It’s as much a part of New York as the EmpireÂ State Building or dirty-water hot dogs. But the traditional taxi hail could soonÂ be a thing of the past.
The city’s Taxi and Limousine CommissionÂ announced today to approve a pilot program allowing riders to use theirÂ smartphones to ‘e-hail’ a yellow cab as early as next February.
The technological step is revolutionary forÂ many reasons, with one being that before now, it has been illegal for the iconicÂ taxicabs to pre-arrange rides.
The tests, which are slated to start onÂ February 15, are an answer to a growing question of how smartphones have beenÂ used for transport around the city.
The commission issued a news release afterÂ the vote celebrating what it called ‘appy days ahead.’
The system will be tried out for one year.
After the free apps start linking customersÂ with drivers in mid-February, the commission will produce quarterly reports onÂ the program’s success, leading to a decision on whether to extend it.
At least a dozen companies are ready toÂ provide the service, including ones now operating in other U.S. cities andÂ overseas. London has a thriving taxi e-hail system.
Commission research showed drivers stillÂ prefer to pick up gesturing passengers, Yassky said.
‘They’ll still tend to pick up a ride that’sÂ there first,’ he said. ‘I think drivers will use the app when there’s noÂ passenger out there.’
Mensah Kwabenah, a cabbie waiting forÂ customers near Penn Station, said he’ll respond to app hails if his cab ownerÂ wants him to.
The 56-year-old driver said that personally,Â he felt checking his phone for a customer’s location ‘is going to be aÂ distraction, and it could cause accidents’ – even if the cell phone isÂ mounted.
THE ‘E-HAIL’: HOW IT WORKS
A potential fare uses the app to request aÂ ride.
That request goes out to all participatingÂ cabbies within a certain distance, and the cabbie who uses his or her ownÂ cellphone to respond first will get the fare.
City law prohibits drivers from talking onÂ handheld cellphones, but they will be able to use them to respond to anÂ e-hail.
The electronic system is optional for cabÂ companies.
The commission was subject to lobbying fromÂ the service car industry, which fears loss of business if yellow cabs areÂ allowed to prearrange rides.
The commissioner said the city will make sureÂ both drivers and customers are protected. The driver should be able to accept aÂ ride with a single touch after receiving a passenger signal, YasskyÂ said.
Distance limits will be built into theÂ technology. For example, from 59th Street to Battery Park in Manhattan – theÂ primary business zone – yellow cabs will be allowed to respond to an electronicÂ hail within a half-mile.
Elsewhere in the city, the limit is a mileÂ and a half.
Customers may pay by using apps that interactÂ with the technology being used in a particular yellow cab, according to TLCÂ spokesman Allan Fromberg
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