Saturday, July 2, 2011

Forbidden Taxi Apps

I got an interesting email today from the Taxi and Limousine Commission:
To All Interested Parties:

Industry Notice #11-15
July 1, 2011

For Immediate Release

Attention: For-Hire Vehicle drivers
receiving dispatches via smartphone apps
There has been a recent increase in the development and use of smartphone applications (or apps) for purposes of requesting and dispatching for-hire vehicle trips. While the use of these apps by for-hire vehicles and for-hire vehicle bases is permitted, this use must be in compliance with TLC regulations.
What's this all about? It's about apps like Uber, Taxi Magic and Mobile Dispatch. The first two allow users to reserve cars from any of several car services, while Mobile Dispatch is customized for a particular base. That can be tricky, because the bases all use different dispatching software, not all compatible.
This means that for-hire vehicle owners and drivers may NOT contract directly with a smartphone app developer, without the approval and involvement of their bases. If you are accepting dispatches via a smartphone app that is not authorized by the base you are affiliated with, you are doing so in violation of TLC regulations.
It looks like some car service drivers are going straight to the app managers for calls, bypassing the bases. Of course, this is exactly what they've been doing with street hails as well. When you think about it, Uber and Taxi Magic are really running their own dispatch service, which makes you wonder why a driver would need a base. Why don't the app developers register as bases themselves? I'm guessing they don't want a turf war. But because they're not registered as bases, it's a violation of TLC regulations to get calls from them directly.
If you are unsure whether a smartphone app you may be using is going through your base, you should contact your base immediately. If you have further questions about whether an app conforms to TLC regulations, you can contact TLC at the following email address:
Note that this is a big enough deal for the TLC to create a special email account. In case you're wondering why bases have to exist at all, my feeling is that it provides some accountability. Good base operators police their drivers, with various discipline measures against drivers who don't follow the rules. The TLC in turn polices the bases. Of course, the TLC directly polices many of the yellow cabs, so it's not impossible to arrange it that way.
Attention: Yellow Medallion Taxicab Drivers

This is a reminder that you are NOT permitted to use smartphone apps for dispatch. As a yellow medallion taxi driver, you may only pick up passengers that hail you.
It's funny, I just assumed that if you wanted to you could get the number of a yellow cab company and call it, but apparently not. It seems like smartphones would be useful for yellow cabs as well; I don't really see a reason for the TLC to ban them. Hopefully they'll get over they're bureaucratic inertia.

These players are all clearly jockeying for position. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Will the market be dominated by one app, or will there be fragmentation? Will it be regulated by the TLC?

It seems like one factor that could help things along would be an open standard for taxi dispatch. What if all the apps and dispatching software spoke the same language, and then bases could join up with different app providers as they chose? What if all taxis spoke the same language, so that they could communicate with different bases electronically? I'd be interested to hear from people at the Open Planning Project about this.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

My French cell phone came preinstalled with a number in it that would call a taxi. I occasionally wonder why we can't have the same thing in New York City?