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Pol find faults in new electronic cab hail system

New Yorkers will soon be able to hail a cab with their mobile devices during a city pilot program.
TimesLedger Newspapers

When it comes to hailing cabs, some elected officials are not happy there’s an app for that.

City Council members Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), James Sanders (D-Laurelton), Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), along with fellow Brooklyn members Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) drafted a letter to Taxi & Limousine Commissioner David Yassky deriding a new electronic hailing application pilot program.

The app would allow taxi riders to hail cabs on a smartphone, alerting cabbies electronically to possible fares in the area. A one-year pilot program will launch Feb. 15, giving app providers and developers a chance to demonstrate their compliance with taxi guidelines, the TLC said.

But Council members contend that while they would welcome new technology, an e-hail service could inadvertently cause some problems.

“I appreciate and welcome the TLC’s desire to use technology to enhance city services, but the proposal to allow e-hail apps that prearrange pickups opens the door for potential discrimination and dangerous driving situations,” Crowley said. “The apps considered would only benefit a small percentage of riders, and in practice, they would encourage taxi drivers to break TLC’s own rules and regulations.”

Crowley said TLC rules require taxi drivers to pick up anyone hailing a cab, regardless of race, color, age, physical disability or other characteristics and drive them to any destination within the five boroughs. The councilwoman fears e-hail apps could create the potential for discrimination, as people have no way of determining if a cab passed them on its way to answer an e-hail or because of a driver’s discriminatory actions.

In response, a TLC spokesman said the commission would require any apps to be in synch with the Taxicab Passenger Enhancement Project technology systems, service improvements implemented in all medallion taxicabs in 2004. The spokesman said that as soon as the driver accepts an e-hail, the technology system would automatically make the roof light indicate the cab is taken, so prospective hailers would see it as a taken taxi.

“Another way we’re making sure drivers can’t cherry-pick rides is that we passed new rules recently that take the roof light out of the driver’s control entirely, so they would no longer be able to manually flick it on and off,” the TLC spokesman said.

The members’ letter to Yassky also stated that the e-hail system could put drivers, as well as passengers and pedestrians, at risk. They said that asking drivers to pay attention to a smartphone or onboard computer is impractical and dangerous.

But the TLC said they have taken safety precautions into consideration.

“We’re requiring that drivers be able to accept a ride with a single tap,” the spokesman said. “So if the devices are in a cradle mount as we expect they will be, it’s no different from tapping a button on the radio or the air conditioner.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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Reader Feedback

Steve from Queens says:
I think the council missed the real discrimation which is you have to have a credit card and iPhone to open an account on the app. Drivers are smart enough to know they are going to have an affluent passenger.

The other losers are the drivers with someone trying to get into their pocket.
Dec. 25, 2012, 3:44 pm

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