Uber taxi-hailing service returns to NYC streets, without payments

Private-car summoning service launches pilot program allowing taxi customers to use a smartphone app to request a cab. But the app won't accept payments, at least at first.

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After an eight-month absence punctuated by legal battles, Uber taxi's service is returning to the streets of New York City.

Uber launched its taxi-hailing pilot program on Tuesday night, just days after a State Supreme Court judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to put a stop to the program. Passengers will be able to hail a cab with a smartphone app, but the app won't accept payments, at least initially.

"The way New Yorkers hail yellow cabs fundamentally transforms today, and we're proud that it's Uber who gave the Big Apple this option," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a statement. "New Yorkers will never again have to stand on a corner and have an available cab pass by a block away. With a quick click of your phone, Uber will now e-hail you any available yellow cab around the corner or, outside Manhattan, up to a mile and a half away."

Previously, taxis weren't allowed to take pre-arranged rides, but the new program allows potential passengers to put their location information into the app, which is then sent to yellow cabs. The first driver to accept the fare gets to pick up the customer, Uber said.

A pioneer in the car-summoning sector, Uber sought to get into the cab-hailing business in the Big Apple last September with the launch of its e-hailing app. However, the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) objected, saying it had not authorized any apps for calling for taxis or paying for rides for use in New York City cabs. Uber said it would offer rides for free while it negotiated with the TLC, but it pulled the plug after just a month.

After months of hot debate, the TLC voted in December to allow such e-hailing apps in a yearlong pilot program. The program was expected to go into effect in March, but it got waylaid by the lawsuit.

State Supreme Court Judge Carol Huff removed that obstacle last week by dismissing the lawsuit, which was filed by a group of mostly livery-car companies. The livery-car companies said they are currently deciding whether to appeal the ruling.

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