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Transportation Nation

NYC Taxi E-Hail Program Delayed

Thursday, March 07, 2013

(photo by bluepix52 via flickr)

A pilot program allowing New Yorkers to hail taxis via smartphone will not begin Friday after all.

On Thursday afternoon, New York State Supreme Court Justice Carol Huff issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the city from implementing its e-hail app program while she considers the case. She is expected to make a decision on March 19.

Livery car companies sued the city last month, saying the e-hail program violated the law. They got a boost Wednesday when two New York City council members filed amicus briefs in support of the suit.

A representative for two of the groups suing the city -- the Black Car Assistance Corporation and the Livery Roundtable -- issued a statement saying the groups were "relieved," adding: "This is the first step in sending a clear message that no one is above the law. We now look forward to presenting our case in court."

NYC Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said in a statement that "passengers can wait ten days to enjoy the latest technology.” Michael Woloz of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a coalition of fleet owners siding with the city, said e-hail technology will "potentially make hailing yellow taxis more modern and more efficient." He also dismissed the livery car companies' argument as "pure nonsense."

Updated 8:28pm

For more, read this.



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Transportation Nation

Legal Challenge for Taxi Hail Apps with NYC Yellow Cabs

Friday, February 15, 2013

Listen to a conversation about why NYC Taxi innovations so often result in litigation.

The latest effort to reform and remake New York City's taxi industry has met a similar roadblock as previous efforts: a lawsuit.  Livery cab drivers have filed suit to block a rule change that was set to go into effect Friday permitting yellow cabs to accept passengers through smartphone apps.

But city officials say they're reviewing apps as planned and hope to have the system up and running soon.

In New York, yellow cabs have the right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street, but can't be dispatched by phone. Livery cabs are a different category of taxi that can only pick up passengers who call ahead to pre-arrange a pick up.

Taxi apps like Uber, HailO, FlyWheel and ZabKab allow passengers to see where they are on a map and where nearby cabs are, then with a few taps on a touchscreen, hail a cab to come pick them up. 

If the city's 13,237 yellow cabs are allowed to pre-arrange pickups through apps like that, it amounts to a violation of Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations that distinguish yellow medallion cabs from livery cabs, the lawsuit filed Thursday alleges. (Lawsuit is here)

The spokesperson said the apps could go live after March 1 when a contract expires with the companies that provide the in-cab credit card processing and other technology--a suite of services known in the taxi industry as TPEP for Taxicab Passenger Enhancements Project. The TPEP contract would prohibit payment through a third parties, like the smartphone apps. That contract was set to expire today, but has been extended to March 1.

The TLC says four smartphone app companies have already submitted apps for approval and are being reviewed for features like integration with the meter and usability by drivers so they aren't dangerously distracted by their phones while on the road.

So called e-hail apps can make finding a cab easier and driving one more profitable, according to Anil Yazici, a Research Associate at the University Transportation Research Center. "This will bring some efficiency to the search process," he says. 

Yellow cabs in New York spend 40 percent of their time empty looking for fares, especially during off-hours and outside the city center. Yazici says apps "won't eliminate empty trips, that's for sure. But surely it will reduce the empty percentages."

It could also reduce business to livery cabs. In the past just about every change in taxi rules that could cut into the business of one category of cab has resulted in court battles. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan was blocked to add a new category of outer borough "green" cabs that would have a meter and be allowed to pick up street hails outside Manhattan's central business district. (Ruling) Another plan to convert all yellow cabs to a single new car model known as the Taxi of Tomorrow is also facing a court challenge.

The latest legal challenge against yellow cab e-hail apps goes to court on February 28th.

NYC yellow cabs are a $2.5 billion industry and carry over 500,000 passengers a day. 

 

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Transportation Nation

NYC Ready to Launch Taxi E-Hail Technology

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

(photo by bclinesmith via flickr)

(New Tech City - WNYC) New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission is starting a one-year pilot program February 15 that will bring e-hails to Manhattan for the first time.

Ki Mae Heussner is a staff writer at GigaOm who has reported on smartphone apps that people can use to hail taxi cabs.

"Half the cabs going around the city don't have passengers in them and investors have put millions of dollars into this space because they think they can make a lot of money by better pairing drivers and passengers," Heussner told New Tech City host Manoush Zomorodi.

If the pilot program is a success, apps like Get Taxi, Taxi Magic, Uber and Hailo could end up on the home screens of thousands of iPhones and Android devices in New York.

