Coming to a Curb Near You: Yellow Cabs Summoned With Smartphones

The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission approved a pilot program on Thursday authorizing the use of smartphone apps to hail yellow taxis.

In a 7 to 0 vote, with 2 abstentions, the commission cleared the way for the apps with the city’s blessing in February, on a one-year trial basis.

The apps will be subject to some geographic restrictions. David S. Yassky, the commission’s chairman, said that for trips in Manhattan’s central business district, drivers and passengers will be allowed to connect electronically only if they are within a half mile of each other. For the rest of the city, trip requests can be made for any taxi within 1.5 miles.

With companies like GetTaxi, Hailo and Uber poised to enter the New York City market, the influx of apps was “not speculative,” Mr. Yassky said. “It is real, today.”

He added, “We should not ignore technology that’s out there.”

The commission had initially been expected to vote Thursday on a permanent rule change to allow the use of apps for yellow taxi hailing. But as support on the commission’s board appeared thin, officials began discussing a pilot option.

“Bringing apps into New York would be a change in the way people get taxis,” Mr. Yassky said in an interview before 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.”

Operators of for-hire vehicles have condemned the apps as a threat to their business model and a violation of the long-standing ban on prearranged rides in yellow taxis.

The city, never shy to trumpet its tech-friendliness, has been criticized in recent months by app developers and users for not moving quickly enough to allow the services.

But on Thursday, some board members expressed concern about the speed with which the commission was proceeding. Nora C. Marino, a board member who abstained from voting, said she could not approve the proposal because she had not had enough time to review it.

The decision to hold a vote on a pilot program, rather than on a permanent rule change that might not have passed, was only made in the last day or so, Ms. Marino said.

“I have three gadgets in front of me,” she told the other board members. “I’m all for technology.”

But the pilot program, she said, reminded her of a hasty marriage.

“Like a marriage,” she said, “a lot of things are a lot easier to get into than out of.”

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