Guess the Taxi and Limousine Commission is willing to let bygones be bygones. Last week, Hailo launched a “beta test” of its ehail app; almost as quickly, the TLC said that actually Uber was the only company that’d officially been accepted into the pilot program, meaning Hailo had no clearance to operate. But at a TechCrunch Disrupt panel this morning, CEO Jay Bregman announced they’ve got the go-ahead and will begin operations today.
He got a couple of minutes to shine, calling for a round of applause for the TLC, before the panel turned into a tiff between the TLC’s Ashwini Chhabra and Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul.
The source of the tension: Just last weekend, two Sidecar drivers were busted by NYPD as part of a TLC “sting operation,” and Mr. Paul is apparently still fighting mad. “Let’s be really clear: the TLC protects the taxi industry, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind can deny that fact.” This received a smattering of applause from the audience. Mr. Paul went on to argue that “it is the regulation of taxis that is an illegal restraint of trade.”
“Regulators always come out with, ‘Oh, this is a public safety matter.’ Really? Why are practically all the questions we get about how much money we make, what’s the business model” rather than about safety.
Mr. Chhabra, however, pointed out that the TLC has seized something like 800 cars this month, making the Sidecar drivers just a drop in the bucket. “That’s the enforcement we have to do to make sure that when you stumble out of a bar at two in the morning, that the car youre getting into, someone has done the background check.”
Caught in the middle, Mr. Bregman tried a little moderating. “You can be disruptive without being abrasive.”
“Are you talking about anyone in particular?” asked Mr. Lawler. He backtracked: “No no no, not anybody in particular–I love you Sunil.”
“I’m a pretty mild-mannered guy most of the time. I’m just upset,” Mr. Paul responded. Though as the panel closed, he had this parting shot: “If you’re going to be disruptive, you’ve got to be willing to piss people off.”