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Princeton Taxi Cab Companies Want Town to Ban Uber

uber2121Cab company owners who serve Princeton are asking town officials to ban ride services like Uber.

The owner of Amigo Taxi called on the Princeton Council tonight to address the issue of unlicensed taxis operating in town. He did not name Uber or similar services like Lyft and Sidecar by name.

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said the town’s public safety committee is looking at the Uber issue and should take action within about a month.

Uber, a San Francisco ridesharing company, uses a smartphone app to connect riders with drivers. The company has set up shop in more than 70 cities in the United States since launching in 2009 and operates in New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Princeton, just to name a few cities and towns.

The fee taxis can charge for trips departing from Princeton is set by ordinance. The cost of a ride to Princeton Junction from downtown Princeton via a ride service like Uber can be 30 to 60 percent less than the price of taking a licensed taxi.

Some cities have banned the ride services. Other cities like Las Vegas require the drivers to obtain taxi licenses and charge standard rates for taxi services.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • bill

    Bargain??? I have heard the weirdest stories from my co-workers of bargaining with taxi drivers at the Princeton Junction train station in the middle of the night. Enough of the taxi monopoly. Wages inadequate…get a new job. Times change. $20.00 for a ride up the road was always ridiculous!

  • Bill

    I’d have a hard time believing that taxi drivers in a suburban community, especially a college town, don’t frequently skirt fare regulations. They know that the rider has little recourse, and it’s just too easy and to do and to get away with. It’s one of the elements from which Uber benefits because if a rider gets cheated, the feedback is immediate and meaningful. That’s not the way taxi regulation works and that does not work to the advantage of the rider.

  • larry7410

    When vegas banned Uber, I thought, okay I understand. Corrupt city, corrupt policies, etc etc. Then I hear Princeton, my wonderful town, is being asked to ban it and I think let’s not have the world think Jersey is stuck in the past..still corrupt etc. Uber is safe…we know who the driver is, we know who the rider is, and we get to rate each other. They have more info than a cab system currently has about the rider. Let’s move forward and not cling to a dying industry, or have officials try and get something from Uber just to allow their services in their area.

  • I’m sure that Uber would happily comply with any town ordinances/rules that say fares should be higher. I have a feeling the core issue is the EXTREME CONVENIENCE and LOW COST of using Uber…

  • Alexi Assmus

    Uber supports traditional taxis as well with their smartphone call system (UberBlack). Wouldn’t the smartphone technology improve the business of taxis who wait at the Nassau stand by adding another way for them to get riders? If ridership goes up they wouldn’t need to charge as much per ride to make a living. Uber has the potential to greatly increase the market (number of riders) by making it much easier to use a rideshare services. I don’t see this as eliminating an old business (like a blacksmith) — but rather both empowering drivers (traditional and new) and riders. I do understand that medallion holders will see their assets decline — but they also have the potential to see their income go up if their time on the job wasn’t fully booked with rides.

  • Edward R. Percarpio

    I am aware of that, I just want to make the point that competition should always be encouraged in a free marketplace.

  • tiresius

    The cab companies have had a monopoly for much too long, charging exorbitant rates for those stranded by NJTransit at the Junction. In some cities, there would be a Taxi Commission to report them to, and help regulate the rates charged. But this is New Jersey. Please let Uber operate. Competition is the American way, right?

  • Scott Sipprelle

    Kudos to Councilwoman Crumiller for the open due diligence process and for caring what residents think. Refreshing frankly. Uber is a tremendous innovation in public transportation access, public safety, and traffic congestion. It increases confidence and security of women commuting through uncertain terrain. It eliminates the possibility of drunk driving. And it takes cars off the road. Why would we ban it? We should hold a parade and thank each one of these small business entrepreneurs for providing a greatly needed service. The cars are clean and the drivers polite. The drivers have been background checked to the maximum extent allowed by law. And you can view a driver’s profile and rating before he or she shows up, and evaluate them after the ride. The way every product or service should work. Surge pricing is simply a way to better balance heavy demand periods. When the demand goes up the fare will rise modestly to bring more drivers out of their home to work, providing more capacity to serve customers quickly. Simple and efficient and fair. Please think hard before passing some ordinance that will paint Princeton as a hollow-headed and backward looking town. And please try the service.

  • Douglas Rubin

    The ordinance is the problem. Taxis are already used less and less (primarily by out-of-towners who don’t know better, and the car-less in special cases).

    Uber/Lyft are the Model-T that will put the horse-carriages out of business.

  • Douglas Rubin

    Why not allow ANY driver for hire. . . Taxi, Uber, Lyft, etc. . . . to queue for riders? Taxi’s don’t pay town “rent” or even parking fees for prime real estate in front of NPC and McLean House … so it should be open to all.

  • Douglas Rubin

    It sets a lot of fares . . . mostly within the old Borough to/from a designated set of locations outside (including the Jct.).

    ~5~15% of the time the fare is too low (so there are too many riders and not enough taxis) and ~80~90% of the time the fare is too high (so there are not enough riders and too many taxis).