Read the fine print of NYC's e-hail resolution here.

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Transportation Nation

Clarifying Prices When You Hail a Cab with Uber, other Apps

Thursday, January 10, 2013

(San Francisco Bay Area) Back in December, KALW ran a story about Uber, the app that matches users to the closest town car or taxicab. Uber gets its money by charging its own rates for livery cabs, which can cost much more than a typical meter.

Listener Mark Gruberg called in to let the station know that they missed something: that regular cabs are using apps, without the extra cost.

MARK GRUBERG: "One significant thing that was left out is that the cab industry is using the same kind of app as Uber – services like Cabulous and Taxi Magic put you directly in touch with a driver from your cell phone, the driver picks you up and charges you a taxi rate, not an Uber rate, which is approximately 70 percent higher than taxis at best. Then because they use surge pricing, it could be astronomically higher at busy times."

KALW asked Isabel Angell, who reported the original story on Uber, if she had anything to share.

ISABEL ANGELL: "So here’s the deal with Cabulous. It’s now called Flywheel, and it works a lot like Uber. It’s the same idea of using an app to match the passenger to the closest cab. But here’s where it’s different: unlike Uber, Flywheel doesn’t mess with the meter. They just take 60 cents from the driver off each Flywheel-generated cab ride. You can pay the driver in the car or use the app, like Uber. A third of SF cabs use the app – that’s about 580 taxis. So right now, I have the app pulled up on my phone, and I can see all the cabs using Flywheel around San Francisco. Currently, they’re mostly centered around Downtown, the Mission, and the Marina, with one lonely cab in the Inner Sunset. So maybe I would have to trek back to the Outer Richmond to see if it really stands up to the test!"

Uber's "surge pricing" system means that when livery cabs are in high demand, the price of a livery cab spikes. This is designed to encourage more drivers to stay on shift when cabs are needed most, like in the rain or on holidays, according to Uber. In New York City for instance Uber issued a warning to the press and users  before New Years Eve that prices could be five times the rate of a normal Uber ride, which is already more expensive than a yellow cab ride. They even added a "surge sobriety test" that required users to confirm that they understood how much they were paying.

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Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW Washington, D.C: Silver Lines, Express Lanes, Gentrification, and Scandal

Monday, December 31, 2012

(photo by Wally G)

The Washington D.C. metropolitan region saw major developments in transportation that included progress toward completing the largest public rail project in the country, the opening of a new highway on the Beltway, and an update on D.C.’s coming streetcar system. 2012 also raised questions critical to the region’s economic future.  In a region plagued by some of the worst highway traffic congestion in the nation and a public rail system crowded to capacity, how can transportation planners and real estate developers maximize the region’s economic potential in a climate of finite funding for major projects.

1) The Silver Line

When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the county’s involvement in the $5.5 billion project that will connect D.C. to Dulles International Airport, lawmakers removed the last major obstacle to completing the Metro rail line by 2018.  Outstanding issues remain, however.  The most controversial issue is the Silver Line’s financing plan, overseen by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.  Without further federal or Virginia state funding, motorists on the Dulles Toll Road will cover half the Silver Line’s costs.

2) I-495 Express Lanes

A new highway is big news in this region. After six years of construction, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes opened on Nov. 17 on the 495 Beltway between the Dulles Toll Road and the I-95 interchange in Fairfax County.  Drivers using the HOT lanes may get a faster ride, but the project raised questions about the wisdom of highway expansion as a method of solving congestion as well as the pitfalls of funding megaprojects: without the public-private partnership between Virginia and the international road building company Transurban, the road would not be built.  Virginia gets a $2 billion road, and Transurban gets the toll revenues for 75 years.

3) Transit and Gentrification

Washington, D.C. is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States.  While rising property values, economic development, and a growing number of residents living a car-free existence are transforming the District for the better, gentrification has its costs.

4) The Uber Battle for the Ages

After months of contention, the D.C. Council finally approved legislation legalizing the popular sedan car service Uber.  This battle was strange -- and it got personal. Legislators and regulators seemed to tie themselves in knots figuring out to handle the unregulated Uber while the district’s own taxicab industry struggled to modernize.  In the end Uber won.  And so did smartphone-using, taxicab-hailing residents of D.C.

5) MWAA’s woes

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates two major airports, rarely caught the public’s attention.  But after the authority took control of the Silver Line, however, the public’s attention intensified – and not for good reasons.  Audits by the U.S. Department of Transportation and news reports unearthed a litany of shady contracting, hiring, and travel policies and practices.  Critics have relentlessly pressed for changes to the plan to raise tolls significantly to pay for the Silver Line. MWAA is making changes but has not yet recovered the public’s trust.

