NYC Cabs Can Be Hailed With Smartphone Apps, Court Rules

New York City taxi riders will now be able to hail a cab using smartphone applications after a state appeals panel cleared the way for a pilot program to move forward.

The measure adopted by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission in December would run for 12 months and exempt areas such as airports that have provisions for taxi lines. While all licensed city cab drivers would be eligible, participation would be optional.

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

Supreme Court Justice Carol Huff in April dismissed the lawsuit and lifted an earlier order blocking the program. Associate Justice Helen E. Freedman of the Appellate Division in Manhattan issued an emergency injunction blocking the pilot from moving forward the next week. Freedman’s court vacated the emergency injunction in an order dated today, allowing the program to proceed while the appeal is pending.

‘Not Over’

Randy M. Mastro, an attorney representing the car-service firms, said in an e-mail that he expects the appeals court to listen to oral arguments in the case in September.

“While we are obviously disappointed that the emergency injunction has been lifted, this is not over,” Mastro said. “What the TLC did here is so outrageous and such a fundamental violation of multiple local laws that it cries out for a remedy, so we intend to pursue our appeal to a prompt resolution and expect that it will result in the termination of this illegal program.”

South of Manhattan’s 59th Street, the smartphone program would be restricted to pickups within a half-mile (0.8 kilometer) range, according to Huff’s decision. Elsewhere in the city, the range would extend to 1 1/2 miles. Smartphone application providers would be subject to Taxi & Limousine Commission approval. Two applications, Uber and Hailo, have been approved by the city for use in the pilot program.

‘Common Sense’

“In New York City in 2013, common sense and the free market say that you should be able to use your smartphone to get a cab, and that’s why we created a pilot program to allow users to do just that,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “This decision will allow our e-hail program to move forward, and give New Yorkers another way to hail a cab.”

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a group of fleet owners that intervened in the case, praised the decision while calling upon the city to make sure the market for taxi smartphone applications is “as highly regulated as the yellow taxi industry itself.”

“We need to make sure passengers are kept safe and their consumer rights are protected,” the group said in a statement. “There are a lot of companies out there, looking to make a buck from New York taxi passengers, and we need to make sure that only the law-abiding and responsible ones are given the privilege to operate here.”

Bloomberg’s administration also won a ruling today from the state’s highest court in Albany allowing car services to pick up passengers who hail them outside of Manhattan. Only yellow cabs had been permitted to pick up fares on the street, while car services were limited to pre-arranged dispatched calls.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

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

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