and got ZERO punishment and the judge scolded me for calling 311 instead of 911.

The point is that even if you DO take a Yellow cabbie to trial for something extreme like this, they STILL get off. The enforcement system is a JOKE, thus cabbies vigorously break the rules.

Allow the Livery cabs and overhaul the system to put a dent on cabbie's horrendous service.

May. 05 2011 04:10 PM
Tracy from NYC

Seems like this is a no-brainer. If the yellow cabs don't want to leave Manhattan, except for airport trips, livery cabs can pick up the slack for customers who are still willing and able to pay for trips in the outer boroughs. Who loses here?

May. 05 2011 02:09 PM
emprentiss from NYC

The company you used to calculate the fares are generally higher than what most car services charge. Several yrs ago, Carmel charged me $48 from West 181 to Penn Station. I had no choice since it was the only wheelchair accessible vehicle I could find! At that time, any car service in Washington Heights would have cost $30!

May. 05 2011 10:24 AM
MacJohnson from NYVC

Worst graphics I have seen years. Hope you can blame them on an intern.

May. 05 2011 09:50 AM

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