It’s as much a part of New York as the Empire State Building or dirty-water hot dogs. But the traditional taxi hail could soon be a thing of the past.
The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission announced today to approve a pilot program allowing riders to use their smartphones to ‘e-hail’ a yellow cab as early as next February.
The technological step is revolutionary for many reasons, with one being that before now, it has been illegal for the iconic taxicabs to pre-arrange rides.
The tests, which are slated to start on February 15, are an answer to a growing question of how smartphones have been used for transport around the city.
The commission issued a news release after the vote celebrating what it called ‘appy days ahead.’
The system will be tried out for one year.
After the free apps start linking customers with drivers in mid-February, the commission will produce quarterly reports on the program’s success, leading to a decision on whether to extend it.
At least a dozen companies are ready to provide the service, including ones now operating in other U.S. cities and overseas. London has a thriving taxi e-hail system.
Commission research showed drivers still prefer to pick up gesturing passengers, Yassky said.
‘They’ll still tend to pick up a ride that’s there first,’ he said. ‘I think drivers will use the app when there’s no passenger out there.’
Mensah Kwabenah, a cabbie waiting for customers near Penn Station, said he’ll respond to app hails if his cab owner wants him to.
The 56-year-old driver said that personally, he felt checking his phone for a customer’s location ‘is going to be a distraction, and it could cause accidents’ — even if the cell phone is mounted.
A potential fare uses the app to request a ride.
That request goes out to all participating cabbies within a certain distance, and the cabbie who uses his or her own cellphone to respond first will get the fare.
City law prohibits drivers from talking on handheld cellphones, but they will be able to use them to respond to an e-hail.
The electronic system is optional for cab companies.
The commission was subject to lobbying from the service car industry, which fears loss of business if yellow cabs are allowed to prearrange rides.
The commissioner said the city will make sure both drivers and customers are protected. The driver should be able to accept a ride with a single touch after receiving a passenger signal, Yassky said.
Distance limits will be built into the technology. For example, from 59th Street to Battery Park in Manhattan — the primary business zone — yellow cabs will be allowed to respond to an electronic hail within a half-mile.
Elsewhere in the city, the limit is a mile and a half.
Customers may pay by using apps that interact with the technology being used in a particular yellow cab, according to TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg
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