Lawsuit May Block NYC Taxi E-Hail Program

Posted February 27, 2013 in Government The Internet & The Law by

Woman talking on cell phone and hailing a yellow cab


Anyone who has lived in New York City has been initiated into the unfortunate but necessary ritual known as hailing a cab. I’ve seen fights break out over who flagged down a cab first.

Smartphone apps like Hailo, Uber, FlyWheel and Zabkab that let pedestrians map out and book a nearby cab with the tap of a finger aim to make the experience less of a hassle.

But a lawsuit threatens to put a stop to the apps.

In a complaint filed on Feb. 13, several groups challenge a one-year pilot program known as the “E-Hail Program” to test the apps. They argue that use of the apps by yellow cabs violates the rules that control cabbies in the Big Apple.

Those laws create a “bright line” separating yellow cabs from livery cabs and limo services.

Yellow cabs are not allowed to take prearranged rides and must stop for anyone curbside waving them down. With livery cabs, it’s just the opposite; they can only take fares that are called in and are forbidden from taking customers hailing them down on the street.

Several groups representing livery cabs, limos and black cars brought the lawsuit saying that the apps will illegally give their business away to yellow cabs. Paying a car to drive you to and fro is a $2.5 billion business, so livery cars are protecting their turf.

The lawsuit also claims that the apps will make it easier for yellow cabs to discriminate against passengers by race or destination by using the prearranged fare as an excuse for refusing to pick up a passenger.

Attorney Daniel Ackman headshot

Attorney Daniel Ackman

Cabs refusing to pick up riders is a big problem, said Daniel Ackman, an attorney and native New Yorker who has represented cab drivers.

“A fundamental rule of being a yellow cab is you have to pick up the first person who hails you. You’re not allowed to pick and choose,” said Ackman.

The apps blur the line between a street-hail and a prearranged fare.

For example, if someone uses an app for a yellow cab that is 10 blocks away, the cab will presumably pass by other pedestrians with their hands up, he said.

On the other hand, a livery driver may appear to be picking up a street-hail in violation of the rules, when in fact the driver is responding to an e-hail, he added.

The lawsuit also accuses the E-Hail Program of discriminating against elderly pedestrians who are less likely to own smartphones.

“It is true that the elderly use smartphones less. So, yes, if more people are using apps, there will be fewer cabs for those hailing cabs in traditional ways,” said Ackman.

On February 28, the livery cab groups will ask a court to shut down the apps, arguing that besides being illegal, the apps encourage distracted driving by allowing cabbies to take fares by cell phone.

According to the lawsuit, New York City cabs are already involved in an average of 3,300 crashes a year, or about 10 per day.




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