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: Transportation Nation's Mug. It Can Be Yours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Action shot from "Multi-Modal Mug" shot film by Amy Pearl / WNYC

At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.

Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.

'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.

Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.

If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.

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Transportation Nation

Taking Uber for a Test Drive in San Francisco

Thursday, December 13, 2012

(Isabel Angell -- San Francisco, KALW) The e-hail concept might have just cleared legal hurdles in New York and D.C., but in San Francisco, it’s faced heated opposition from taxi drivers who say they’re being cheated out of fares to city officials worried about regulations and safety.

Meanwhile, hailing a taxi in San Francisco can be nearly impossible if you’re not downtown. Calling ahead isn’t a guarantee either – often, the cab is late and sometimes it never comes. Of course, there’s an app for that, several actually. The most prominent one, Uber uses GPS to match town cars and taxi cabs with people who need rides. The app figures out where you are, shows the cars near you, and sends the first free one over. You pay with a credit card on file, and the charge includes a tip.

Since 2010, the company has launched its service in 23 cities around the world. It contracts with car companies and individual drivers, and gives them free iPhones to run its software. Because Uber doesn’t go through traditional licensing channels, it’s running into trouble.

An Uber dilemma

I stood on the corner of 48th and Cabrillo, and with no cab in sight I opened the Uber app on my phone. It was eight minutes from the time I pulled out my phone to the time my Uber car showed up. Half an hour later, I arrived at the 16th and Mission Bart station in style – $50 worth of style, actually. I got the email with the credit card charge, a few minutes later.

Now, I did take a town car, instead of the cheaper yellow cab option. It was the closest car when I requested my ride. And we did hit some rush hour traffic. Still, that’s a pretty big chunk of change for a drive through the city, but maybe the convenience is worth it. Uber’s tens of thousands of San Francisco customers seem to think so. I decided to repeat my ride – same time, same corner – but this time, just calling a regular cab.

And instead of seeing a car rushing to pick me up, I got stuck on hold.

[Related Story: Uber Now Legal in D.C.]

Two years ago, Ilya Abyzov found himself in a very similar situation to mine. He had just moved to San Francisco from New York. It was late.

“And I found myself sort of stumbling out of a karaoke place at 2 am in Japantown and wanting to go home to the Mission, and my prospects were either to walk for half an hour or to seek alternatives, because there were no taxi cabs around,” Abyxov remembers.

Uber got him home that night.

“I thought it was amazing,” he says.

So amazing that he applied for a job with the company, and now is the general manager of Uber’s San Francisco operations. Clearly, Abyzov is a fan, but he says Uber fills a real need in the city.

“There’s a lot of excess demand for transportation that cabs can’t fulfill,” says Abyzov.

In most cities, the taxi industry is heavily regulated – it’s considered part of the transportation network. San Francisco is no exception. Part of the reason Uber is so efficient is that it sets up shop first, and asks official permission later, essentially skirting a lot of those regulations. The company has been expanding rapidly, though, and it recently hit legal walls in several cities. Here in SF, two local taxi drivers are suing Uber. Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission slapped Uber with a $20,000 fine, calling its rule-bending “a matter of public safety.”

City officials are concerned about safety as well. Christiane Hayashi is in charge of the taxi division at San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA).

“We make sure that a San Francisco taxi driver has shown us a ten-year driving history, as well as a criminal background check to make sure that there is no crime in their background that would [make] them dangerous when they are alone in a vehicle with somebody,” explains Hayashi.

Uber says it’s just a middleman: a tech company that helps people find cars, but not a car service itself. Still, Ilya Abyzov says the startup does take safety seriously – and that it verifies whether all its drivers are licensed and have insurance.

“We only work with people who satisfy those conditions, we gather and track all those documents, and we verify their compliance,” says Abyzov. “So I think the biggest misconception about Uber is that we’re going rogue, but really we’re working with entirely regulated entities.”

MTA’s Hayashi says she doesn’t buy it.

While it’s not yet clear how the legal cases will shake out, the idea of Uber – or something like it – seems to have taken hold.

San Francisco already has an app that helps people find available parking, using data provided by the city. MTA’s Christiane Hayashi says it’s a model San Francisco is embracing: “I think that’s the next step in making this technology really effective, to get all the city’s taxis in one sort of data stream that then private application developers can use to make taxi service more reliable.”

