Uber Versus Yellow Cabs in New York City

If you live in a mid-to-large-sized city and take taxis, you have probably already tried Uber. What you may not know is the transportation app has different rates in each city. New York City is arguably the taxi capital of America and home of the classic yellow taxicab. Which is the quickest and most economical ride in New York: Uber or yellow cab?

Regular Fares

Both conventional taxis and Uber charge fares based on a combination of time and distance. Both also charge passengers for any bridge or road tolls in addition to the fare. Uber does not differentiate between cruising and stop-and-go traffic, while taxis do charge different rates based on speed. In addition, Uber has price hikes during times of high demand while taxis have extra rush hour fees.

Uber offers four classes of service in New York City, each with a different price structure, as the table below shows.



Base Fare

$/Minute + $/Mile

Minimum Fare


regular people or professional drivers; regular cars


$0.35 per minute + $1.75 per mile



regular people or professional drivers; regular SUVs


$0.50 per minute + $2.85 per mile



professional drivers; upscale cars


$0.65 per minute + $3.75 per mile



professional drivers; upscale SUVs


$0.80 per minute + $4.50 per mile



yellow taxicab requested through Uber app


$0.50 per 1/5 mile or $0.50 per 60 seconds in slow traffic or when the vehicle is stopped



It can be difficult to understand how these pricing structures work in real life, so here is an example:

For a 5-mile, 10-minute trip going 25 miles per hour the entire way, uberX would cost the $2.55 base fare plus $3.50 for the 10 minutes plus $10.75 for the mileage, for a total of $16.80. It is not customary to tip the Uber driver.

The same trip in a taxi would cost the base fare of $2.50 plus 25 units at $0.50 each, or $12.50, for a total of $15.00. It is customary to tip the driver 20%. This adds $3 to the cab fare, for a total of $18.

In this example, the cost of each ride is close. Which option is cheaper in other scenarios depends on traffic. When Sara Silverstein did the math for Business Insider, she found that taxis are cheaper in New York City when traffic is flowing at under 20 MPH. Uber is cheaper in other cases unless it is charging high-demand fares.

High-Demand Fares

Uber has something called surge pricing which are higher fares it imposes during times of high-rider demand. Surge pricing can take effect during rush hour, a natural disaster, or during a random spike of requests on a Saturday afternoon. Uber claims these price increases are meant to encourage more Uber drivers to get out on the road and that prices revert to normal when supply and demand even out. The Uber app notifies users of surge pricing when they request a ride. Taxis do not have surge pricing, but riders might have to wait longer when demand exceeds supply. Taxis do, however, add a $0.50 surcharge in the evening (8 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and a $1 surcharge during rush hour (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.), Monday through Friday. If Uber’s surge pricing is in effect, you will probably pay a lot less by taking a cab, if you can get one. Surge pricing will at least double your usual fare, and Uber has reported charging customers as much as $39 per mile. A New York City councilman introduced a bill last year proposing to limit surge pricing to twice the usual rate.

Fare Estimates

Getting into a taxi in an unfamiliar city can be nerve wracking. You have no idea how much the trip should cost or if the driver is taking the most direct route. In New York City, taxi riders cannot get an advance estimate for taxi fares. The NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission’s official stance is that “it is impossible to pre-calculate a fare, because the meter rate depends on traffic, construction, weather, and route to the destination.” Uber does provide fare estimates within the Uber app, but it does not guarantee the final fare because road conditions can change during the ride.

Airport Fares

Yellow cabs have regulated fares to and from the Newark International and John F. Kennedy International airports. For trips between Newark International Airport and New York City, the price is the regular metered fare, plus a $17.50 surcharge, plus tolls. For trips between John F. Kennedy International Airport and Manhattan, it is a flat fare of $52 plus tolls. The regular metered fare applies to all trips to and from LaGuardia International Airport. Uber used to offer a $60 flat rate between Manhattan and JFK but dropped that option last year. Rates are now calculated based on time and distance.

Payments and Tipping

Before you can call an Uber, you must download the app onto your smartphone and register a credit cardPayPal account, or Google Wallet to your account. Uber automatically charges your account at the end of the ride. When you take a cab, you will need a wallet. NYC cab drivers are required to accept MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express credit cards and MasterCard and Visa debit cards with no minimum fare requirement. Passengers pay for rides by swiping their card through a card reader and can see the transaction details on a monitor in the backseat. Passengers must sign for card transactions over $25. Cab drivers also accept cash, unlike Uber drivers.

