The cab-sharing initiative the city launched in February seemed like a no-brainer—riders would pay less, cabbies would earn more, road congestion would decrease. Alas, it didn’t click: “There has been very little, if any, activity,” says TLC Commissioner David Yassky. That leaves just one spot in the city where you can successfully split a taxi with strangers: a community-organized cabstand at 79th Street and York Avenue. Rides cost $6 per person and run one-way to the financial district from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays; cabs don’t leave the curb until all four seats are filled. We sent an undercover reporter for a spin.
I grab the last spot in the middle of a four-passenger van.
The guy in the back corner flashes a half-smile. I turn to the woman on my right wearing earphones.
Me: “I’m new to this. This is the cab share, right?”
Earphone Lady nods and motions to the cabdriver.
Driver: “Where do you want to get off?”
Me: “Wall Street.”
I lean in to the woman, and ask “$6, right?” She stares out the window.
Driver: “Yes, $6.”
Me, to the cab in general: “Do people pay at the beginning or at the end?”
I hand over the $6, the car starts without the meter running.
Me, to Half-smiler: “Is it always this quiet?”
Half-smiler nods, says, “Yes, usually.”
Me: “Is it an unspoken rule that people don’t talk?”
Half-smiler: “ I think it’s just early.”
He turns to the window.
Me: “Have you been doing this long?”
Half-smiler: “A couple of years.”
Me: “How long does it usually take?”
Half-smiler: “Not long—fifteen minutes. ”
He pulls out his BlackBerry. We turn on to the FDR.
Me, to the driver: “Been doing this cab-share thing long?”
Driver: “Yes, a few years. The people are nice.”
Me: “But no one talks?”
Driver: “Mostly they keep to themselves. People are polite.”
Earphone Lady shifts. I zip it.
A newspaper- reader sneezes. I bless him, but get no thank-you. He sneezes again. This one goes unblessed.
I ask Sneezer if he minds if I crack the window. He shakes his head no, goes back to reading.
Me: “It’s such a nice day.”
We turn off the FDR onto Pearl Street. The only sound is the tapping of a BlackBerry.
The cab pulls over at Maiden Lane.
Earphone Lady:“Excuse me, getting out here.”
She and Sneezer exit without eye contact. Sneezer says “Thanks” to the driver. We continue.
We pull up to Wall Street. I open the door, thank the driver, and exit. Half-smiler follows, shuts the door. I want to say something pleasant to him, but he darts away before we can speak. The cab continues on.
Time: 16 minutes
Distance: 105 blocks
Minutes of meaningful conversation with fellow passengers: 0