Judge gives taxi-hailing apps in NYC the go-ahead

After a lawsuit put a yearlong e-hail pilot program on hold, taxi-hailing app startups like Uber, GetTaxi, and Hailo are now given a green light.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
A pilot program that lets users hail taxis with a smartphone app will soon start in New York City. Declan McCullagh/CNET

The on-again, off-again scenario of whether to allow taxi-hailing apps to set up shop for a pilot program in New York City is back on again.

State Supreme Court Judge Carol Huff dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday that sought to halt the pilot program, which was filed by a group of mostly livery-car companies, according to the Associated Press. This means that startups like Uber, GetTaxi, and Hailo can now commence with e-hails.

The way the taxi-hailing apps work is by letting potential passengers put their location information into the app, which is then sent to yellow cabs. The first taxi to arrive on the scene gets to pick up the customer. According to today's decision, these apps will have one year to prove their worth in New York City.

"The market will ultimately decide which apps rise or fall, and we have an obligation to give the riding public that choice," Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said Tuesday as he applauded the judge's decision, according to the Associated Press.

Before now, taxis weren't allowed to take pre-arranged rides, according to the Associated Press. By the same token, livery cars aren't allowed to pick up passengers hailing cabs. The livery-car companies say that taxi-hailing apps will hurt their business because it means yellow cabs will be able to tread on their territory.

The livery-car companies are currently deciding whether to appeal the ruling. "This decision is so fundamentally wrong in so many respects," lawyer for the livery-car companies Randy Mastro told the Associated Press.

In December, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to allow such apps in a yearlong pilot program. The program was expected to go into effect in March. However, it got waylaid by this lawsuit.

Companies like Uber have been working to bring taxi apps to New York over the past year, but so far have failed. Uber launched support for taxi service in New York last September, but after just one month the company pulled out due to obstacles and roadblocks by groups opposed to the service.

New York isn't the only U.S. city that has had problems with car-hailing apps. Uber has also faced regulatory challenges from Chicago, Washington, D.C., Colorado, and San Francisco.

"Ever since our initial launch of Uber for New York City yellow cabs in September, we've been saying that you can't stop progress when the people want it enough," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement e-mailed to CNET. "New York City has some of the deepest dug-in, most entrenched special interests in the country. The fact that Taxi Commissioner David Yassky and Mayor Mike Bloomberg were able to overcome the transportation industry's blatant self-interest should be a lesson for other cities and states who also want to be forward-looking, tech-friendly and visionary."

Now that the New York City lawsuit is over, it's still unclear when the pilot program will get off the ground. It's also not yet know if there will be certain restrictions on the apps.