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NYC Considers Taxi App to Compete with Uber and Lyft

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos has introduced legislation to create a universal electronic hailing app that would level the playing field with fair competition so that companies, drivers and riders all win.

New Yorkers fed up with ride-sharing companies that spike their rates during peak demand times may soon have a more reasonable alternative – access to every available taxicab in Gotham on their smartphones.

New York City Council member Ben Kallos has introduced legislation to create a free Universal E-Hail App. The app could potentially even out fare prices by enabling people to flag down a ride from the approximately 19,637 yellow and green cabs in the Big Apple that elect to participate in the program. It also permits the users of third party apps like Uber and Lyft to e-hail cabs as well.

“City taxis need an app of their own to compete, and New Yorkers need to be able to get a cab in the rain without having to worry about surge pricing,” Kallos said in a statement. “New York City must support our tech sector. Instead of making new technologies illegal, or regulating them out of business, we should provide a level playing field with fair competition so that companies, drivers and riders all win.”

Uber’s surge pricing practices have been likened to high-tech gouging by some. While technically not illegal, the rate changes have frustrated a number of riders over the past year.

The legislation was introduced on Dec. 8. Under the city's legislative process, the bill must be presented for public comment and evaluated by the New York City Council before a decision to sign or veto the measure will be made by Mayor Bill De Blasio. If Kallos’ bill becomes law, the Universal E-Hail App would be contracted or created by the Taxi & Limousine Commission. The legislation also calls for a 90-day advertising period in NYC for taxis to promote the app.

The idea behind Kallos' bill isn't new -- Washington, D.C., and Chicago have similar proposals on the table for their city cabs.

In an email to Government Technology, Kallos noted that sharing economy startups such as Lyft and Uber have changed the way people get around. He felt e-hailing is not just a tool, but a completely new way to get people where they need to go more quickly and conveniently, which is why the same technology should be used by cabs.

Regulatory hurdles
have been an issue, however. Some municipalities such as Annapolis, Md., consider the ride-sharing and taxi service to be the same commercial practice, while other areas have been open to modifying existing ordinances to relax the rules and more easily accommodate the peer-to-peer model of arranging rides.

But Kallos said he believes the difference of opinion that has sparked debate across the U.S. about ride-sharing should focus on addressing fairness and accessibility issues, rather than looking for ways to shut down a blossoming industry that is revolutionizing transportation options.

“Too many cities have tried to regulate tech companies out of existence rather than modernizing to compete,” Kallos said. “Instead, cities can create platforms of their own to ensure residents have access to the most up-to-date, convenient technologies.”

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.
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