Cab-Hailing Apps May Give NYC Users Unfair, Illegal Advantage

Anyone who has ever stood on a cold New York City street corner without a cab in sight has wished for some magic way to summon up a taxi with the push of a button. But now that a new smartphone app promises to make this dream a possibility, the Big Apple may also need to re-visit some of its strict pick-up policies.

See, this Uber app would locate a nearby cab for the user and effectively reserve that cab until the driver arrives at the pick-up spot. Sounds great, yes?

However, NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission rules strictly forbid cabs from making prearranged pick-ups. That is a task left to licensed town car services, which in turn are not supposed to pick up fares on the street.

While no final decision has been made, it would seem like the Uber app would violate these rules, essentially allowing participating cabs to operate as both taxis and town cars.

Taxis are also forbidden from refusing street pick-ups (though anyone who has needed to go far from Manhattan late at night is likely familiar with the cabbie who refuses to unlock the doors until you tell him your destination). Since Uber would lock the cab into a specific passenger, the driver would be obligated to not pick up passengers he passes en route.

The CEO of Uber pish-poshes the idea that his app is equivalent to having a town car service with a dispatcher who arranges pick-ups.

“Prearrangement means it’s basically on behalf of a base,” he explains. “We’re not working with a base.”

Perhaps not, but try telling that to the dozens of people that cab passes on its way to pick up an Uber user… or the user of any number of other apps trying to crack the NYC taxi market.

Some local lawmakers, especially those who represent less-affluent parts of the city, worry that such apps would create a two-tiered system, in which those with smartphones — and who are willing to pay whatever extra fees might be involved — get first dibs on cabs not by tried-and-true methods like upstreaming or flashing some leg (always works for me!), but simply by having nicer gadgets.

As a Taxi-Hailing App Comes to New York, Its Legality Is Questioned [NY Times]