Hail a Taxi? Yes! Prearrange One? No!

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Photo by: Uris

Imagine standing on a street corner, trying to hail a taxi, and watching as empty cab after empty cab passes you by, on their way to pick up other riders that have prearranged them from homes or offices.

A proposal from the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) set for a vote tomorrow would allow just that. The proposal—to permit yellow cab drivers to accept reservations from riders using a smartphone app—is misguided and shortsighted. If passed, it would not only make it more difficult to hail a cab on the street, but would also present a very real threat to public safety.

Allowing the use of a smartphone-based reservation application would create a two-tiered system that would actually make it more difficult for many riders to hail a cab. While people with smartphones would be able to reserve a cab remotely, those without a smartphone would watch in frustration as cab after cab passed them by to pick up riders with reservations.

This problem would be especially acute in New York City, where there are already too few cabs to handle the high street hail demand. By contrast, our city also already has more than enough vehicles to handle pre-arranged, reserved rides.

And that’s what the TLC does not seem to understand. What works so well in New York City is that the 13,000 street hail taxis work side-by-side with 39,000 for-hire cars, which have the exclusive right to arrange pick-up service.

This separation of rights, street hails to yellows and prearranged to the for-hires, was created pursuant to consumer complaints about taxis’ street hail availability, not by stakeholders. As a matter of fact, the for-hire industry was born because of the consumers’ complaint. With no real increase in the number of yellow taxis on the road, nothing has changed. The for-hire sector, developed over many decades with the input and advice of experienced stakeholders, has given New York the best ground transportation system in the nation.

Commissioner Yassky has been quoted saying “The opponents of the taxi hailing rule have framed it all wrong….The issue is do we have rules that protect customers and reduce distracted driving, or do we have a Wild West where there are no rules at all?”

That’s simply not true.

Contrary to the Commissioner’s statement, the options are not his rules or no rules. The options are good rules vs. bad rules.

We want rules for the entire industry not just the yellows. We have introduced an alternative to the proposed rule that is supported by the majority of the for-hire industry and the yellow taxi industry. Our proposal will regulate the entire industry, will allow broadcasting the passenger’s location without prearranging the yellow, and without distracting the taxi driver. Thus, protect the customers and will improve street hail availability.

Technological advancements can and will change ground transportation for New Yorkers, but we do not believe venture capital companies should profiteer at the cost of doing what is right for New York.

I believe smartphone technology can be used to enhance our transportation system, but it must be done in a thoughtful manner that ensures fairness, increases availability and does not threaten public safety.

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