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]


Edit Your Comment

  1. JediZombie says:

    In Russia, cab drivers will accept gadgets as payment. As much as it looks like it, this is not a joke. An iPhone will get you an hour away (fares go by time, not distance)

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Change the app’s function.

    Instead of “reserving” the cab, simply have the app ping the cab company with your exact location. Sure, someone might steal your cab, but then have the app tell you that as well. You can continue doing this until you get a cab.

    • I'd Buy That For A Dollar! says:

      That’s a pretty cool idea.

    • Stickdude says:

      Great idea – I’m sure some programmer could just whip that up in under 30 seconds – give or take a couple.

    • Delicious Spam is delicious says:

      then use the app as is to reserve town cars.

      alternately make it so that when the cab is summoned that’s when the meter starts.

    • nodaybuttoday says:

      I was thinking the same thing or it pings the available cabs around you within a certain amount of blocks so you can at least try to walk toward them

  3. Torchwood says:

    I’m sure that if I do a Google search, I’ll find out the history behind the NY Cab / Town Car services and the history behind the twisted logic.

    • dpeters11 says:

      They aren’t the only odd ones. Until a few months ago, it was illegal to hail a cab in Cincinnati. You had to use one waiting at an approved taxi stand.

    • phsiii says:

      Yes, and a fascinating story it is. The number of taxi medallions has been fixed for a long time, resulting in a secondary market, with drivers paying on the order of $200,000 for one. Which in turn means that they can’t really issue more, because the drivers who have paid that for them would revolt. Talk about unintended consequences!

      • wrjohnston91283 says:

        Couldn’t the city sell more – they get extra money, and consumers get more cabs – sure if they flood the market with hundreds of new medallions the price with drop; but I’m sure they could work out a correct number to sell each month/quarter/year that will not result in devestating the market.

        • euph_22 says:

          The real problem is there isn’t any more room on the city’s streets for more cabs. If the issued more medallions, there would be that many more cabs on the road constantly. That extra traffic would slow everything down, so any advantage you had by having more cabs on the road gets lost by all the extra traffic.

      • NeverLetMeDown2 says:

        It’s a lot more than $200k. Try $1.3 million.

  4. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    “To hell with the Livery Commission!” – Marge

  5. parliboy says:

    Wouldn’t the fix just be for the cab to start charging from the moment it’s reserved, not the moment it gets to the passenger?

    • ReverendLoki says:

      So the cabbie can take “this shortcut he knows” to travel the block and a half distance it takes to get to you, without an alert passenger seeing how far out of the way they are going?

      • StarKillerX says:

        That problem should be self correcting since if using the app results in the drivers screwing people over the app will simply die as people start using it.

      • parliboy says:

        Which is why the fix for that is to tell the user where the cab is coming from. If the cab can get that data, is must be triangulable.

  6. MBZ321 says:

    I must be weird, as I actually don’t mind commercials in most instances. It gives a nice chance to go to the bathroom, grab a snack,discuss what happened in the show if watching with other people, etc…or just see what kind of crap marketers are trying to sell to us. I only hate when commercials are replayed a zillion times during a short program.

    • snarfies says:

      No, actually, you’re weird because this story has nothing to do with anything you’re going on about.

      • HomerSimpson says:

        Oh come on…it makes life interesting here! Post a response and you never know where it’ll end up!

    • krunk4ever says:

      I’ve noticed when you try to post a comment and you’ve been logged off. Logging in would often redirect you to some random article and you end up posting your comment on the wrong one.

      • Delicious Spam is delicious says:

        funny, for me it doesnt direct me anywhere, it just asks me to log in again. however this time by name.

  7. krunk4ever says:

    I’m not sure if people understand how Uber works… They don’t advertise themselves as taxis. They’re not bright yellow or green. They don’t have the taxi sign above their roof. There’s no fares/prices listed on the doors. They don’t go advertising they’re a taxi.

    They’re generally unmarked black town cars (sometimes black SUVs). I doubt anyone would ever mistaken them as a taxi…

    Is this service really that different than hiring a limousine service and telling the driver where you want to go? Do limousines have to pick up any random guy on the street if they’ve been reserved and on route to you?

    • mramos says:

      Uber has expanded in New York to offer official yellow cabs as well as the black cabs.

    • RandomHookup says:

      This issue is popping up everywhere that Uber is operating. The rules don’t always make sense, but are in place to provide a level of comfort & control to the cab companies. You are going to see turf wars for quite a while over how Uber fits into the local laws.

  8. evilpete says:

    how about a licensed town car app then?

  9. Kisses4Katie says:

    I don’t have a smartphone but… is there some way to just send out a localized ‘ping’ or something? That way it’s sorta like you’re hailing the cab, only with your phone? You just tap out your location and it sends out a signal to taxi drivers in the area or on the block.

  10. jojo319 says:

    My Dad pounded it into my brain that “life isn’t always fair”. I find it better to shrug and move on when I am personally faced with an unfair situation. For example, I am short. Growing up all of my friends got to go on the good rides at the amusement park years before me. Should I have sued?

  11. MathMan aka Random Talker says:

    “(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).”

    Cabbie 1: “Where you going?”
    Me: “Queens”
    Cabbie 1 drives off
    Cabbie 2: “Where you going?”
    Me: “Queens”
    Cabbie 2: waives me over then pauses “Where in Queens”
    Me: [redacted]
    Cabbie 2: I read Consumerist, [redacted] is bad neighborhood
    Cabbie 2 drives off
    Me: Takes subway home and arrives home 2 hours later..

  12. cspschofield says:

    Of course if they really wanted to provide for good cab service for everybody the government parasites in New York could decide to drop the choke hold on cab licenses, but that would benefit everybody EXCEPT the cab company owners (who make donations), so I ain’t holding my breath.

    • PragmaticGuy says:

      Uhh, you’re wrong. The fact is quite a few cabs aren’t even used because there’s not enough money to be made driving them. In addition, there’s roughly 12,500 licensed yellow cabs in the city and they mainly work the airports and Manhattan. The outer areas are serviced mainly by gypsy cabs because there’s not enough work for the yellow cabs. If you think you’re correct, try seeing how much money you make after expenses for a 12 hour shift.

  13. PragmaticGuy says:

    I drove a NYC taxi back when I was in college. The problem with this app is unless the cabbie knows what the ride is worth I doubt he’ll run to get the fare. He’s not going to pass up business if the fare is only $7 or so since that’s about the average ride now. Unless there’s some way to let the taxi driver know that the fare is decent enough for him to ride empty I don’t think this will ever get rolling. And my cab had radio dispatch back then. When the city said we couldn’t do that anymore was when those same dispatch services became the “town car” services that we have now.

  14. Cerne says:

    The way taxis are regulated and licensed in cities like New York are some of the most outrageous examples of crony capitalism in the first world.