The bottom line: Based on 2014 data for the cheaper UberX rides (liberated by a FOIA request), yellow taxis are marginally cheaper than Uber up and until about the $35 mark, according to the data scientists’ research paper, at which point Uber generally becomes a better deal. To account for variability in fare prices (that is, surge fare multipliers), Uber gave the researchers a minimum and maximum fare, which the researchers averaged to compare with NYC yellow taxi data.
“As observed in a variety of empirical data, human mobility tends to be characterised by a vast majority of short trips. This observation therefore suggests that Uber’s economical model exploits this trend of human mobility in order to maximise revenue,” say the researchers in their paper.
Uber’s been fighting critics of its surge pricing for years, pledging to reduce fees by between 17% and 34% in 16 U.S. cities way back in January 2014, and a month later set up push notifications in the Uber app to tell users when surge prices fell.
If you need hard-and-fast info on whether a yellow taxi should be cheaper than an Uber, the researchers released an iOS app, OpenStreetCab, that queries the NYC taxi cab database used in their research paper and compares it to results using the Uber API.