    Imagine if the Boro Council told the farmers at the market to charge $X for a peach or an apple. Would that price be too high or too low?

  • Douglas Rubin

    Huge applause for Councilwoman Crumiller’s open investigation into our current taxi “failure”. I consider her and her husband, experts in this area.

    With a bit of background in transportation economics, I have studied the taxi situation in Princeton for many years as well, and I have two principle points to make:

    Taxi price regulation, both in Princeton and West Windsor, is a complete fail. Artificially-high price floors means that demand is suppressed. Most of us not within walking distance of Dinky will drive to Jct. and park for 2~6 days at $5/day, as opposed to take a taxi for $18-$28 depending on location. Artificially-high price regulations mean that supply is over-encouraged (with way too many taxi’s queuing for riders, idling their engines for the heat or A/C, and waiting 15~120 minutes for fares).

    Only during Reunions, and maybe late on Friday’s and Saturday’s when people with cars choose prudently not to drive, does increased demand meet the regulated market supply. At almost every other time, the Association-Borough regulation is a failure that discourages taxi use and encourage the use of private automobiles that cruise for parking spots, and clog up our local streets.

    Uber, Lyft, etc. are market responses to transportation demand. During non-peak times, they charge just enough (about $9 to or from Pr.Jct.) to connect demand with supply. They charge higher rates (encouraging more supply) when there is a lot of demand. No long queues of taxi’s idling waiting for the out-of-towner on expense account and ultimately fewer people driving to/from and parking at Pr.Jct or even downtown as a lower-cost alternative is available.

    My 2nd point is that the taxi’s have been marginalized by other subsidized transportation alternatives. Crosstown removes a very large number of what-could-have-been taxi trips from the market. The FreeB bus, which is becoming moderately successful as well as Princeton University’s TigerTransit are wonderful, almost free (to the user, at least) transportation alternatives that obviate the $6-$30 taxi ride.

    The private taxi’s have been heavily marginalized by all this competition and most users are better served less expensively by all this choice. This is sad to some degree as a lot of good people made a living from their taxi “franchise.” Now, that franchise or license has become much less valuable . . Change can be painful as the local butcher, blacksmith and telegraph operator would argue.

    Does Princeton allow its transportation users to have better, nimbler, less expensive choices to personal automobiles . . . or does the Council let the Taxi Association ‘capture’ its regulators, just so 20~30 drivers (almost all of whom don’t live in Princeton) benefit from above-market taxi rates?

  • Jenny Crumiller

    Alexi, our ordinance requires anyone who transports passengers for hire to obtain a license, which includes a background check, a test, proof of insurance, vehicle inspection etc. There are also state regulations under the state statute.

    The ordinance harmonization committee is a subcommittee of the council – Jo Butler, Bernie Miller, me, along with our lawyer and staff members. The meetings are not public. Much of the process is routine, but when there are serious policy issues involved, we bring them to the council before spending a lot of time doing any drafting. Since we are not a majority, we can’t make any final decisions even if we wanted to.

    I think somewhere either here or on Facebook I might have wrongly estimated the number of taxi medallions. There are 22 – I thought for some reason there were about 50. They are sold privately and so we don’t have a record of their selling price.

    I’m not going to come back to this comment thread to answer again since it’s getting old but feel free to email me privately- this goes for anyone reading this. My email is found on the Princeton government website or you can use a form on my personal website to contact me.

  • Jenny Crumiller

    Thanks JustAskikng — that does seem quite high. Regardless of Uber, we’re going to try to address the mystery of the pricing by posting the fare schedule in the cabs. Right now we’re coming up with a zone map, which seems like the best way to calculate fares in a suburban area where the cab drivers end up driving empty one way for most trips. But we haven’t finalized the draft ordinance yet.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Jenny when will the next meeting of the Ordinance Review Committee be? It doesn’t seem to be posted on Events on the town’s website. Riders and drivers of the new smartphone ride services should be meeting with the committee as well as the committee meeting with taxicab company representatives.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Medallion owners in NYC who have benefited from rising price of their medallion assets (2013 peak at over $1M) are now seeing a decline with new smartphone-based ride services. Currently the New York City medallions are trading at $950,000. Smartphone car services must have some strong forces against them in the city. See Jan 7 2015 article in NYTimes.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/upshot/new-york-city-taxi-medallion-prices-keep-falling-now-down-about-25-percent.html?abt=0002&abg=1

  • Alexi Assmus

    Uber is here. Just trying calling them on your app in Princeton.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Can you explain how Uber drivers are breaking the laws?

  • Jenny Crumiller

    Edit: Actually we’re not sure the taxi drivers all obey the laws regarding fares – we’re trying to address that in the ordinance.

  • Jenny Crumiller

    Alexi — you may be right that the taxi drivers are working for Uber as well. The ordinance review committee (not the council) met with a few of the taxi drivers as part of our process of harmonizing former Borough and Township Ordinances. At that meeting, we did not address Uber but focused on fares and other issues, like the yearly fingerprint background checks we require and incorporating the Township into a standardized fare structure. I was surprised the taxi drivers didn’t bring up Uber, and it led me to speculate that they might be driving for Uber as you suggest. I also thought maybe Uber wasn’t an issue in Princeton.