In other words, to make all the city’s cab information available to companies like Uber, but to keep control over what that information is, and how it’s used.

[Related Story: Data Art -- NY Transit System as  a Lite-Brite City Map]

Steve Webb is a taxi driver in San Francisco. He’s been driving his cab for 25 years. It’s how he put his daughter through college. He shares some of the city’s worries about Uber’s safety, but he says his biggest problem with Uber is something he thinks will bring them down: the price.

“I’ve had numerous people tell me they were standing on a corner, they were very very cold, there was four of them, and Uber charged them sixty dollars for a $12 cab ride.”

That sounded familiar. I asked Webb what he thought of my $50 ride from Ocean Beach to the Mission. He guessed that would have been a $14 meter.

I did my own calculations based on the cab fares listed on the MTA website. Taking traffic into account, it looks like that cab ride would have cost me more like $20 or $25. Unfortunately, I never got to test either calculation with a real ride, because the cab I called from Outer Richmond never showed up. Instead of forking over another $50 for an Uber car, this time, I took the bus.

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Transportation Nation

Taxi E-Hail App Approved in NYC

Thursday, December 13, 2012

UPDATED: Starting on February 15, New Yorkers will have the option to hail a cab from their smartphone, instead of hailing one the old fashioned way.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission adopted Thursday, by a vote of 7 to two abstentions,  a year-long pilot program allowing taxi drivers and passengers to use taxi-hailing apps on their phones.

Smartphone hails will override street hails within a half mile in most of Manhattan, or a mile in a half in Northern Manhattan and the outer boros.

Current rules prohibit apps like Uber, Hailo and GetTaxi because drivers are forbidden from using devices while driving for safety reasons.

TLC rules also forbid payment through a third party system, which is how Uber processes transactions, taking a cut for itself and why the company stopped operating in yellow cabs.

Under the new  rules to allow e-hail apps up for a vote, New York would require e-hail apps here to be a bit different from the ones operating in other cities already... albeit with lawsuits and political battles in many cases.

TLC commissioner commissioner David Yassky said Thursday the city risks falling behind. "We can look at other cities and see that passengers are using these products and benefiting from them, and when you have new technology that's available that can benefit passengers, regulations shouldn't stand in the way."

The apps would still not be allowed to process payments independently in NYC. They'll need to be integrated into the meter to prevent overcharging. In order to be approved under the proposed rules, apps would also need to be programmed so that a driver can't accept a ride while in motion -- that's possible using GPS data or even the accelerometer in a smartphone.

The non-yellow cab car service industry opposed the idea, fearing that it will pull yellow cabs out to places normally dominated by car services, which can be requested by phone call and apps currently. To mollify some of that fear, today's vote may not be on whether to permit e-hail apps in yellow cabs, but whether to run a one year pilot program.

 

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D.C. Unveils Four New Taxicab Colors (Updated)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No, it's not an ode to the Brazilian flag: it's one of four possible color schemes for D.C.'s taxi cabs (photo by Martin Di Caro)

D.C. could eventually have one cab color to rule them all. Or stripes.

Mayor Vincent Gray unveiled four new color schemes on Monday, one of which will be chosen next year as the new paint job for the district’s 6,500 taxicabs, a process that will take years to fully implement. The multicolored striped patterns are one piece of a larger modernization effort that is coming together slowly -- too slowly for D.C.’s top taxi regulator.

One D.C. city council member said he was "appalled" by the color choices.

“I’m a very impatient person and I would like to speed it up,” said Ron Linton, the head of the Taxicab Commission.

Although district lawmakers passed a taxicab modernization bill this year, the most important changes have yet to come to fruition: GPS smart meters, credit card payment machines and touch screen monitors for customers in the back seat.

The new paint jobs will be introduced when taxi drivers replace their aging vehicles; by 2018 no cab on Washington’s streets will be older than 7 years, as per a new regulation, Linton said.

“The people who ride in the cabs were pushing and pushing for a modernization program,” said Linton, referring to a survey undertaken by the office of D.C. Council member Mary Cheh that found widespread dissatisfaction with the current conditions of taxicabs. That survey also found the public’s preferred color to be yellow (38%).  Red was second (15%).

Linton’s office will choose the winning color scheme next year, taking into consideration public opinion.  The public may vote for their favorite inside Verizon Center through January 7 where two sample future taxicabs are on display, or choose designs online.

