Leafy Forest Hills has turned even greener recently — as the city’s number-one pickup site for hailing new metered outer-borough taxis.
Since the green taxis began taking passengers in early August, Forest Hills has seen 2,588 pickups, followed by 2,142 in East Harlem and 1,529 in Morningside Heights.
The taxis are licensed to pick up fares anywhere in the city except for Manhattan south of 110th Street (96th Street on the East Side), and at the airports. They are intended to compensate for a dearth of yellow cabs in many neighborhoods.
But the green wave has skipped over many parts of the city. Of the top 30 neighborhoods on the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s list of the city’s most green-cab–friendly, none are in the Bronx.
In Brooklyn, the highest number of pickups occurred in Williamsburg, an area already saturated with yellow cabs, which had nearly 1,100 pickups. Downtown and Park Slope were the only other parts of Brooklyn to crack the top 30.
As of mid-September, the green cabs had taken more than 23,000 pickups, said TLC Spokesman Allan Fromberg.
Jose Reyes, a 55-year-old taxi driver who lives in the Bronx, said he picks up most of his passengers in northern Manhattan. Reyes, who said he used to drive an unmetered livery cab for 20 years, said he prefers his new license. Now, he won’t risk hundreds of dollars in fines if he’s caught being illegally hailed.
But some New Yorkers, Reyes says, haven’t quite warmed up to the new taxis the way he has.
“Sometimes it’s difficult,” said Reyes. “People aren’t used to the metered fare.”
He also faces stiff competition from unlicensed cabs that illegally pick up street hails.
In 2012, the Taxi and Limousine Commission aimed to crack down on illegal hailing by increasing penalties. When a driver is caught once, it could mean a $350 fine, and $500 for a second offense.
Competition from livery cabs seems to be one of the reasons why the program is slow kicking off in the Bronx, a borough where taxis are hard to find. According to a 2011 TLC study, only 0.1 percent of yellow cabs are hailed in the Bronx.
The TLC found that 97 percent of illegal hailing takes place outside of Manhattan.
“We have been called traitors,” said Nancy Soria, 42, who holds the very first outer-borough taxi license issued by the commission. “It’s a little tough up there.”
Another challenge lies with the customers, cab drivers have said. Riders in places with few yellow cabs are used to bargaining their fares with drivers and fear that the meter will increase the cost of a ride.
Taking a break in her newly painted car on a recent afternoon, Soria said she had most luck with hailing customers in Morningside Heights and other parts of Northern Manhattan.
As the program develops and more green taxis hit the streets — about 200 are currently in service — “it’s getting a little better,” Soria said. She said she hopes for more outreach from the Taxi and Limousine Commission to make more New Yorkers aware of the difference between yellow and green cabs.
The TLC has pledged to release 6,000 street hail livery licenses for green cabs every year, until it hits a planned total of 18,000.
After five years as a livery cab driver, Soria said she felt it was the best option for her to switch to a green taxi to “fill a gap” and prevent getting fined for potential illegal pickups.
Another added benefit is the addition of a credit card machine in the green cabs, something livery cabs lack.
Bra Singh from Long Island, who has been driving a green taxi for about two weeks, said he picks up most of his fares in Forest Hills and Astoria. The busiest times of the week, he said, are Friday and Saturday nights.
Overall, Soria said, she is happy she turned her car green. After picking up a few customers in the Bronx, she said she’s planning to go back to the borough to help introduce the program.
“I’m hoping it’s going to get more positive,” she said.