    The majority of taxi medallion owners in Princeton only own one vehicle. According to the records, it looks like for a number of them a family or housemates take turns driving the taxi. There is a taxi association made up of the independent taxi owners, who have taxi stand privileges and have other rules they’ve made for themselves. We contacted the head of that organization as part of our ordinance process. The taxi drivers we met, who I assume were the leaders, are rough around the edges but at our meeting, they were polite and helpful. But it is no A-1 Limo. Their cars are all pretty old.

    When I’ve taken a Princeton Junction taxi, the cars have also been old and the drivers have sometimes been surly, so I have a feeling the Princeton Junction taxi drivers are in the same demographic. Also, I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal complaints and seen the comments about the taxi drivers being rude, slow to appear after calling and charging arbitrary rates, although there are very few official complaints about these things.

    It does seem like Uber is shaking things up and offering better service. The current medallion owners have made a serious investment in their medallions, commercial insurance, their taxi association membership fee, and they obey the laws. The Uber drivers are breaking the laws, charging less, and some of them apparently are happy and polite. That’s what we have to grapple with.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Jenny I’m a bit confused about who Council is meeting with. Is it
    independent drivers or owners of multiple-cab taxi companies? My
    understanding is that independent drivers have welcomed Uber as
    another way to get fares in addition to their other calls — and that
    it has increased their income substantially. Don’t independent drivers
    in Princeton both receive calls at the taxi stand and work with a
    smartphone service like Uber? One of the reasons it may be hard to
    earn a living in Princeton as a taxi driver is that there aren’t enough
    fares — and smartphone technology helps with that, making it easy to
    connect means your ridership goes up.

    I can understand why those who own some of the 50 medallions or
    permits you mentioned may oppose Uber — but surely Council wants to
    be careful to represent their constituency of drivers and riders who so
    benefit from new smartphone car services. They make it more possible
    to live in Princeton car free. I see Uber as akin to Prof. Korhnauser’s
    robotic cars that would shuttle around suburban NJ picking up and
    depositing people— and make it possible to have a transport system
    that is not based on the private automobile.

  • Citizen

    SFB, thanks for pointing me at the Assembly bill.

    I actually wasn’t aware of this, but it addresses many of my concerns about Uber. I would be delighted if this bill becomes law.

    From the article:

    “The bill would require the ridsesharing companies to apply for permits with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. They would have to prove that the company provides insurance of up to $250,000 per incident from the moment a driver opens the app that allows him to accept fares, as well as $10,000 for medical insurance coverage. And as soon as he has accepted the fare, the amount of the insurance increases to $1.5 million.

    “The drivers would also have to seek an endorsement on their licenses from the MVC certifying that their license is valid, their vehicles have been inspected and they have clean driving and criminal background histories. They would have their license, registration and insurance checked annually, and their criminal backgrounds checked every three years. Drivers would also have to take a drug test.”

  • Alexi Assmus

    If driver background checks are effective, certainly I am for it. I have found that Uber drivers to be consistently much better than regular taxicab drivers. Extensive regulation in New York City hasn’t created a taxicab service that I want to use (drivers unsafe) so I’m not so sure how effective “the rules” of the industry are. If Uber’s feedback mechanism is effective in providing safer rides, I’m all for it.

  • SFB

    @citizen Yes, I disagree with that. uber is a different model to traditional taxi companies, and should not be arbitrarily forced to operate under the same regulatory framework. The only question that I can see is whether uber drivers carry sufficient insurance to protect the passenger in the event of an accident. That should be resolved, but the NJ Assembly are already addressing this question. Customers are benefiting tremendously from uber, so Council should proceed with caution.

  • Alexi Assmus

    About $9 by Uber from Princeton to the Junction (Uber has fluctuating fares depending on availability — but I am not sure this ever comes into play in Princeton as it does in big cities). Cost is ~ $20 by taxicab between the Junction and Princeton. Interestingly Uber is usually the MORE expensive option in cities.
    I called taxicabs from the Nassau stand periodically when I was commuting into New York regularly — usually someone picked up the phone when I called and they came within 15 minutes and often the service was fine. Not as consistently reliable, pleasant, and as good drivers as Uber however, although I haven’t used Uber as much in Princeton as in cities. You are in two-way contact with the driver which makes it easy to hook up. I do not like getting a taxicab at the Junction — I often find they cabs unpleasant and not all drivers attentive to the road.

  • Rob Dodge

    Jenny, Cost for Uber was $8.52 inclusive. Interestingly on the return trip from junction (same distance) I paid regular taxi at Junction $25. I know we are supposed to bargain down the price out there but it was late and I was tired and just got it cab. While price is important yes, I would rather give my money to independent driver setting their own hours / schedules than a corporation paying someone to drive for them (all Uber drivers I have spoken with feel they are running / driving their own business and are not employees of Uber, although yes, some of their proceeds go to Uber).
    Sure, Uber drivers should have insurance, cars inspected, etc. My understanding is that they do have some regulation as the Uber drivers I have spoke with in NJ cannot pick up in NYC, just drop off but I don’t have details of this rule / regulation.

