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NYC taxis may have to wait longer for app hails

Fans of taxi-finder apps like Uber, Hailo and FlyWheel may have to wait a bit longer before they can raise their iThumbs to flag down yellow cabs in the US' busiest urban area. Per the WSJ, a lawsuit by livery cab drivers may block a rule change that would allow app-based hailing in NYC.

While iPhone apps to summon a taxi or "black car" ride are popular in other cities, New York's slightly Byzantine rules governing for-hire cars have made it challenging for these apps to make inroads in the Big Apple. The city's iconic yellow cabs can respond to street hails, but for many years have not been allowed to take phone reservations or centralized dispatch. The lawsuit contends that an e-hail is equivalent to dispatching, and that these apps will encroach upon the for-hire car market.

The chairman of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, former city council member David Yassky, didn't mince words in his statement responding to the legal maneuverings. "This suit seeks to keep the taxi industry and New Yorkers in the dark ages... Next thing, they'll be suing restaurants to go back to wood-burning stoves. Our rules allow for e-hail now, and the only question is, do we embrace these new services and ensure that consumer protections are in place, or listen to obstructionists and watch e-hail apps proliferate without any regulatory input."

Back in December, the TLC approved a year-long pilot test of app-based hailing for yellow taxis. The earliest possible start date for that test was February 15, but now it's possible it may take even longer for the service to kick off. An earlier test by Uber had to be canceled due to too few participating cabs and too much demand, not to mention that the TLC hadn't yet figured out how e-hailing was going to work in the city.

Meanwhile, livery cabs, car services and corporate cars can indeed be dispatched by phone and by app -- Uber's app already covers most of NYC's business district -- but they aren't allowed to pick up arbitrary passengers on the street (although many flout the rules).

On recent trips to Chicago and San Francisco, I was pleasantly surprised by how effective Uber's cab service was, with a ride showing up promptly in almost all cases (one attempt at rush hour in SF's downtown financial district didn't pan out). I would certainly take advantage of an e-hail tool in NYC, assuming the interested parties ever sort out their disputes.

[via Transportation Nation and Crain's New York]