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New Yorkers ordering a ride on the Uber app will soon be able to choose a yellow taxi under a new partnership between the ride-hailing giant and two taxi technology companies.AMR ALFIKY/The New York Times News Service

Uber is partnering with traditional taxi companies in the United States and soon riders in New York City will be able to hail a cab using Uber’s platform. The same is true in Uber’s hometown of San Francisco, where the company has closed a deal with Flywheel Technologies to allow passengers to use the Uber app to hail taxis, pending government approval. Uber has similar partnerships in countries such as Spain and Germany.

Think of the partnership as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of ride-hailing. “You got Uber in my taxi! No, you got taxi in my Uber.”

At present, there is no product in Canada like the one in New York, which allows taxis to receive trip offers through a taxi tech companies’ partnership with Uber. In Canada, Uber operates in 140 municipalities over nine provinces. “Our partnerships with taxis look differently around the world,” said an Uber spokesperson. “At Uber Canada, we’re excited to learn from our relationships with taxi software and fleet operators in cities across the globe, and now New York City.”

To say this partnership is surprising is a gross understatement. Riding-sharing apps and taxi companies have been at odds from the start. Traditional cab companies have been portrayed as archaic and inefficient. Ridesharing apps, meanwhile, have been painted as being unfair to workers and flouting municipal regulations.

That’s all in the past. The ride-hailing world has been flipped. If buttercups buzz’d after the bee. If taxis were Ubers and Ubers taxis. If cats should be chased into holes by the mouse. If taxi were Uber and the other way round. Then all the world would be upside down.

The partnership may be a win for both parties, which each suffered during the pandemic. Uber lost riders as demand plummeted, and the agreement will add 14,000 drivers to Uber’s offering. For cabbies, they get a piece of the Uber market. Uber is a seamless process for the rider. You engage the app, get your ride, and wait. For a lot of people, it’s become the default ride-hailing means of getting around.

By a stroke of serendipity, I had the chance to use both means of transport while in New York City just before the partnership was announced. I was curious to see if there was much difference. When Uber first launched in New York City, I heard many people gripe about it. There were suspicions of price-gouging. Many years later, it is now just another option.

Of course, the quickest way around Manhattan and the boroughs is by subway. No question. Many residents will look at you like you’ve dropped in from Mars if you tell them you’ve opted for a taxi or an Uber, as a friend did when we showed up at her apartment in Brooklyn via cab.

“Why did you do that?” she said, dismayed. “Why? The subway is right here.”

The answer was that we were tired; besides there are times when a ride is preferable. One does not always want to be on the subway late at night after a festive evening. When visiting a city, it’s often relaxing to see the sights from the window of a taxi rather than going underground. My first Uber trip was in November 2013, a seamless and scenic ride in a Prius from San Jose to San Francisco International Airport.

Here are a few surface-level observations. Hailing taxis in New York City can be a challenge during peak hours. Cab drivers will turn down fares they don’t consider worth their time. At least twice, we had a cabbie ask where we were going and then shake his head no. Ubers are more expensive, and you wait longer to get them, but they can’t turn you down to your face. Overall, Uber drivers were more friendly, though this friendliness can manifest itself in strange ways. One fellow gregariously told me how he’d beaten up a guy who tried to force his way into his Uber. His tone was genial, but the subject matter involved the police, and a vivid description of him knocking the person unconscious.

This rule is not universal. In Toronto in February, I ordered an Uber, the vehicle arrived, and I got in. I told the driver my name, saw his bare face, and asked if he would be donning a mask.

“No,” he replied without skipping a breath. He seemed genuinely puzzled, as if he’d Rip-Van-Winkled the last two and half years. He refused.

His rebuff was a violation of Uber’s “no mask, no ride” policy that stipulates that before a driver can go online, they need to confirm that they are wearing a mask through Uber’s Real-Time ID Check verification system. This driver was applying the “no mask, no mask” policy, so I exited the Uber, cancelled my ride and called a taxi.

Surface observations aside, if Uber and the taxi companies do get along, will it be good for riders?

Before Uber, taking a taxi wasn’t always the most pleasant experience. Cab drivers sometimes refused to accept credit cards or administered a mysterious “service charge” for using credit. Some had no idea of the geography of the city they were driving in. When Uber arrived, it offered customers the price prior to the trip. It was a cashless transaction. Tip, any tolls and government sales taxes were all included. The customer received an electronic receipt. Customers around the world embraced the new model – it was cheap, fast and convenient. Uber, meanwhile, does use surge pricing and it’s frustrating when a car you’ve been waiting for, suddenly drops you.

We can only hope this odd couple will bring out the best in each other.