  • Citizen

    I wasn’t trying to imply that Uber is “scamming” customers – sorry for the lack of clarity. However, its core business model is essentially the same old-fashioned scam you see in corrupt government contractors, operators of dangerous mines, owners of dirty restaurants, etc. It boils down to: we can make more money if we simply ignore the rules and keep for ourselves the costs of following regulations. This is extremely common, of course, and not specific to Uber, but it’s surprising how many people will jump to Uber’s defense on this topic, whereas they’d never countenance similar approaches in other industries.

    Adequate insurance and driver background checks are easily obtained. They are not contradictory to Uber’s on-demand, smartphone-based business. Following them will not destroy Uber. They will simply cost money, and Uber doesn’t want to pay. This is not a business approach that I find praiseworthy – that’s why I don’t use Uber.

    I think Uber should pay for these things. They can have their two-way feedback, great service, fast response time and the excellent smartphone app, but they need to pay the costs and follow the rules that everyone else in the industry has to deal with, which are there for everyone’s protection.

    Why can’t we have an Uber that follows the rules? We don’t need to choose between Uber-exactly-as-it-is-now or, otherwise, horrible taxis. A better choice is between Uber and traditional taxis, all competing on a level playing field.

    Does anyone really disagree with that?

  • JustAsking

    Hi Jenny,
    Regarding fares, I was surprised to read the ordinance you posted yesterday as I don’t understand why my fares have been so high. With 2 people and luggage, I’ve been paying $20+ from the borough to the Dinky and ~ $30 to the Junction for a few years now, from various taxis. I don’t get close to that looking at the fares on the ordinances.

    Also, I’ve used the taxi stand number. Usually it’s been fine, but there have been times when noone answered.

  • Jenny Crumiller

    Alexi, I’m trying to get information — thank you for sharing your experience. I still don’t think I’ve heard the actual numbers regarding any Princeton fares — how much did you pay? Also, why did you not call the taxi stand on Nassau Street, where the cars are waiting for your call. Is that an unreliable option? I haven’t heard that complaint but maybe that was a factor? Thanks again!

  • SFB

    @Citizen, There’s a massive difference. With uber, you know exactly who the driver is, you can see their feedback, often based on hundreds of client interactions, and you will leave feedback yourself. With the sketchy guy, you don’t know anything about him. uber drivers are subject to rigorous inspection, it’s just that the inspection is done by the customer instead of a municipal licensing process. The drivers therefore have a big incentive to be courteous and professional, which is exactly what most customers find them to be. All this is only possible because of Web 2.0. Town officials need to recognize that this is a new model and that customers deserve to be able to make their own choice.

  • Alexi Assmus

    What has been your experience riding in taxis and the new smartphone-based car services? Uber is not a scam.

    Both riders and drivers have been the winners with the smartphone-based services, as well as Uber. Perhaps more regulation of Uber will increase the benefits for riders and drivers. But my concern is that when you look at the taxicab system in NYC where extensive regulations govern cabs — the experience for both riders and drivers is much worse than with smartphone-based car services. This comes from my taxi and Uber riding experience and talking to others with experience. I haven’t used AirB&B — but I have used VRBO to rent homes and it works extremely well (much better than renting through a corporate or business office). Individuals do treat each other well — and the online feedback mechanism works to stop problems.
    My guess is that the two-way smartphone feedback that is easily collected and analyzed is one reason Uber work so well for riders and drivers. It may be that the smartphone system game changer has not only brought better service, but that it will continue to work well without extensive government regulation (I’m not saying none.) It’s a new system and shouldn’t necessarily be
    governed by the rules of the old — which in many cases was broken. I have been frightened by very poor taxicab drivers in NYC for example. I don’t believe that regulated taxicab drivers are guaranteed a fair wage or benefits.

    In Princeton a less expensive price may be the appeal for Uber service — but that is not what is driving its success in the big cities where Uber is comparable in price to taxis or higher.
    What is driving its success there is the better service, safer rides,
    and enthusiastic drivers who are making more than they would working for a taxi association. My guess is that taxicab drivers need to charge higher rates in Princeton because they are sitting without rides for long periods. Smartphone pairing of riders with drivers will certainly help with that.

  • JustSaying

    Citizen, I agree with much of what you wrote. There should be a fair playing field. We do need to be careful that the “fair” playing field isn’t designed so that only traditional players can play because of protectionism.

    In another post, you said that you were against protectionism, but in this post you seem to be supporting protectionism when you write:

    “I could post my eight points above and basically search-and-replace “Uber” with “Airbnb,” another company that tosses out the consumer protections, employee benefit plans, stable careers and identifiable brand names hotels have to offer in favor of ever-changing untrained freelance part-timers.”

