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NYC turns to pilot program for app to hail taxis

After foot-dragging by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, a pilot program that lets users summon a taxi with a smartphone app is becoming a reality.

A pilot program that lets users hail taxis with a smartphone app will soon be voted on.
Declan McCullagh/CNET

Whether people call a taxi or hail one can be a contentious matter in New York City -- because of rules set up between yellow cabs and for-hire vehicles. So, it's no surprise that a smartphone app that lets users beckon yellow cabs has been a topic of hot debate with the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The commission announced Wednesday that it will vote on whether to allow such apps in a pilot program, according to the New York Times. The vote is scheduled for Thursday. Update December 13 at 10:04 a.m. PT: On Thursday morning, the commission voted 7-0 to approve the year-long pilot program, which will allow use of apps to hail taxis and pay for rides, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"Bringing apps into New York would be a change in the way people get taxis," commission Chairman David Yassky told the New York Times ahead of the vote. "It makes sense to see how that pans out and see if any of the supposed problems with that materialize before you make it permanent."

Companies like Uber have been working to bring taxi apps to New York the past few months but have failed. Uber launched support for taxi service in New York in September, but after just one month the company pulled out.

"We did the best we could to get more yellows on the road, but New York's TLC [Taxi and Limousine Commission] put up obstacles and roadblocks in order to squash the effort around e-hail which they privately have said is legal under the rules," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told CNET at the time. "We'll bite our tongues and keep our frustration here to ourselves."

If the commission does vote for the pilot program, there may be certain restrictions on the app -- such as users only being able to call taxis that are close by, according to the New York Times. These types of rules would placate for-hire vehicles that see the app as hurting their business and they would also lessen the number of empty cabs that pass would-be customers.

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., and San Francisco. Last month, a class action suit was filed against Uber in San Francisco Superior court claiming unfair business practices. The suit claims that Uber has ducked all regulations that normally govern taxicab companies.