Just How Do Livery Cabs Make Money?

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NYC Livery Cab (Photo: Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Ilya Marritz, WNYC) It's a quirky New York phenomenon -- there's the yellow cab world, which (unlike many cities around the world) can be hailed on the street most places in Manhattan and in small pockets of the outer boroughs, like Brooklyn Heights, a tony neighborhood just across the Brooklyn Bridge.

But then there's the world of livery cabs -- on call services, patronized by many New Yorkers who are too poor (or can't be bothered) to own a car.  New York has the lowest car ownership rates of any large city in the country.

And livery cabs tend to be run by groups of aspiring immigrants, many of them from South or Central America.

But when it comes to catching a cab, New Yorkers living outside of Manhattan often have a tough time. This year, New York Mayor  City 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.

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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.  You can read the full story here, at WNYC.org.