    Consumer protections are one thing, but for the government to be designing regulations to preserve employee benefit plans, stable careers, and identifiable brand names is protecting an industry. Government doesn’t do this in other industries and shouldn’t be doing it here. Government is great at protecting consumers and taxpayers rights, but isn’t very good about deciding market value or the best way that the private sector should provide services.

  • Citizen

    Also, I’m singling out UberBlack because the technical and user interface aspects of Uber are irrelevant here. UberBlack is simply an example of how you can use new technology to create new ways of transportation and new job opportunities WITHOUT throwing out consumer and worker protection. It’s difficult to find a reason to oppose UberBlack.

    I’m personally not opposed to new technology or to new ways of hailing cabs – I think it’s very important to separate out “Uber is a great way for people to hail cabs using a smartphone that makes my life easier” from “Uber shouldn’t have to follow any regulations”. Isn’t that true?

  • Citizen

    Correction: “legitimate businesses that are trying to earn a reasonable profit while following the law”

  • Citizen

    Alexi, I actually don’t have professional experience or affiliation with the taxi industry. I work in the software industry, and I care personally about preserving strong consumer and worker protections. Time and time again, we see companies that are basically old-fashioned scams but are treated as something nobler just because they use well-designed technology to put their sketchy business model into practice. There are companies that essentially offer payday loans, but because they do it with a website, they don’t face the same level of vilification (http://valleywag.gawker.com/payday-loan-startup-that-promised-to-kill-finance-now-1641879191) that seedy-looking brick-and-mortar payday lenders do. I could post my eight points above and basically search-and-replace “Uber” with “Airbnb,” another company that tosses out the consumer protections, employee benefit plans, stable careers and identifiable brand names hotels have to offer in favor of ever-changing untrained freelance part-timers. The parallels are remarkably similar.

    Too many people are coming to Uber’s defense simply because it’s cheap or because the cab-hailing experience is seamless. That may be true and the drivers themselves might be wonderful people, but Uber the company makes its money by dodging regulations, underpaying drivers and undercutting legitimate businesses that are trying to earn a reasonable profit. If we don’t push for Uber to follow the same regulations already in effect, we hurt Uber drivers (they don’t get a fair wage, benefits or liability protection in case of an accident), competing limo and taxi drivers (gradually dwindling business if they choose to continue to follow regulations) and passengers in general (no liability protection, no driver background checks); the only winner is Uber itself. The current two-tier system is unsustainable. Uber is no problem, as long as it follows the regulations already in place for the taxi industry. These are not “busywork” requirements: they are meaningful things, like protecting passengers from liability and from criminal drivers.

    Uber doesn’t need defenders and cheerleaders, it’s a large, for-profit company that can handle itself. What it needs is critical examination. What is the difference between Uber and some sketchy-looking guy who stands at the train platform with a clipboard, saying “Hey, my buddy Hank will drive you in his own car for half what these licensed taxis are charging”?

    No difference except presentation.

  • Citizen

    JustSaying, new people are welcome to enter this industry, but they need to carry the same insurance and follow the same regulations that the old people do. If we ever reach that point, then taxi companies’ pleas for bans can be considered nothing more than pleas for protectionism. But as long as Uber drivers are allowed to skirt all the rules and taxi and limo companies are the only ones who see any enforcement, they have a legitimate complaint.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Attempt is not to use 2000 lb car to transport a 150lb person bit to use public transport. It would have been impossible to do this if Uber hadn’t been a back up.

  • JustSaying

    I’d be concerned if UberBlack only allows calls to already existing taxis and limos. The technology allows new people to offer these services and that should be encouraged.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Sounds like you have some professional experience in the taxi
    association arena. It would be good if you would give your name —
    and affiliation if you are a professional in this area. I see the only thing you support is UberBlack which only allows for calls to already established taxis and limos. The great benefit of Uber has been to allow individuals to start up their own businesses with a car and smartphone. Required two-way feedback has supported excellent service and driving — and from what I’ve seen, drivers are incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity they have been given by Uber to earn their living.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Resident here.

    My sister-in-law and brother introduced me to Uber in Chicago. Riders
    in Chicago are voting with their feet and the service has taken off.
    In fact, Uber works so well there that it is making it possible for more
    people to live a car-free or lite-car life. Between renting a Zipcar
    and having a car available to you within minutes by smartphone, people
    are willing to give up their personal autos. When you connect with
    Uber via smartphone and are assigned a car (and there are other car
    services that work this way) , you and the driver know where each other
    is through global positioning on each others smart phone — and you can
    text them or talk with them. You are never waiting in suspense
    wondering if the car will really come. I haven’t had to wait for more
    than five minutes for Uber. You can also reserve one ahead of time.
    You are required to rate the car before you can take another one —
    and the driver also rates you. Great two-way feedback! Much, much
    better than anything you could or would do with a taxi license number.
    I have heard if you give a driver 3 out of 5 or less you will never be
    paired with them again. (I don’t know what they have to give you to
    assure that they never see you again!)

