NYC Taxi-Hailing App Pilot Gets Green Light

Dec 13, 2012 (08:12 AM EST)

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The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission Thursday voted in favor of using smartphone apps to hail yellow taxis. The Commission will launch a pilot program beginning in February 2013. Though the idea of hailing a taxi with an app has merit, not all the players are happy.

The vote was not approved by all the commissioners. It passed 7 to 0, but two abstained from the vote. A permanent ruling on the matter was downgraded to a pilot program that will be evaluated after a year's time.

"Taxi-hailing apps will be useful to customers," said TLC chairman David Yassky in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "There's a lot we don't know about how they will work in practice and what impact there will be on other parts of industry. I think it's prudent to do this in a measured way, so they can see how they work before they make it permanent."

[ Google Maps is back on iPhone, and it's learned a few new tricks. See Google Maps Returns To iPhone. ]

The vote is a win for app makers such as Uber and TaxiMagic, which develop tools that let people use their smartphone to connect with nearby taxi drivers and arrange for a pickup.

Limousine and car service drivers aren't exactly happy with the idea, though. They contend that the pilot amounts to pre-booking, which is generally how limo and car service drivers arrange to pick up their own customers. They believe the use of apps will lead to fewer fares. There has been a longstanding ban on arranging yellow taxi rides ahead of time in the city.

There are some distance-based restrictions on how the program will work. For example, below 59th Street in Manhattan, taxi hailers and drivers who respond to their electronic requests must be within a half-mile of one another. In midtown, that means about 10 blocks (streets, not avenues).

Above 59th Street and in the outer boroughs, potential passengers and responding taxis need to be within 1.5 miles of one another.

There doesn't appear to be a limit on the number of apps that can be used by consumers and yellow cab drivers, but there will be quarterly checkups to see how the pilot is proceeding.

Today's vote follows a harsh reminder from the TLC earlier this year that such means for hailing taxis were verboten. Now that the pilot program has been agreed to, maybe NYC can catch up with the times.

Other cities around the world have been moving in this direction for a while. What do you think? Is it about time? Do the terms seem reasonable? Will you use an app to hail a cab next time you're hoofing it down 7th Avenue in the rain?

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