If you think New York cabbies have gotten friendlier over the past few years, you're not imagining it: Research from the Technology Policy Institute, presented this week at the American Economic Association's annual meeting, supports the theory that taxi drivers are becoming nicer—and attributes it to the rise of the ride-hailing startup Uber.
The study reports that, as expected, daily taxi trips in New York have declined since the introduction of Uber, which officially launched across hubs like New York and San Francisco back in 2011. (Earlier today, the San Francisco Examiner wrote that Yellow Cab, the city's biggest taxi company, is filing for bankruptcy due to competition from rivals Uber and Lyft.) Since cabbies cannot compete with Uber when it comes to low fares or convenient payment methods, they appear to have made an effort to buy customer loyalty through better service—one of the few things that does fall within their purview.
According to data collected by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (NYCTLC), customer complaints about taxis have slowly declined since Uber's entry into the market—a number that, to be fair, was already decreasing prior to the ride-hailing app's launch. In the following graph, the study takes into account the drop in taxi rides, since that obviously impacted the number of complaints filed.
The report reveals a clear correlation between an uptick in Uber use—as evidenced by Google searches for the term "Uber"—and the falling number of customer complaints, even after considering the effects of bad weather and fewer overall cab trips. This was reflected both in New York and Chicago; the latter did not provide data on the number of taxi rides over time, but did show a similar decrease in user complaints and offer detailed information on what those complaints were about, from "rude" to "pickup refused" and "credit card problem."
While cabbies are probably making changes in their own behavior, it's also possible that the very riders who complained most about taxis have made a switch to services like Uber and Lyft. Either way, as the study points out, cab drivers now have greater incentive to treat their passengers with more care, even if those improvements may be less tangible to prospective customers.