    It is not always the case that Uber is cheaper than taxis — in fact in
    the cities I have used it in this is not so. It’s been comparable in
    price or more expensive — but so much better with clean cars and good
    drivers coming reliably within minutes after you call. We once got an
    Uber car in a small back street late at night in New York City. We
    would never have been able to get a taxicab there.

    I avoid taxis and take the bus and subway in New York partly because I
    have been frightened by the way some NYC taxis drivers swerve in traffic
    — and many of them do not seem attentive to the road. I know that
    there have been problems with taxicabs hitting pedestrians in the city.
    Drivers used to listen to loud music in NYC — often with headphones — but
    that seems to have been banned. In Princeton, I will wait for the
    next Dinky rather than taking taxis from the Junction, not only for
    environmental reasons and price, but because taxicabs often smell
    unpleasant and the driving quality is irregular.

    I chat up the Uber drivers. They are an entrepreneurial bunch — proud
    to be running their own business with a car and smartphone. All the
    Uber cars I traveled in but one were super clean and carefully kept, and
    the Uber drivers I have had have all been excellent drivers. There
    will be some issues with safety and Uber drivers — but there certainly
    are similar issues with licensed cabs. The question really is what
    system works better to provide safe, efficient transport and good jobs.
    The pairing of riders with drivers and the feedback that smartphone
    technology allows for is a real game changer. From what I’ve seen, at
    least in the US (London has a great cab system and I am sympathetic to
    those who don’t want to see it disappear with the rise of smart-phone
    based car services), the new smartphone technology has allowed both
    customers and drivers to benefit. In NYC medallions for taxis costs
    hundreds of thousands of dollars or more — drivers aren’t the ones
    that own them or profit from them and it often shows in the service
    customers receive. I see Uber and other smart-phone based car
    services as an amazingly beneficial product of the internet revolution
    both for riders and for those looking for a way to earn a living —
    freeing us all of entrenched systems that weren’t working well.

  • Really

    So, you’re trying to make a flight, and your plan is to take the free shuttle bus to the Dinky, then take a train to the Junction, and you have less than 15 minutes’ buffer time in this itinerary? That’s not the fault of regulated taxis, dude. You could’ve just called a regular cab to take you from your home to the Junction in the first place. Uber has nothing to do with this.

  • Jenny Crumiller

    Citizen, thank you for your comprehensive comment! From this it seems like UberBlack is the way to go. I wonder how many of our taxi drivers are UberBlack drivers, and how the other commenters feel about UberBlack.

  • Jenny Crumiller

    Rob, thank you for sharing this information! Can you tell me how much the Uber driver charged for taking you from your house to the Dinky station? Also, how would you feel if we required Uber to follow our regulations regarding background checks, vehicle inspections, insurance, etc.? It seems like many of the advantages of Uber could be preserved even if they were required to follow those regulations. But again, this is just the learning phase.

  • vinny

    Fuck it. Im taking the bus for now on.

  • vinny

    Uber realizes that their drivers are to stupid to figure out what they are covered for and when their insurance kicks in.

  • vinny

    Uber insurance is a mystery to all. But then again, so is taxi insurance. A taxi company would never give a driver a copy of their insurance policy. They always want to keep them in the dark.

  • Rob Dodge

    I have used Uber 15 times in the last few months (just counted on Uber’s website). As I know there is some controversy regarding Uber drivers, each time I have asked the driver how they liked driving for Uber? did they make a reasonable salary? etc. Every single driver was super positive about driving for Uber. Notice that I did not say most or majority of them, every Uber driver I have had was positive. They liked the flexibility, money, independence, people they met, etc. Best story was former grocery store clerk who was making about 4 times his minimum wage salary and still had flexibility to get home for his kids mid-afternoon when they returned from school. Granted many of my Uber rides were in San Fran, LA, Chicago, … but several were here in Princeton / Trenton / New Brunswick area as well. As to service, also, every single driver was prompt friendly, in a very clean car. In fact the worst Uber car I have been in is, cleaner and better smelling than the best Taxi I have ridden in. Of course they have to be good, if a driver gets bad ratings, they will no longer be allowed in be a driver (Also, drivers rate the passengers so rude passengers will show up with bad ratings next time they request Uber). And you are required to rate each driver after your ride.
    Here is my example on why Princeton needs Uber: I’m waiting for the FreeB to take me to Dinky. I am taking the train to EWR for flight to West Coast. After FreeB is >15 minutes late, it is apparent I will not make the Dinky. Okay, pull out Smart Phone. In less than 3 minutes, I am on the way to Junction in very clean late model Uber car, driver asking me if I want to read paper on way, is radio station okay (NPR). Super service, like a limo (but 4 times less $ than cab) This driver told me that he would have taken me to EWR or even upper East Side so yes, they pick up fare before knowing where they are going. Fast, convenient, clean, great drivers: that is why Princeton needs Uber.

  • Citizen

    The first word in 8 is supposed to be “There” – sorry!

  • Citizen

    Jenny, thank you for joining the conversation!

