One morning, a few weeks ago, I ordered a car from Uber to take me from the Flushing Avenue side of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the northern tip of Brooklyn Heights, a trip that, under ordinary circumstances, is about 11 minutes long. The B57 bus could have taken me close to where I was going, but in my experience it typically ran late. I was in a rush and dressed inappropriately for biking.
When I got in the car, I immediately took to staring at my phone, the great pleasure of app-based transportation being that you can keep reading about the potential for nuclear annihilation at the hands of North Korea without having to offer your thoughts on the most efficient route to Tillary Street, technology presumably taking care of that for you. When I did look up, I realized the driver was oddly close to getting on the Brooklyn Bridge. I warned her against a swerve that would land us in Manhattan. She assured me she knew what she was doing, but two minutes later we were over the East River and soon enough I was standing at the eastern tip of Chambers Street, two miles from my destination. The driver tried to cancel the trip so I would not be charged, but her effort failed and I lacked the time to deal with the onerous process of complaining to Uber — the surest path to job-threatening bouts of daytime drinking.
Not long after, a colleague told me he had recently put himself in a yellow cab at Ninth Avenue and 29th Street to go to Sixth Avenue and 20th, only to discover that the driver required a GPS to navigate that 12-block distance.
These anecdotes are rendered to point out that while subway delays and accidents have made underground travel immiserating in New York during recent months, the aboveground experience hasn’t been gloriously compensatory, even though consumer complaints of all kinds to the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission were down last year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has spent a lot of time criticizing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for all that has plagued the subway system, over which the state has ultimate authority, but beyond expanding ferry service, Mr. de Blasio has hardly been a transit visionary, asserting himself over areas where he has more control.
Two years ago, for instance, the city relaxed its test standards for taxi drivers, reducing the number of geography questions, leaving those that remain fairly general. (For instance, “Which of the following is not in Queens?” The choices then presented are: Citi Field, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Long Island City and Yankee Stadium, meaning that your baseball-loving, 8-year-old could be well on his way to forgoing allowance and getting a license.) The rationale offered by the city at the time was that technological advances made innate knowledge less necessary. And yet there has been no movement toward making GPS devices mandatory for drivers, which in itself could stir controversy because the devices aren’t always reliable and could, arguably, facilitate distraction.
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