The Uber Bomb Detonates in New York

Have you been in a New York cab recently? Sometimes prompted but more often not, drivers will want to talk to you about Uber. If you’re in a yellow cab or a livery car, you will hear about Uber the virus, Uber the interloper, Uber the merciless invader; if you’re in an Uber cab, or an Uber-adjacent green taxi, you’ll hear about Uber the inevitable, Uber the strange, Uber the great (for now). It’s been a boom time for untethered drivers — a magical stretch during which they could take advantage of high fares, high demand, and low barriers to entry all at once. It was acknowledged, rarely explicitly, that the arrangement felt strange and temporary — the product of an imbalance, not a new status quo.

This has been imagined in the press as a battle between unregulated drivers and their super-regulated counterparts. But that’s not it at all! This was, and is, and will be until Uber’s billion dollars either runs out or multiplies itself, Uber against the world. Look what they did today:

We just dropped uberX fares by 20%, making it cheaper than a New York City taxi. From Brooklyn to the Bronx, and everywhere in between, uberX is now the most affordable ride in the city.

Haha, first of all, “the most affordable ride in the city” that is in a car, driven by another human, for your individual transportation, maybe. Uber’s style is too consistent for its announcement post to be called tonedeaf; it’s a company that wears its fuck-you, get-mine philosophy on its sleeve. Its price examples have riders going from Williamsburg to the East Village, from Grand Central to the Financial District, from Nolita — Nolita! — to Lincoln Center. From your LOFT to FASHION WEEK, from the TRADING DESK to THE TRAIN TO YOUR LARGE DISTANT HOME, from your STEEL RESIDENTIAL ARCOLOGY to your TASTING MENU, Uber will save you two dollars.

Here are some people who will be happy about this: Uber riders. Here are some people who will be upset about this: Anyone who drives a car professionally in New York, by far America’s most cab-dense city. When Uber has dropped prices like this elsewhere, it has temporarily made up the difference for drivers. Not here! The volume is too high, the cost too great. What are all the new Uber drivers, with their freshly depreciated new Uber-financed rides, supposed to do now that their per-ride take has just been slashed by a fifth? That the conditions that lured them to this odd new company have changed? They mustn’t complain, else their Uber star rating fall by a star and they get purged from the system. So they’ll just keep driving, and we’ll keep riding, until one day we find ourselves standing on the street corner with our arms up, phones dead, hailing ghosts.