    I think there are a lot of issues Uber brings up that the council should consider when revising its ordinances:

    1. Uber drivers do not carry full commercial liability insurance. A limo or taxi, in order to be licensed, needs to carry expensive liability insurance in case a car is in an accident while a passenger is on board. This insurance protects the passenger from lawsuits by the other party in the accident and can cover medical expenses arising from any injuries. Uber recently purchased a policy that covers some accidents, but has major gaps (it only applies if the Uber driver is found to be at fault in the accident). Technically, UberX drivers are committing insurance fraud by driving people around for hire on personal insurance policies, so their personal policies will not come into play in case of an Uber-related accident.

    2. Uber encourages a race to the bottom. It’s able to offer lower prices (though I don’t use Uber, I’ve heard that they charge about 50% less than cabs) by a) skipping insurance premiums and background checks, b) underpaying their drivers (many Uber drivers have recently staged protests, claiming that they’re paid less than minimum wage) and c) by shifting liability from accidents from Uber onto the drivers. It exploits a rotating cast of gullible drivers, who most likely move on to other things after trying to get by on a $9 fare. Taxi and limo companies operate on a different basis – they charge sustainable fares and pay their employees minimum wage, at the least.

    3. Uber takes a 20-25% commission on fares, so that $9 fare from PJ to Palmer Square works out to about $7. This $7 needs to cover a) wages, b) gas, c) car maintenance. It obviously can’t even come close to covering the downtime you mentioned in your comment. Is it good to have most of our taxis driven by underpaid, ever-changing drivers who can’t afford to maintain their vehicles?

    4. It’s important to preserve local, independent taxi and limo services. As Uber undercuts traditional transportation and seizes a bigger share of the market, it jeopardizes the survival of law-abiding traditional firms. However, Uber itself is a very new, very unsteady company – it’s facing dozens of lawsuits in countries all over the world challenging its complete disregard for taxi and limo laws. If Uber is banned or fined at a higher level of government and is essentially taken out of the picture, we would need to have independent taxi companies to pick up the slack. It is not good for the majority of taxi and limo travel in the area to be dependent on a company that is just a few years old and is on legally shaky ground.

    5. When we apply the Uber business model to other industries, the flaws become more apparent. Imagine that, in Princeton, some restaurants carried insurance, had to pass stringent surprise health inspections, were required to prepare their food only in commercially-rated kitchens and paid their employees at least minimum wage; another set of restaurants is allowed to skip all of these requirements and as a result can charge 50% less, at great risk to public health. That seems entirely unappealing to me, and it’s no different for Uber or, for that matter, Airbnb.

    6. Like Airbnb and other “sharing economy” companies (selling a service as a freelancer should not be called “sharing), Uber de-professionalizes industries. A changing cast of freelancers organized by an app replaces professionally-managed firms and the accountability that comes from having an actual operating business with a name and a brand that can only continue to exist if it maintains a good reputation and follows the law.

    7. Most Uber travel is done through their UberX service, which matches up travelers with a nearby freelance driver. Uber has a separate service called UberBlack that essentially lets users book actual taxis and limos with their smartphones. Although I don’t use it, UberBlack sounds like a perfectly acceptable service: it merely match-makes between passengers and licensed taxis and limos. That is a simple case of technology making life easier. All of the complications arise from the UberX service, which uses amateur, unlicensed, uninsured drivers.

    8. Their have been cases of Uber passengers, especially women, being assaulted, threatened or harassed by drivers. Although this can happen in any industry, the background checks that are done in the legal taxi and limo industry make this less likely. It’s easy to find lots of news stories reporting on this kind of behavior.

    9. In general, Uber leaves both passengers and drivers worse off. Passengers run a risk by riding essentially without insurance with a driver whose background hasn’t been vetted. Drivers, instead of earning a wage and benefits from an employer and being able to have a stable career as a driver, are left with a poverty-wage job that puts them at risk because of the liability issues arising from Uber. The only advantage UberX advocates can come up with is that it’s cheaper, but as I hope I’ve explained, there’s no free lunch, and the cost savings are artificial.

    Thanks for your time.

  • Jenny Crumiller

    @Ordinance and @JustSaying I don’t know the answers and I welcome any knowledge about Uber and how it actually works.

    The ordinance, which is from the former Borough, sets the minimum fare at $6, which is the cost for one passenger to anywhere in the former Borough. There are other factors and prices, you can see it here http://clerkshq.com/default.ashx?clientsite=PrincetonBorough-nj Chapter 31 on the left under “general ordinances.” In reality, I don’t think there has been much enforcement in the last few years.

    Do you know if Uber drivers can refuse to pick up a fare? Do you feel it’s OK to charge higher prices during high demand? These are genuine and not sarcastic questions – I’m curious about how people feel about them.

    Personally, I would much prefer to use my smartphone to order a ride and I assume everyone wants to pay less. I don’t want to prevent residents from having those advantages without a good reason. It’s something the council has to seriously consider and learn about. After meeting with taxi drivers, I did come away wondering how anyone can make money driving a cab here, and so I wonder the same thing about Uber drivers. That’s one reason I’m wondering if Uber can survive here and how we should handle it.

