The New York Times Investigates the Mystery of the Disappearing 5 p.m. Cab

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You know how whenever you have to go to the airport at, say, 4:30 p.m., you find yourself standing on a street corner with all of your luggage attempting to hail a cab but with nary a cab in sight? Inevitably, a cabbie with his off-duty light on stops and asks you where you're going, and you have a brief flash of hope -- but then he shakes his head and speeds off, and you're like: I am fucked. But why must they all go off-duty at the same time?

The New York Times has helpfully written on this New York City traffic phenomenon, which turns out to be true scientifically as well as anecdotally.

For the first time in the annals of taxi history, new data can confirm what generations of New Yorkers have long known in their bones: Just as the afternoon rush is about to begin, the taxicabs disappear by the hundreds.

From 4 to 5 p.m., the traditional hour for cabs to change shifts, the number of active taxicabs on the streets falls by nearly 20 percent compared with an hour before, according to a city review of GPS records taken from thousands of cab trips over the past year.

Apparently, the 5 p.m. changeover was created way back when to ensure that each 12-hour shift (manned by different drivers) got an equal share of busy and down times, and also to make start and end times borderline acceptable to drivers. Now it's a given, regardless of day or month or year.

But until now, the Taxi and Limousine Commission has, apparently, never examined the effect on service nor a need to change the reality. Now that the truth is out, it remains to be seen whether anything will actually change. Taxi drivers are kind of sticklers, if you hadn't noticed. But, then, so are New Yorkers.

Where Do All the Cabs Go in the Late Afternoon? [NYT]


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