Uber and Lyft are cutting even further into the taxi market during the pandemic

Taxis have lost ground to ride-hailing apps in New York City and Chicago. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been good for Uber or Lyft, but it’s dealing an even worse blow to taxis. 

Uber reported that gross bookings from its rides business declined by 75% in the three months to June compared to last year – tumbling from $12.2 billion to just $3 billion. Lyft, which will no longer be releasing gross bookings figures to its investors, has nevertheless reported a 60% drop in the number of active riders on the platform in the three months to June, from 21.8 million last year to 8.7 million this year.

In New York City, the number of monthly trips provided by both traditional taxis and ride-hailing apps has plummeted since February, according to figures from the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

New Yorkers took just 4.3 million ride-hailing trips in April, at the height of the pandemic, a 79% drop from the 20.6 million trips recorded in January. Taxis saw their numbers fall even further, from 6.8 million trips in January to just around 273,420 in April, a 96% drop.

Coronavirus has dealt a blow to both taxis and ride-hailing apps
Monthly trips for green and yellow taxis and for-hire vehicles in New York City
Source: CityMetric analysis of NYC Taxi and Limousine Comssion data

Ride-hailing apps and taxis both saw a slight recovery after April, with ride-hailing trips climbing to 7.6 million in June, while taxi trips bounced back to 612,840.

As the demand for ridership dried up overall, services like Uber and Lyft have scooped up an even greater share of the market from traditional taxis. 

In January – before the pandemic – ride-hailing apps accounted for 75% of taxi trips in New York City. By April, that figure had risen to 94%, with Uber representing 67.6% of all trips and Lyft accounting for a further 24.9%.

Taxis have lost ground when compared to ride-hailing apps
Percentage of all trips taken in New York City with taxis and for-hire vehicles
Source: CityMetric analysis of NYC Taxi and Limousine Comssion data

While the number of rides in traditional taxis has been increasing from their springtime lows, traditional cabbies’ share of rides has only risen slightly, and to nowhere near pre-Covid levels. By June, ride-hailing apps still accounted for 92.5% of all trips.

It isn’t just New York. In Chicago, traditional taxis saw trip numbers plummet to just 55,620 in April, down 96.2% from April 2019, when they took 1,458,360 trips.

Chicago's taxis and ride-hailing services are registering fewer trips
Monthly taxi and for-hire vehicle trips in Chicago
Source: CityMetric analysis of City of Chicago taxi and for-hire data

Just as in New York, app-based firms have seen a faster recovery and, as a result, a bigger-than-ever slice of the pie. In June, they accounted for 96% of trips in Chicago, up from 86% a year earlier.

Ride-hailing apps in Chicago have gained ground on taxis
Percentage of all trips taken in Chicago with taxis and for-hire vehicles
Source: CityMetric analysis of City of Chicago taxi and for-hire data

The pandemic is still raging in the US, and it is difficult to know whether ride-hailing services will sustain the gains they have made over their traditional competitors. But the taxi industry was suffering long before the pandemic as ride-hailing apps displaced traditional cabs in cities around the world.

The effects have been profound, and sometimes tragic. In New York City, the price of a yellow cab medallion, which is required to operate a taxi, has dropped from more than $1 million to just $200,000 over the past six years, gutting investments along the way. The uncertainty and job insecurity has been blamed for several suicides among cab drivers. 

For those who have continued working during the pandemic, Covid has been a physical as well as an economic threat: In the UK, official figures found that male taxi drivers had higher Covid-19 death rates than medical staff.

There are other factors that make the future particularly bleak for traditional taxi drivers and operators. Many have loan payments to make on their medallions, which have plummeted in value. They also rely heavily on tourists and business air travelers. Yet while passenger airlines will receive billions of dollars in bailouts, the cabs that transport people from airports are not seeing the same level of support.

Uber is facing challenges of its own. Its licence in London, one of the company’s biggest markets, has been revoked over passenger safety concerns. The company is fighting the revocation, with the next court date set for September 14. Its business model faces a significant challenge in the US after a California court ruled the company must reclassify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. In Latin America, meanwhile, regulations have forced Uber to adopt a more traditional taxi model.

Neither taxis nor ride-hailing apps are likely to see business bounce back to pre-Covid levels any time soon.  For taxis, the outlook looks particularly bleak. App-based rides may still be the future, but that future is unlikely to be the one they imagined at the start of the year.

Nicu Calcea is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group.


Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit citymonitor.ai to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.