  • ordinance

    What is the current ordinance? Does it set a minimum price per fare? A maximum price per fare? Or both?

  • JustSaying

    Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for posting and I’m glad the Council is looking at the ordinance again. I know that there are lots of issues here, but I’m concerned if the Council is using the idea that “it’s harder to make a living driving a cab in the suburbs than in the city, and I don’t see anyone rich here driving a cab” when deciding on the mandated fares. Cabdrivers aren’t getting wealthy at the expense of their customers, but there may be an alternative way to provide these services at a lower cost.

    I would like to see the council set regulations to ensure safety, but leave it to the marketplace as to what an appropriate fare is. It may be that there are perfectly acceptable, but vastly cheaper, alternatives (such as Uber) to the traditional structure. There is a price currently borne by potential taxi-fare customers who can’t afford to use the taxis (at current prices) that the Council should consider as they revise the ordinances.

  • Jenny Crumiller

    Council member here. Currently the council is updating our taxi ordinance. We’ve met with some of the taxi drivers and we will have another meeting with them before finalizing the ordinance. I definitely have more sympathy for the taxi drivers where before this, I tended to suspect I was getting ripped off whenever I used a taxi.

    Currently Princeton taxi drivers must have a license which is renewed yearly and one of about 50 taxi permits or medallions. Besides the fare schedule, they’re subject to a yearly background check and some other regulations. They also take a test in order to get their license. People complain about the fares, and I did before I learned more about how it works. But it’s obviously harder to make a living driving a cab in the suburbs than in a city, and I don’t see anyone getting rich here driving a cab.

    Another complicating factor is that the taxi drivers control their stands, so that the Princeton Taxi Association stand does not allow Princeton Junction taxi drivers to use it and Princeton taxi drivers are not allowed to line up at Princeton Junction, even if they’ve just dropped off a passenger.

    The Princeton Taxi Association is an association consisting of many independent drivers and owners, and while they share a taxi stand, they still compete with each other. I think this is another part of the problem with getting a taxi in Princeton. There is a taxi association phone number, which rings at the taxi stand on Nassau Street, but individual taxi drivers don’t have incentive to advertise that number. It seems like a business opportunity, but not sure if Uber is the answer.

  • JustSaying

    Yes, the ordinance is the problem, but it’s been a problem for a decade and no one wants to change it. We complain about Princeton being too expensive to live in, and the town would like fewer cars, but how is that possible if taxi rides are so expensive. It shouldn’t cost more to get to the Dinky from in-town than it does to get from the Dinky to NYC.

  • Adam

    It would be nice to have another option to get to the Trenton airport vs the $50 cab ride. And the fee for going to PJ is crazy high. However, I’d hate for something like Uber to run the taxis out of business and lose the taxi stand in front of the university. It’s super convenient for people living in town and the rides within Princeton are relatively cheap. Much quicker to hop in one of the many waiting cabs than summon an Uber driver.

  • chocoshatner

    I’m not a fan of Uber, which overcharges and has predatory practices, but I’d love to see Lyft in Princeton. The local taxis are ridiculously overpriced and difficult to obtain.

  • Cooper11

    Exactly. There is a disconnect between people who otherwise support vigorous regulation in other aspects of society, then demand a quick cheap ride.

  • Edward R. Percarpio

    Please bring on Uber. Uber is successful in markets where the existing service is unsatisfactory (everywhere). I’ve taken cabs to my home from the Junction for a couple of decades now and I don’t think the price has been the same twice. I’ve had drivers fall asleep at the wheel, cars that could not have passed inspection and trouble getting a car at off hours. The Uber experience is one of intelligent, alert drivers, ridiculously fast service in brand new vehicles. And the price is known up front. The rating system is genius- both the riders and the drivers are incented to be nice to each other.

  • Bill

    It sounds like Uber is only able to charge lower prices by flouting the local ordinance (mentioned in the article) that sets taxi fares for the township. The ordinance is the problem, then, rather than the taxi drivers who obey that ordinance. Right?

    I’d rather change the ordinance than have to decide between (a) expensive, but insured and reasonably safe or (b) cheap, but with minimal safety checks and spotty insurance.

  • mat

    we love uber

  • Anon

    Please bring on Uber or any reasonable alternative to the appalling taxi service in town.

  • Rugrat

    Correction
    I meant taking a taxi from Princeton Junction train station to Princeton.

  • Rugrat

    We looked liked tourists with our big suitcases wheeling our way down to the Alexander road parking lot from the train. Needed a cab home. Home being within walking distance of Nassau street and the junction train station. Just too tired to wait for dinky and haul luggage home from there.
    Ask first cab in line how much to my address and he says 26$. No thanks I tell him what we normally pay and he quickly agrees to said price, which is still exorbitant for such a short ride. So I vote bring on the competition…. Not too happy with our local taxi providers. Don’t even get me started on their driving habits.

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