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New York City approves controversial taxi e-hail pilot program

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) today decided the temporary fate of forward-thinking startups such as Uber, Hailo, and GetTaxi looking to modernize the city’s taxi system.

At a meeting in New York this morning, the commission voted to adopt a controversial e-hail pilot program that grants app makers permission to test their mobile taxi booking and payment systems in the city. The pilot, which passed with seven yes votes, will be a year-long endeavor that starts in February.

In October, the TLC proposed rule changes that would allow app makers to legally operate electronic hail and payment systems. A majority of surveyed passengers wanted to hail and pay for taxis through their smartphones. TLC chairman David Yassky has publicly stated his approbation for taxi apps. Incumbent players in the taxi and black car industries, however, are resistant to new competition and have actively lobbied against the changes.

The TLC using Instagram to document the Commission meeting

Above: The TLC uses Instagram to document the commission meeting.

Image Credit: nyctaxi/instagram

Instead of discussing permanent changes, the commission today proposed and adopted a less radical pilot program, likely because several of the nine commissioners had indicated they would vote against permanent changes.

Earlier this year, San Francisco-based Uber launched an e-hail taxi service in the usually progressive city, but it shuttered the offering a month later after run-ins with the TLC.

Today’s vote will, on a pilot basis, allow Uber and others including Hailo, GetTaxi, Taxi Magic, and Cabulous to receive approval from the TLC, market their apps, and launch their mobile booking and payment systems once existing contracts expire at the end of February. Under the rules, licensed cab drivers can use the apps to find fares.

According to the TLC:

Participating E-Hail Apps may allow Passengers to identify the location of taxicabs, allow licensed TLC taxicab drivers (“Drivers”) to identify the location of Passengers, allow a Passenger to hail a taxicab electronically and allow a Driver to receive and accept a hail request. Additionally, participating E-Hail Apps may also allow E-Payment, the ability for Passengers to pay for their taxi fare, tip and extras through the E-Hail App.

The pilot also requires participants to abide by strict payment rules, which means service providers will have to break out exact charges for fees, fares, and tips. Currently, Uber does not provide this information, but the startup said today that its taxi service will return to New York imminently.

“When Uber rolled out New York’s first e-hail application in September, the demand we saw for the first dispatch service on taxis in decades was enormous,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement. “New Yorkers got around the five boroughs more efficiently and drivers earned hundreds of dollars more per week. We’re encouraged that Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his Taxi and Limousine Commission are expanding New York City’s incredible tech-friendly innovations to make yellow cabs work better for both drivers and passengers.”

Melissa Plaut, a part-time NYC hack, published author, and driver advocate for Hailo, said that she’s astonished that the city has taken this long to consider the changes.

“We cannot miss this opportunity. The drivers of New York deserve it. The passengers of New York deserve it. The fact that other cities already have it is almost embarrassing,” she said. “Like many cab drivers, I struggled to do the job; I struggled to do it well; and I struggled to make a living … that’s where my personal passion comes from.”

This post was updated with official TLC information on the pilot program.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk/Flickr


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