Love them or loathe them, there's no denying that companies like Uber and Lyft are attractive to many consumers. Unlike most taxi fleets, ride-sharing services are app-based, they provide detailed estimates of when a car will arrive, they facilitate carpooling to cut down on fares, and of course, they're cashless.
In other words, they're significantly more efficient. In fact, a recent study entitled "On-demand high-capacity ride-sharing via dynamic trip-vehicle assignment" suggests that ride-sharing services are so good at what they do, they could reduce New York's massive, roaming fleet of roughly 13,500 taxis by 85 percent.
To reach that conclusion, a team of five scientists from MIT and Cornell conducted a number of simulations involving a lot of complex math. (At times, it's hard to tell whether they're running formulas or writing about fraternity row.) Ultimately, they took into account things like "fleet size, capacity, waiting time, travel delay, and operational costs for low- to medium-capacity vehicles, such as taxis and van shuttles".
As you can see from the overview video above, when all the numbers had been crunched, the researchers determined that a fleet of "2,000 vehicles (15% of the taxi fleet) of capacity 10 or 3,000 of capacity 4 can serve 98% of [New York's] demand".
Of course, the scientists' plan depends on a couple of things--namely, autonomous vehicles and travelers who are willing to carpool. Autonomous technology reduces the opportunity for traffic accidents and helps vehicles plan their routes most efficiently. And of course, carpooling means that strangers heading in the same general direction can share one ride instead of hailing three or four or ten different cabs.
Assuming that both those things are viable--that is, that autonomous technology continues its increasingly speedy roll-out and that consumers are willing to share rides with complete strangers--the researchers' proposal is totally viable. The City of New York could pull up to 11,500 taxis off the street and still accommodate the 440,000+ cab rides commuters need each day.
While there are some significant upsides to that, like less congestion, less pollution, and fewer fender-benders, there are some downsides, too. Most notably, 11,500 people would be out of work--and if the city's entire fleet is autonomous, that number jumps to 13,500. (Then again, today's drivers have probably already seen the writing on the wall.)
The number of job losses jumps even higher when you consider that with far fewer taxis, New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission, which is responsible for licensing passenger vehicles for hire, would likely slash its staff. If the city decides to start inspecting Uber vehicles, some of those jobs could be maintained, but that's a moderately big "if".
Two of the major trends that have taken hold in the auto industry over the past couple of years have been autonomous tech and ride-sharing. There's no sign that either is fading anytime soon.
In the future, therefore, we'd be very surprised if cities like New York didn't begin scaling back their taxi fleets, as services like Uber and Lyft grow increasingly popular and efficient. There was a time when it might've been possible for NYC's taxis to remain competitive, but that moment seems to have passed.
If you're feeling especially math-ish today, you can find the full study here.