Tipping is different with each service, too. The Uber app does not allow passengers to add a tip to their electronic payment. Uber's webpage on tipping says there is no need to tip. There is nothing stopping you from tipping an Uber driver in cash, though Uber’s official stance on letting drivers accept tips is murky. The exception is the uberTaxi or uberT service (calling a yellow cab using the Uber app) where a 20% default tip is automatically added to the metered fare. Passengers using uberT can also go to uber.com to set a different default tip percentage. Tipping is customary for cab rides. You can add the tip to your credit card or pay it in cash. Most riders who pay by credit card tip 20%, which might have something to do with the automatic tip options offered by the credit card machine: 20%, 25% and 30%. You can always calculate your own tip or decline to tip altogether for bad service.

Vehicle Types

Taxicabs hold either four or five passengers, depending on the vehicle model. The most common vehicle model for older taxis is the Ford Crown Victoria. In 2013, Nissan NV200 vans became the official model for new taxis. All taxis are painted yellow, except for taxis in boroughs other than Manhattan, which are green. If you want a fancier ride, you will need to call a traditional private car service or use Uber. Uber’s vehicles range from standard consumer cars like Honda Accords in the uberX class to upscale vehicles like all-black Cadillac Escalades under UberSUV. Uber policy is that all cars must be a 2008 or later model and must be easy to enter and exit (so no pickup trucks or compact cars).

Getting a Ride

Yellow cabs accept street hails anywhere in New York City. You can also arrange a yellow cab through uberT (by calling a yellow cab through the Uber app). Green boro taxis, which operate in the outer boroughs and parts of Manhattan north of certain streets, can either be prearranged or hailed on the street. Uber is only accessible through an up-to-date smartphone. If you do not own a smartphone, your smartphone is not up to date, or you forgot your phone, you will not be able to use Uber. New York City regulations prohibit street hails for private ride services (also called livery services).

Customer Service

Since passengers request all Uber rides through the app, there is no waiting on the street and getting drenched trying to hail a ride in bad weather. Nor will you find yourself standing alone on an empty street late at night trying to catch a cab. The app lets users know when the driver has arrived, so passengers can wait indoors. This is also true for uberT.

What if you have a bad experience during your ride? Despite what the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission would have you believe you can expect from a cab ride based on its passenger bill of rights, New Yorkers are familiar with dirty, worn-out cab interiors; old, shoddy vehicles; inconsiderate and even dangerous drivers; drivers who don’t speak English well; and rides that don’t come when they’re supposed to. The taxi medallion system, which makes it incredibly expensive to operate a cab company, may cause some owners cut corners on vehicles and drivers.

Choosing Uber over a cab doesn’t guarantee a good customer experience, however. Many Uber drivers are also recent immigrants with limited English skills. And because Uber is a relatively new service, many drivers have little experience and don’t know the most efficient routes through the city at different times of day. High-profile news stories have reported on Uber drivers who locked passengers in the car while giving himself a five-star rating using the passenger’s phone, bashed in a passenger’s head with a hammer, or sexually assaulted the passenger.

To file a complaint about a bad taxi ride, make sure to get a receipt from the driver that shows the taxi’s unique four-character medallion number. You can also get the medallion number from the taxi’s license plate, roof, or inside the car on the back of the partition. You can then file a complaint online through the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission website. If the driver pleads guilty, he will pay a fine and the case will be closed. If the driver pleads not guilty, there will be a hearing which requires you to give testimony by phone or in person. Uber actively seeks and reviews passenger feedback on drivers. After each ride, Uber asks the passenger to rate the driver through the app and add comments. Uber will stop using a driver who gets too many low ratings. Uber drivers also rate passengers, and passengers have to contact Uber or ask a driver to find out their scores. Some drivers avoid passengers with low scores. Uber may temporarily ban passengers for inappropriate or unsafe behavior and permanently refuse service to riders who have been aggressive, violent, or disrespectful.

What if you leave something in a cab? Again, you need the medallion number to report to the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission for help tracking down your belongings. If you leave something in an Uber, you can open the Uber app and click on a link to your electronic receipt for the ride to find and contact the driver.

The Bottom Line

Cost is certainly a major consideration when choosing a ride service, and in New York City, you may pay less by taking a yellow cab during slow traffic or when Uber’s surge pricing is in place. Because Uber conducts all business through its app, it beats cabs hands down for ease in arranging pickups, estimating payments, processing payments, and accepting complaints. Uber also offers different service classes unlike cabs. As long as you beware of surge pricing, Uber is an attractive alternative to the New York City yellow cab. 

Editor’s note: The author of this article has no affiliation with or ownership interest in any of the companies mentioned.

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