2:48 pm Sep. 20, 2012
Smartphone-based taxi apps are poised to flood the New York market, changing the way taxi drivers find passengers, and the way passengers find rides. But what about people who are either too poor, or too Luddite, for smartphones?
Colgate University professor Graham Hodges, author of the book, Taxi!: A social history of the New York City cabdriver, wonders whether these smartphone apps, which allow riders to summon cabs via an iPhone, will make it yet more difficult to hail a cab, if only because they allow riders to reserve taxis ahead of time.
"Sometimes it’s very hard to get a taxi," he told me. "And if they’re all prearranged, then you’re really out of luck."
Councilman James Vacca, chair of the city's Transportation Committee, brought up a similar issue in his written testimony before a Wednesday hearing dealing, in part, with taxi apps.
"If [the Taxi and Limousine Commission's eventual plan is to allow use of electronic devices for hailing and dispatch services, it will also have to up enforcement on drivers who decide to refuse service to passengers in the street by claiming an app call," he said. "The actions must be swift and forceful against drivers who decide to claim they are on an app call rather than picking up someone who isn’t going where they want to go or doesn’t look like the driver wants them to look, just like TLC enforces against drivers who flick off their lights and drive away when a passenger tells them they’re going to the Bronx."
The city, which on Wednesday offered a fairly unequivocal endorsement of taxi apps and their potential to enhance the customer experience, is taking a wait-and-see on this, and other, issues.
"If these apps make it easier for smartphone users to get a taxi at the expense of those who don’t have smartphones, then something valuable will have been lost," said Ashwini Chhabra, in his written testimony before the Council. "Again, given the nature of taxi service in New York, we don’t think this is a present concern, but it is something we will need to remain vigilant against."
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