What is Uber? Or BusTime? Decoding the Many Ways of Getting Around in NYC

By J. Simpson

Driving in NYC is a thankless proposition. From endless gridlocked crosstown traffic, to clueless motorists, to irate taxi drivers and suicidal bike messengers, not to mention exorbitant garage rents, the accepted wisdom is that you’d have to be nuts to own a car while living in the Big Apple. In fact, many lifelong New Yorker never even bother getting a driver’s license, let alone a car.

Public Transportation

metrocardMost New Yorkers are walkers or use the time-honored public transit system. For people 65 and older, there is another incentive to travel using public transit, as you can get a 50% discount on busses and subways. To qualify, you must simply show your Medicare card to the bus driver or obtain a special Senior Metrocard for the subways and busses, as we wrote about over here. As a general rule of thumb, the subway tends to be the fastest, but busses are most convenient. To make things even easier, you can install the MTA’s BusTime app on your SmartPhone, to tell you when the next bus is coming.

Yellow and Green Taxis

The classic yellow taxis that you can hail just by raising your arm anywhere in the city can take you anywhere in the city. The ride is metered and you can pay with cash or with a credit card.

A new fleet of apple green taxis arrived on the scene couple of years ago.  These are the so-called Boro Taxis and drivers can pick up passengers from the street in northern Manhattan (north of West 110th street and East 96th street), the Bronx, Queens (excluding the airports), Brooklyn and Staten Island and they may drop you off anywhere.  However, these taxis are not allowed to pick you up in Manhattan below West 110th Street or East 96th Street.

Limo/Black Car Services

If you’re looking to travel in style and comfort, there’s always the classic limo services. For a ride to the airport, or a luxurious beginning to a night at the theater, consider calling  Dial 7 (212-777-7777), Carmel (212-666-6666), or All State (212-333-3333), some of the most trusted names in NYC luxury transit. The advantage of these services is that you do not need a smartphone or credit card to use them. Just call, order a car, and pay cash, if you want.

SmartPhone App-based Private Ride Services

A whole new slew of apps are changing the face of getting around in NYC. App-based car services like Uber and Lyft offer a new way to get a ride when you need it, where you need it.  The concept is simple, but the implications are profound –  these companies are essentially matchmakers between people who need a ride and drivers who have signed up with the company to offer rides.  The catch is that you need a smartphone to sign up with the company and download the app, and you have to set up an account using either your credit card or PayPal account.  After that, getting a ride is just a few click away. Drivers can be had at any time of day or night, to take you as far as you wish to go.

For a more detailed explanation about how Uber operates, check out this WikiHow article. There are a variety of pricing options available, from basic to luxury. For example, Uber offers four types of cars:

Photo credit: techhutt.com

Photo credit: techhutt.com

UberX – Budget alternative. Mid-range car with seating for up to 4 people.

Black Car – a high-end sedan, with seating for up to 4 people.

SUV – More expensive than Black Car, with room for up to 6 people.

LUX – Most expensive option, a luxury car that has room for 4 people.

Buyer Beware: These companies use variable pricing, based on the demand for rides. A ride on a rainy Saturday night could be a lot more expensive than the same ride on a sunny weekday afternoon. To get a rough idea of how much your Uber ride may cost, the service does provide a handy fare estimator and you do need to accept the price before ride. But still, pay attention!

SmartPhone App-based Share Ride Services

If you’re on a fixed budget and don’t mind riding with a couple of strangers, there’s the Via app. Via, which bills itself as New York City’s Smartest Rideshare app, offers a flat rate of $5 plus tax, for a ride in a professionally chaffeured vehicle. This service, available on weekdays 6:30am to 9pm, from 110th Street to Canal Street, river-to-river, allows drivers in your area headed in the same direction, to simply stop by and swoop you up. Your Via car may also pick up other people heading in your direction, making the ride easy, convenient, and cost-effective! Think of it as a high-tech carpool, with all New Yorkers as your potential carpoolers. It’s a great way to meet people, as well as being good for the environment by reducing the carbon footprint.

Lyft also offers a lower-priced share ride service called Lyft Line at up to 60% savings off the regular Lyft pricing.

Citi Bikes

The Citi Bike system offers short rentals of their distinctive blue bikes 24/7, 365 days a year. Bike stations are located in popular locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Each features a touchscreen kiosk, a map of the service area and surrounding neighborhood, and a docking system that releases bikes for rental with a card or key.

You can buy  a 24-Hour (for $9.95) and 7-Day Access Pass (for $25) at any Citi Bike station kiosk using a credit or debit card.  The pass lets you take unlimited trips withing 24 hours or 7 days, but each trip can  only last 30 minutes. When you buy a pass at a station you will receive a ride code to unlock a bicycle and begin a trip. Ride codes are good for only one trip. For subsequent trips, swipe your card at a kiosk to receive a new code at no extra cost.

Annual passes are also available for $149 and they allow you unlimited 45 minute trips. Note: You must be 16 or older to ride a Citi Bike.

Become a Driver

If you have a vehicle, you could also sign up to become a driver for Uber, Lyft, or Via, for a simple way to make a few extra dollars as a side income.

J. Simpson is a freelance writer, blogger, and musician who writes about business, technology, and spirituality, as well as every aspect of culture – music, art, literature, cinema, TV, and comics.



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