New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission this week was quick to remind taxi and livery drivers that they aren't allowed to use electronic hailing or payment applications. The public notice was issued after Uber released an application that could be used by both passengers and drivers to locate one another.
Uber's application predicts to taxi drivers areas where there is a high demand for taxi rides. The app can signal the driver closest to a ride request so that he/she may respond to the request and pick up the passenger. The Taxi and Limousine Commission says this is a no-no.
"A driver must not use any electronic communication device, including a cell phone or smartphone running a hail or payment app while operating a taxicab," said the Commission, which also pointed out that penalties include fines and possible suspension/revocation of the driver's TLC license.
Uber was taken aback by the TLC's notice.
[ Apple and Google are developing smartphone technology that delivers information before you even know you need it. Read more at Siri And Rivals Prep Next Trick: Mind Reading. ]
"We feel like the TLC has for the most part been friendly, until we got this," said Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in an interview with the New York Times.
Why the pushback? Contractual obligations, says the TLC. Existing contracts the TLC has with fare payment processors prohibits the use of apps to pay taxi and livery fares. The contract is set to expire in February. The TLC is, however, looking at ways to improve hailing and paying for taxis.
The TLC submitted a request for proposal in March of this year. According to the RFP, the TLC wants "a software developer that will create a smartphone application for use in for-hire vehicles. In the past, developers have created stand-alone apps without coordination with service providers or regulators. The TLC aims to take a new approach by contracting with a developer to create an app with one or more functions that would enhance the city's for-hire vehicle services and improve both customer and driver experiences."
A quick search of both the iPhone App Store and Google Play Store showed that dozens--if not hundreds--of taxi hailing applications are already available to smartphone users. As long as you're not in New York City, feel free to try one.
"The TLC is eager to pave the way for taxi riders to take advantage of the most up-to-date technology, including smartphone apps that may help passengers locate available taxicabs more quickly," said TLC chairman David S. Yassky.
This doesn't mean it isn't possible to make electronic payments in NYC taxi cabs. Many of the city's taxis accept credit cards for fare payment, which are generally used with a terminal located in the back seat of the taxi. Smartphone apps could make things easier, especially if they are matched with payment terminals that accept NFC (near-field communications)-style payments. But things haven't progressed quite that far.
The TLC hasn't provided any updates on the RFPs it has received.
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