NYC approves one-year pilot of taxi e-hailing

New York City is showing a little more love to transportation startups like Uber with the approval of a one-year trial for e-hailing services for cabs. The pilot program, approved 7-0 by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, falls short of a permanent approval for e-hailing services that startup and other advocates were pushing for, reflecting protests by for-hire car services.

But it means that taxi users will now get to legally hail a cab from their smartphone, though the rules will be different depending on where a user is located. User will be able to hail a taxi that’s within a half-mile radius in Manhattan below 59th street. The radius grows to 1.5 miles for the rest of New York. Users will pay using the existing credit-card payment systems from VeriFone (s pay) and CMT. And companies wanting to offer e-hailing will need to get a license from the city.

Uber tried unsuccessfully to start an e-hailing service back in September but quit within six weeks after encountering difficulties in building up its fleet of available taxis because of obstacles put up by the city. Now, it’s poised to get back on the road, the second big win in two weeks for Uber after the Washington D.C. City Council approved digital dispatch services last week. The company wrote excitedly in a blog post what this means:

“We already know how this pilot will turn out. As you may remember, New York City’s first experiment in e-hailing yellow cabs was only a couple months ago. Along with quite a bit of controversy there was enormous, unprecedented demand from New Yorkers who used it to get a yellow cab dispatched to them for the first time in decades. Drivers who found themselves in neighborhoods far from midtown Manhattan were finding riders they never had before – and were earning hundreds of dollars a week more than before – helping them make a far better living. But obstacles and roadblocks, and politics got in the way and six weeks ago we ended our ambitious e-hail experiment.

Now, UberTAXI’s return is imminent.”

But it’s not just Uber that wins. Services like Hailo, GetTaxi and Taxi Magic will also get a shot at offering services under the pilot program. The new approvals in New York and D.C. suggest that cities are acknowledging consumer interest in these services and the need to look at more technology options for moving people around. A TLC survey found that 70 percent of passengers said they had a smartphone and 55 percent wanted the ability to hail a cab and pay with their smartphone.