N.Y.C. Bill Would Have City Develop Its Own Taxi-Hailing App

"City taxis need an app of their own to compete," says New York City Council member Ben Kallos

"City taxis need an app of their own to compete," says New York City Council member Ben Kallos Bufflerump / Shutterstock.com


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Council member’s plan would create a city-sponsored alternative to Uber and other ride-sharing services.

There’s a new chapter in the ongoing drama between ridesharing services like Uber and New York City.

City Council member Ben Kallos announced a bill on Monday that would authorize the creation of a city-sponsored app allowing users to hail a ride from any of the city’s traditional cabs from the ease of their phone.

The bill would in effect create a massive new competitor for rideshare drivers in an attempt to level the playing field between independent drivers and the traditional taxicab system.

“City taxis need an app of their own to compete, and New Yorkers need to be able to get a cab in the rain without having to worry about surge pricing,” Kallos said in a press release announcing the bill. “New York City must support our tech sector: Instead of making new technologies illegal, or regulating them out of business, we should provide a level playing field with fair competition so that companies, drivers and riders all win.”

Kallos, a software engineer, open data advocate and the chairman of the City Council’s Governmental Operations Committee, said the app would be free and universal and provide a way to make hailing a traditional cab more like finding a ride via Uber and Lyft.

However, the new app would be created or contracted by New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission and wouldn't include drivers who are not properly licensed.

The proposed bill is the latest example of how state and local governments are working to address the potent changes to industries in their communities that have been created by new software-based businesses that have rattled a number of industries, particularly hotels and transportation services like taxicabs.

Although many customers love the convenience and inexpensive services offered by the new business model, many of the independent operators do not pay the standards taxes and fees that governments rely on from traditionally operated and licensed businesses.

As proposed, the app could provide some incentives to customers, who would be guaranteed a metered ride, as opposed to set fees established by rideshare companies. For example, Uber has been criticized for its sliding scale of fares, which increase during rush hour or other peak service times.

However, the app is clearly designed to strike a blow against rideshare companies that have disrupted traditional cab service industries in cities around the world.

Kallos specified that even if third-party companies like Uber opted to participate in the universal app, they would be contractually obligated “to display all available yellow or green cabs, provide a metered fare, and would be restricted from influencing a rider to use a non-medallion vehicle.”

And, of course, every cab that’s booked over an independent rideshare, means more tax revenue for the New York City government.

For his part, Kallos has recently been at the forefront of influential technology policies initiatives in the city. He recently helped support an initiative that will create 10,000 free Wi-Fi kiosks around the city’s boroughs over the next several years.

Uber and the TLC have been at odds since the ridesharing service first exploded onto the scene in New York City in 2011. Uber has repeatedly attempted to use its app to allow users to hail participating traditional cabs but those efforts have faced obstacles at the court level.

Other major local jurisdictions, like the District of Columbia, have experimented with apps that are friendlier to traditional taxi models, with mixed results.

In addition to leveling the technological playing field between ridesharing companies and the TLC in New York City, Kallos said the city's app would offer other consumer benefits beyond generating more tax revenue for the city, including offering disabled passengers a reliable option for obtaining accessible vehicles.

“I want to live in a city where I can e-hail a yellow or green cab and get where I need to be in a New York minute,” he said.

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Bufflerump / Shutterstock.com