N.Y. Livery Car Groups Win Bid to Halt Taxi Hail Program

Livery car groups in New York won a court order temporarily stopping a pilot program that would allow riders to hail the city’s 13,000 yellow taxis for the first time using location-based smartphone applications.

The temporary restraining order against the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, whose drivers compete with livery cars for fares, was issued yesterday by Judge Carol Huff in state court in Manhattan. The pilot had been scheduled to start today.

“They’re supposed to pick up the next street hail” instead of arranging fares in advance, Randy Mastro, a lawyer for the livery groups, said of the taxis. “Only black cars with licensed dispatchers can do that.”

The Livery Roundtable, Black Car Assistance Corp. and several car-service firms sued the TLC in February alleging the program violates city codes and may allow taxi drivers to discriminate against racial minorities, based on their names or locations, as well as the elderly, who are less likely to own smartphones.

Full arguments in the case will be heard on March 18, Huff said.

“Passengers can wait 10 days to enjoy the latest technology,” TLC Commissioner David Yassky said in a statement.

Nearby Taxis

The livery groups also claim the use of smartphone apps will distract taxi drivers and cut into the business of livery car companies that are only allowed to pick up passengers who pre-arrange rides and are banned from responding to hails.

Under the planned yearlong program, riders could use downloadable smartphone apps to summon nearby taxis to their location. App providers would have to demonstrate compliance with commission guidelines and ensure that services are only provided by properly licensed drivers, according to the TLC,

Michelle Goldberg-Cahn, senior counsel for the New York City Law Department, said at yesterday’s hearing that the TLC is required under its charter to explore new technologies and test new services. The pilot would be optional for the city’s 47,000 drivers, she said.

“We understand why the court would want time to consider this issue after first receiving voluminous legal filings from all sides earlier this afternoon,” Goldberg-Cahn said in a statement. “We remain confident that when the judge has had sufficient time to consider everything, the pilot will be found completely lawful.”

Track Drivers

Elizabeth Saylor, a lawyer for a taxi group challenging the lawsuit, said the apps wouldn’t display riders’ personal information, other than their location, and that the program could track drivers who refuse electronic hails and thus improve efforts to stop discrimination.

The program would allow taxis to respond to smartphone hails within half a mile if riders are in Manhattan below 59th Street. App users outside that area could hail taxis within 1.5 miles using their phones.

“We are highly confident that the court will dismiss the petitioner’s claims and allow our passengers to start using new technology that can potentially make hailing yellow taxis more modern and more efficient,” the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade said in a statement.

The case is Black Car Assistance Corp. v. The City of New York, 100327-2013, Supreme Court for the State of New York, County of New York (Manhattan).

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