In a packed boardroom across from City Hall last Wednesday, members of the New York City Council’s Committee on Transportation met to discuss the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s plans for a smartphone app that will allow riders to digitally hail and pay for yellow cabs, with just a few taps of their phone. The TLC shared the results of a survey–conducted through backseat screen, naturally–which found that almost 70 percent of passengers owned a smartphone and that 50 to 60 percent of respondents want an app that lets them find and pay for taxis.
The testy standing-room-only crowd didn’t shy away from cheering (when Councilman Vincent Ignizio accused the TLC of secret plans to destroy the livery cab industry via e-hailing apps) and jeering (Councilwoman Darlene Mealy, who represents Bed-Stuy and Brownsville, pointedly rolled her eyes when a TLC rep implied it’s not that hard to find a cab to the outer-boroughs.)
The notion of radically altering as iconic a New York moment as flagging down a yellow cab was met with wariness and derision from council members. It’s hard enough trying to explain the off-duty sign to tourists or parents visiting from out-of-town–imagine if you had to instruct them on how to navigate an app. “What happens if you are a senior citizen or a disabled person and you do not have access to the apps or you don’t know how to work with them?” asked committee chair James Vacca. “Somebody with an app will be able to hail a cab and you’ll be standing in the street longer than you normally would.”