A team of data scientists have come up with a system to identify times when regular yellow taxis are cheaper alternatives to an Uber.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Nanmur in Belgium have compared a broad dataset of both yellow taxi and Uber fares in New York and have discovered that for a trip costing less than $35 Uber is often the most expensive option.

“Our observations show that it might be financially advantageous on average for travellers to choose either Yellow Cabs or Uber depending on the duration of their journey,” said research fellow Cecilia Mascolo of the University of Cambridge.

According to the report entitled ‘OpenStreetCab: Expoliting Taxi Mobility Patterns in New York City to Reduce Commuter Costs’ [PDF], “human mobility tends to be characterised by a vast majority of short trips. This observation therefore suggests that Uber’s economical model exploits this trend of human mobility in order to maximise revenue…” The analysts argue therefore that Uber is more expensive for smaller journeys and short-distance commuters are actually better off waiting for a cab.

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The data scientists were able to reach this conclusion by comparing trip and fare data for each yellow taxi ride taken in 2013 and entering it into Uber’s fare query system. Prices were taken from Uber’s lowest-cost service Uber X and the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. The researchers then recorded the average price calculated by the Uber system for a single trip to get their comparisons.

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The research also identified which areas of NYC were cheaper for yellow taxis versus an Uber. It concluded that unless a passenger is travelling between Manhattan and an outer borough, or a lengthier journey within Manhattan, it is most likely the cheaper choice to take a yellow cab, even without Uber’s surge costs.

An iPhone app, OpenStreetCab, has now been released for New Yorkers which takes the team’s research and compares the user’s location and desired destination to advise whether they should take an Uber or a regular taxi.

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