The thing to remember is the NYC has 2 separate cab systems. You have metered medallion cabs for street hails, that are very highly regulated. And then livery cars, basically your call for a pickup type cab along with limos and black cars that are barred from doing street pickups.
Most US cities handle it entirely with the livery style cabs, or otherwise merging things into one taxi setup. Weirdly a lot of places flat out ban street hail style taxis (like where I’m at now).
What we usually talk about with NYC Taxis is the medallion side. Fares are fixed by regulation, they’re only allowed to pickup street hails. The rates to airports and certain other key public transit locations are flat. A taxi is required to pick up up, required to use the shortest route, required take you where you want.
The thing about it is apart from a very specific mistake that would lead people to describe it as “legendarily corrupt”. The NYC medallion taxi system is (or was) considered one of the best in the world. It does more rides, more safely, cheaper, with fewer problems that almost anywhere else.
The devil in the situation was the issuing of medallions. They did the same thing with them as most cities with similar systems, and as NY State did with liquor licensing.
They had fixed quota or pool of medallions, and only issued new licenses when the number operating was less than the quota they’d determined. And only the number needed to hit the quota.
And they made them transferable.
So as demand for taxis went up, along with the city’s population. That meant it was easier to get one by buying out an existing one. Which meant less medallions returned to the pool. And fewer issued each year. Which meant the secondary market prices kept going up.
There weren’t “decades” really where reform was needed. It really didn’t become an issue until the 90’s, at which point Giuliani liked it just fine and kind of exacerbated the issue. It came to a head in the 00’s at which point reforms started. They could have avoided it decades before. And they probably should have fixed it after the State fixed the exact same issue with liquor licenses a few years before. But was a some what recent problem.
Basically independent owner operators and small cab companies got priced out of the metered market. Leaving consolidation by large cab companies. Who would lease a cab at exorbitant shift rates to drivers. Who needed to do particular things to cover that day rate. Including cluster in Lower Manhattan to focus on short trips, avoid the outer boroughs, and cheat the fare system. Then as values went up you had speculators who would buy medallions and lease those to the consolidated garages to keep them active. In hopes of selling them at a profit.
Further pricing people out.
Starting in the 00’s, post Guiliani there were increases in the number of issued medallions. Livery cabs were allowed street pickups in more places (and held to things like the flat airport rate). And the Borough Cabs were cooked up as a cheaper 2nd stream, with medallions issued in volume for low fees. And requirements to serve outlying areas. They also cracked down on fare cheating and a lot of the scummier cab companies.
The idea was to lower the secondary value of the medallions over time, to avoid the problems caused when the State basically removed the secondary market in liquor licenses in one go.
At which point Uber stepped in. Paying drivers less than either livery or medallion driving, but didn’t require a chauffeur’s license or give a shit about livery or medallion regulations. Which attracted a lot of drivers even if it paid slightly less. The barrier for entry was way lower.
The other thing they did was charge customers a shit ton less. Even where reported fares were much higher than the City’s meter rate. Burning investor cash to keep rides cheap enough to attract customers.
In first couple of years no Uber ride I took cost more than $5 regardless of distance. The bulk of them were free.
That pulled a shit ton of ride volume off the licensed cabs. So even if you made less per fare, you could make more, by taking more fares.
That dropped demand for medallions, and the value of them collapsed rapidly.
Then Uber dropped the rates they paid drivers, as they subsidized the cost to riders less and less.
Effectively they left all kinds of drivers with lower wages. And kicked off all the bad shit from medallion values dropping too fast.
They basically “out competed” reform by undercutting labor. They did that in a lot of places at the time, including LA IIRC.
For my part I never found any of the ride shares more convenient, safe or reliable than regular NYC street taxis. The only times I used them was when they were ridiculously cheaper. Most of the time I end up in one in NYC these days, it’s actually more expensive. And the drivers are still getting screwed, and the company is still burning investor cash to make it happen at that price.
And it’s worse out here in I live between a beach and a potato fieldsville. Uber and Lift are only spottily available. Last time I was with some one who insisted on checking the app, it was $140 for a 15 minute ride the local call a cab company did for $25.
So like some one up thread said it’s only really “better” from a really narrow perspective.