(UPDATE, 12/11/12 1:30pm: Two D.C. city council members -- one of whom said he was "appalled" by the color choices - say they will consider legislation to end the public vote so a new color scheme can be chosen.)

Last month a panel of administrative law judges killed the district’s plan to install credit card machines in cabs because of problems with the contract awarded to VeriFone, which beat out seven other tech firms. Linton says the matter is still being resolved by the District Office of Contracting and Procurement.

“We selected Verifone on the basis of what was, in my judgment, an honest evaluation and a cost analysis,” he said.

At a news conference to unveil the proposed color schemes and encourage the public to vote on their favorite, Mayor Gray said changes to the district’s taxis are necessary not only to improve the hospitality industry but for the cabbies, too.

“The changes have to come,” Gray said. “This industry has got to change to be competitive. I actually think the cab drivers will make more money as a result of this.”

Gray said touch screen monitors that offer riders the option of tipping 15, 20, or 25 percent will induce larger tips.

“As opposed to what you have now where people in a cash business sometimes give nothing or give a meager sum, I think the cab drivers will ultimately do better as a result of the changes we’re proposing.”

When those changes ultimately arrive is unclear, although Gray and Linton said it will take years to fully implement the new color scheme.  Roughly one-third of taxicabs have installed credit card machines on their own, Linton said.

As for D.C.’s cabbies, some have been reluctant to accept changes that are commonplace in other cities.  A common complaint is credit card processing fees will bite into a day’s pay. Others say GPS smart meters are an invasion of privacy. As for the proposed color patterns, one cabbie waiting for customers outside Union Station on Monday was not impressed.

“It looks ugly. It’s no good for the city color,” said B.K. Anthony, who drives a light blue SUV. “It looks junky.”

For the record, Mayor Gray called the colors “funky.”

 

 

: The multi-colored patterns of yellow and green OR red and white are – in the words of some D.C. councilmembers – appalling!  And now two lawmakers say they will consider legislation to end the public vote so a new color scheme can be chosen.  Councilmembers prefer a solid color like yellow or red to the striped patterns unveiled by the D.C. Taxicab Commission yesterday, which would have the final say on a color regardless of what the public picks. A survey conducted by Councilmember Mary Cheh on the state of the district’s cab industry found that 38 percent of respondents want all-yellow cabs, 15 percent want red.

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Transportation Nation

(UPDATED) Uber Now Legal in D.C.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

(photo by David Carmelo via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The battle between Uber the taxi hailing app and the District of Columbia is over.

After clashing for months over proposed regulations that Uber's CEO once claimed would cripple his business, the D.C. Council voted Tuesday to approve legislation creating a sedan class of vehicles-for-hire – separate from taxis – that will allow Uber to charge its customers fares based on distance and time as "digital dispatch" vehicles.

D.C. had been one of the more drawn out and contentious efforts to expand for Uber, and that says a lot. Uber has taken a confrontational approach to growing it's business from it's start in San Francisco a few years ago. Chicago sued the company for violating local regulations on pricing disclosure and safety. San Francisco has fined the company for breaking regulations on driver insurance. This summer Boston issued a cease and desist order to Uber.  New York chased the company out of it's iconic yellow cabs saying it violated safety regulations among others. Taxi unions in several cities have also filed suit against the upstart tech company.

The D.C. ruling isn't likely a harbinger of amity between those other cities and Uber. The D.C. council created a separate class of cab that can use Uber. Official metered city taxi cab drivers still can't use the app to snag passengers. New York, for example, already has such a category for non-metered livery cars that are permitted to use Uber all they want.

The ruling is, however, is certain to embolden Uber's confrontational growth strategy.

“Today was a fantastic victory for Uber but also for innovation, for our consumers here, and the drivers that partner with us,” said Rachel Holt, Uber’s general manager in Washington, D.C.  She thanked customers for helping convince the council as well as the District’s taxi cab commissioner to back away from more stringent regulations CEO Travis Kalanick once described as “from the draconian to the inane.”

“It's not about anything we did or won. I think what really won was that the fact that we have a passionate consumer base here,” she said. Over the past several months Uber customers flooded council members with complaints about proposals that threatened the company’s business model.

Uber’s black sedans are not hailed on the street. Instead, customers use Uber's smart phone app to order a car to their location using the phone’s GPS and pay with a registered credit card number.

The new legislation requires greater pricing transparency.

