This is an intervention: you’ve got to break up with Uber. Sorry, not sorry. We know it’s hard; and deep down, there’s probably a part of you that believes they have some good in them! Yeah, that’s why we’re thrilled that somebody finally came out with solid evidence for why Uber sucks—at least economically speaking. (By the way, you’re reading Brokelyn, so what other way of speaking is there?) According to a beta research program called OpenStreetCab, the savings on your cab fare are all a matter of optimization. You can read the researchers’ jargon in MIT’s technology review here, but honestly, Brokelyn’s got the bottom line for you in layman’s terms: Uber will never be cheaper than a real taxicab, unless it’s over $35 in fare.
First of all, this is a confusing scientific discovery, since there are no objective qualifications for “cab fare” anymore. In a city-approved taxi most anywhere in the world, your fare will be a direct function of the distance and time spent in the cab, with the occasional add-on for peak service hours or a flat-rate agreement for airport fare. Uber, on the other hand, calculates the cost of your ride before you even get inside, and includes factors like “surge pricing” which, in some cases, can actually mean they’re just bleeding you for cash. (You might say that fare isn’t always fare.)
The data compares average fares between yellow taxis and Uber cabs using data culled in September 2013. Researchers took yellow taxi fares as a base, then asked Uber how much it would charge for the same ride. What they got back were estimates from the company about minimum and maximum possible fares—ugh, further proof that Uber is out to run us dry. Thank god there’s a maximum possible fare, at least. The data is also contingent upon a rider using Uber’s economy brand, “Uber X” (which features crappier cars and therefore cheaper fares, but varies within that frame city to city).
So, the data rules out surge pricing and vehicle quality, two key elements of Uber’s business model? Also, who in fresh hell takes a metered cab ride over $35? So let’s see here. Sounds like if it’s a sunny afternoon, and a bunch of Uber-licensed sedan drivers are just out on the road for funsies, and you just happen to need from Park Slope to Newark Liberty Airport, then it’ll probably be cheaper to Uber than yellow cab. In just about every other scenario, it won’t. (And if you’re the kind of self-respecting brokesters we hope you are, then you know how to get to Jersey without a cab, anyway.)