NYC Cabs Set to Vote on Taxi-Hailing Apps

By Khurram Aziz | Dec 13, 2012 01:42 PM EST

New York's Taxis and Limousine Commission (TLC) will decide today whether to allow smartphone apps to hail cabs.

Current rules prohibit prearranged taxi rides on the city's iconic yellow cabs which until now must be hailed by passengers on the sidewalk. This rule also prevents passengers booking yellow cabs over the telephone.

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But some in the industry are willing to bend the rules for apps with a limited geographic reach for a one-year trial period.

TLC Chairman David Yassk believes customer demand will make the use of smartphones to flag down taxis "inevitable."

"I think taxi-hailing apps will be useful to customers," Yassky told 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."

The TLC first put forward plans for the pilot scheme in late October. Under the proposals, taxi-hailing apps must be licensed by the TLC and will not be required for use by drivers. The apps also can't be used at JFK and LaGuardia airports, as well as Penn Station and Grand Central Station in Manhattan and they are not allowed to reveal a passenger's destination.

However, the apps are opposed by the city's for-hire taxi services which fear they will take away business from them.

Avik Kabessa, the chief executive of Carmel Car and Limousine Service, said the discussion of a pilot program suggested weak support for apps among the TLC's board.

"If they had the votes, there wouldn't be a pilot," he told the New York Times. "A pilot that bypasses a bad rule is a bad pilot."

Taxi-hailing apps, such as Uber, Hailo and GetTaxi, have grown in cities across the world. But in some place, like New York, they have met fierce resistance.

Travis Kalanick, the chief executive of Uber, said in a blog post in October that the company had given up efforts to have the app authorized in NYC.

"We did the best we could to get more yellows on the road but New York's TLC put up obstacles and roadblocks in order to squash the effort around e-hail, which they privately have said is legal under the rules. We'll bite our tongues and keep our frustration here to ourselves," said Kalanick.

New York isn't the only US city that has had problems with taxi-hailing apps, either. Uber has also had problems obtaining approval in in Chicago, Washington D.C., and San Francisco. However, last week, Kalanick wrote on Uber's blog that it was close to achieving regulatory approval in D.C.

"Today the DC Council unanimously passed a legislative framework for "digital dispatch" that is pro-innovation, pro-consumer, and pro-driver," said Kalanick. "It will not only improve transportation in the District, but also serve as an innovative model for city transportation legislation across the country. We're excited for DC and for the dozens of major cities we think will follow its lead."

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