The numbers don’t lie: Uber and Lyft are causing taxi companies in Seattle to make less money.
Total fare revenue for the Seattle taxicab industry fell to $72 million in 2013-14, from $100 million in 2012-13 — a staggering 28 percent decline, according to numbers from the City of Seattle and King County. GeekWire verified the numbers with city and county officials after they were published on the Real Seattle Taxi blog.
Uber began operating its uberX service — albeit without legal regulation — in Seattle in April of 2013, with rival Lyft launching around the same time. The Seattle City Council then legalized the transportation network companies (TNCs) in June 2014, and allowed them to operate without any driver or vehicle caps.
Taxi companies, meanwhile, were still limited with how many taxi licenses they could have (688 at the time, with an additional 200 over the next four years).
Here’s what happened:
Another stat: The total number of miles driven by taxi companies actually increased from 65.8 million to 67.3 million between 2012-13 to 2013-14. But the more important number is “total revenue miles,” a better reflection of cab usage and income. That decreased from 30 million miles to 21.9 million miles, a 27 percent dip.
Fast-forward to today, and some estimate that there are more than 5,000 people in Seattle driving for Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, whose drivers use their own vehicles to transport customers who can book and pay for their ride with a smartphone.
But Seattle Yellow Cab (SYC), the city’s largest taxi fleet, says it is on somewhat of a comeback. General Manager Amin Shifow told GeekWire today that the industry data doesn’t account for the past six months, during which SYC rolled out its own smartphone app and improved its back-end technology with a “state-of-the-art” dispatch system that hails the closest cab driver rather than the one who’s waited the longest.
SYC, which has more than 600 taxis in Seattle, has also cut down customer wait time from 12 to 14 minutes, all the way down to six minutes.
Shifow, who took over at SYC last year, said that at the end of 2014, his company “hit rock bottom.” Now, though, he’s much more optimistic about the business.
“Overall, we feel good about the changes we made so far,” said Shifow, who drove taxis in Seattle for 15 years prior to heading up SYC.
In fact, he noted that more than 100 drivers have come back to SYC after driving for Uber. Shifow said that he doesn’t think Uber and Lyft can sustain their business with so many drivers, particularly as the startups take a larger cut from each ride.
“We see many drivers coming back to us after they realize what is happening,” he said. “Eventually, we believe that if anyone will be out of business, it will be the ones whose drivers are suffering the most.”
However, one area where SYC may see revenue decrease is in airport pick-ups. While uberX (Uber’s cheaper option), Lyft and Sidecar drivers are allowed to drop off passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, they can’t pick up riders because of an exclusive contract that only allows SYC to pick up arriving travelers.
But that could change soon. SYC’s contract expires later this year, and the Port of Seattle is considering allowing the TNCs to pick up passengers at Sea-Tac as soon as this month to help better assess demand and supply.