Ridesharing apps like Uber have exploded in popularity over the past few years, and it’s not just because they’re simple to use — as this stunning map of taxi trips across New York City shows, some parts of the city just can’t get a cab. An MIT study that last month revealed Uber could replace every single New York City taxi with just a fraction of cars, and Todd W. Schneider’s incredible taxi map might help explain how that would work.
A common complaint is that the outer boroughs (the parts of the city that aren’t Manhattan) are ill-served by traditional taxis. In a way, that’s to be expected: historically, around 97 percent of taxi pickups occur in Manhattan, so as a cab driver there’s an incentive to work where the money is. To combat the imbalance, the city introduced “borough taxis” in August 2013, green cabs that are allowed to pick up fares from anywhere except Manhattan below East 96th and West 110th streets. Nowadays, Manhattan accounts for around 85 percent of pickups, with the approximate remaining 15 percent starting in the outer boroughs.
Uber has hit on a high-demand service: outer borough transport. Here is a map of traditional taxi pickup points, based on data from January 2009 through June 2015. The white parts are yellow cab pickups, while the green parts are boro taxi pickups:
And here is the map showing drop-off points:
As the second map shows, people do travel to the outer boroughs. The problem is the pickup: that data will only show people that were able to hail cabs, rather than people that wanted to hail cabs but couldn’t.
Although the boro taxis are meant to make things better, Uber has managed to capitalize on the system’s shortcomings. Outer borough passengers can hail an Uber without needing to stand on a street corner for what could turn into an eternity. In 2016, 34.6 percent of NYC Uber trips started or ended in the outer boroughs, up from 8.2 percent five years prior.
“Today, more New Yorkers living in our outer boroughs have access to an affordable, reliable ride, making it easier for residents to get to and from work, and for visitors to explore traditionally underserved neighborhoods,” the company said in a statement last year.
FiveThirtyEight data revealed that in 2014, 22 percent of Uber rides started outside Manhattan, around seven percentage points more than traditional cabs. Below is a map of Uber pickup locations last year:
Uber has received backlash from New Yorkers over the past few days, after it dropped surge pricing around JFK airport during an NYC taxi strike held in solidarity with those affected by Trump’s immigration ban. The DeleteUber movement pushed Lyft up the iOS App Store rankings and led to people deleting their Uber accounts. The movement may give Lyft a boost, but with the inherent flaws in the taxi system, it’s unlikely outer borough residents will give up on ridesharing altogether.