If there was any doubt that Uber is unstoppable, this should dispel it: New York City officials are allowing Uber drivers to paint their cars yellow and pick up street hails. It's not quite that simple, of course. There are lots of specific requirements.
So many cab drivers have abandoned their medallion cabs that the perennial cab shortage is worse than ever. Also, local politicos have been taking heat from cabbies who say Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations make it too hard for them to switch between being an NYC taxi and an Uber car.
“We’re hoping to make it easier for drivers to move between segments and maximize their economic opportunities,” said TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg.
In New York, as in most other cities, only licensed taxis can pick up consumers who dash into the street with their hand held high. Uber drivers are only allowed to respond to requests that come in through the company's smartphone app.
As Uber and its competitors have siphoned off business, cabbies have abandoned their distinctive yellow medallion cabs and jumped into the nearest black car after calculating that they could make more money driving for Uber.
To be an official NYC taxi requires a city-issued medallion. There are only about 13,000 medallions in existence, thus limiting the number of cabs while driving up the value of the medallion. A medallion is currently valued at around $1 million. Many cabbies rent their medallions by the day for about $120.
Uber drivers who want to go yellow will still need to find a medallion that they can lease, which shows you how much political clout the medallion owners wield. This being New York there are also all kinds of additional regulations, including the kinds of cars that can be used as yellow cabs. Check this TLC presentation for all the details.
None of this does much to help business travelers and others who hit the Big Apple with Blackberry in hand. Uber's app either does or doesn't work on Blackberry phones, depending on who you talk to. Or maybe which phone you're using. Or both.
Here at ConsumerAffairs, we've been testing the new Blackberry Passport, the somewhat bulky instrument that -- being neither Apple nor Android -- doesn't seem to speak Uber.
The Passport is designed, like previous Blackberries, to appeal to business users who value robust email, long battery life and a tactile keyboard. Since this is apparently a rather small group, not many people write apps for Blackberries anymore.
But you would think that Uber, Lyft, et al, would want to be sure that business travelers -- who tend to jump in and out of cabs and black cars frequently and tend to be Blackberry users -- would be able to summon up a ride when needed.
We found an Uber app for the Blackberry on the Uber site and installed it but found, while standing on a rainy corner, that it didn't work. Checking the user forums got us the usual confusing array of answers, each insisting to be the correct one.
"We released the Uber app for blackberry in 2013. Here is the blogpost with more information and the link to the Uber app in the blackberry store," Uber spokeswoman Sarah Maxwell told us.
Only problem is that the app announced in the blogpost is for the Blackberry 7. The Passport uses a later OS, Blackberry 10.
We next tried contacting Blackberry, which does not include any press contact information on its website. It's not easy to call them, either. As we tried to break out of the voicemail tree, there was a click, followed by a mature-sounding woman who said "Switchboard."
Wow, we didn't know switchboards even existed anymore, especially at a smartphone company. The operator, as I suppose she would be called, assured us there was indeed a press center and said she would "connect" us. She did. To a voicemail that promised a prompt callback.
Sure enough, a bit later we heard from Lisette Kwong from Blackberry's corporate communications office, who confirmed our suspicions.
"We currently do not have an Uber app within our BlackBerry World or Amazon Appstore storefronts. However, we’re working with Amazon to bring these apps to our users in the near term," Ms. Kwong said.
We also heard from a couple of readers who offered various fixes that, unfortunately, didn't work when we tried them. But hey, with those yellow Ubers flooding the streets, maybe it won't matter.