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Taxi Documentary Delivers Cabbie Grit and Wisdom (VIDEO)

Friday, November 30, 2012

To be a good taxi driver in New York, you have to look ahead and think ahead. "You see a garbage truck in the street, you don't go into that street. It will take you 20 minutes to get out of there, and time is money." Another tip: "When you get in an accident, don't panic... The less you say the better."

Those sagacious gems of advice to a new taxi driver are captured in a documentary from Weinstein Film Productions about life as a cabbie called "Drivers Wanted." The filmmakers hailed rides around the city to interview mechanics, owners, and fiesty office clerks in a long-established cab company in Queens, NY and deliver a deeper look at an iconic, and "slightly seedy" NY institution: the yellow cab.

The highlight of the film, at least based on the early tid bits we've seen, is “Spider” a 93 year-old cabbie who just retired. To drive 12 hours a day for 45 years you have to have an unusual relationship with the city's 6174 miles of road, and "Spider" does: "I love the traffic. The worse the traffic, the better I like it. It keeps me alert."

The film opens in NYC tonight and to wider release in the coming weeks. Find theaters here.

NYC residents you might want to head over to Re:Bar in Brooklyn tonight for a live event moderated by WNYC reporter, and occasional TN contributor Kathleen Horan. Taxi drivers, get in touch with Kathleen Horan for free entry. She's @KathleenHoran on Twitter.

Watch the trailer:

 

And meet Spider:

"Spider," now a spry 93, dispenses wisdom for the camera. He recently retired after 45 years as a taxi driver.

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Transportation Nation

Lights Out for NYC Taxi "Off Duty" Lights

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The question of "is that taxi free or not?" could soon be easier to answer in New York. On Thursday, the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to do away with the off-duty lights. Here's a visual:

Whereas once there were two categories of lights, with four combinations:

(photo by magnus via filckr)

The city's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to just have this -- the medallion number:

(photo "adjusted" by WNYC's Stephen Nessen)

David Yassky, the TLC commissioner, said off-duty taxi lights "are a relic of bygone days" and that the rules change will make the system easier to understand.

"The only purpose it serves today is to confuse the passenger," he said, adding that the TLC hears complaints "all time" about rooftop lights. "Taxi roof lights should be simple.  If it's on, it means you can flag the cab down. If it's off, it's unavailable."

(Only one commissioner voted against the proposal: Iris Weinshall, a former NYC transportation commissioner who was in the news last year for her dislike of the Prospect Park West bike lane.)

Yassky said people hailing cabs don't care about the particulars of the lighting system. "The passenger only cares if the cab is available or not."

He said he hopes the new system will do away with another perennial vexation -- the way some cabbies use the off-duty light to cherry-pick customers. "It's a source of frustration (for passengers)," he said. "Sometimes they see drivers with the off-duty sign on go from person to person asking 'where are you going' and we don't want that to happen."

That's currently possible because the switch controlling the lights is manual. But when the off-duty lights fade away, so will the driver's control over the roof light.

According to the minutes of the May 2012 public hearing on the rules change, the single light roof light would eliminate the manual switch that controls the off-duty light. Instead, it would be controlled automatically and synched with the meter. So when the meter is engaged, the medallion number light will automatically turn off, and when the trip is over, the light will turn back on.

The new rule technically takes effect 30 days after being posted in the city record. But there could still be off duty lights on top of cabs until April, which is the end of the first quarter inspection period.

 

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Transportation Nation

Sandy Data Shows NYC Commuters Are Transpo-Adaptable: Report

Monday, November 26, 2012

In the days following Hurricane Sandy, when New York's regional transit systems were either completely shut down or barely limping along, commuters still found a way to work -- by biking more, embracing ferries, temporary "bus bridges" and HOV lanes, even leveraging social media to find rides or temporary office space.

According to a new report from New York University's Rudin Center, the storm's aftermath brought out a uniquely New York commuting creativity.

"In many U.S. cities, which are limited to cars, buses or other singular transportation modes," the report states, "the disruption caused by Hurricane Sandy would have, at least temporarily, crippled the economy." Not so in New York, where residents "displayed impressive inventiveness to maintain their mobility. Individuals created new routes and combinations of modes to get to work, using a variety of systems."

The report surveyed 315 commuters about modes of transport and commute times. That's a small sample considering the millions of people affected. And asking a commuter to estimate how long they took to get to work can invite exaggeration, the Rudin report is an impressive attempt to quantify the chaos of ad-hoc mobility choices during the storm.

While almost everyone saw their commutes increase, Staten Islanders fared the worst. For residents of that hard-hit borough, commute times in the days following Sandy nearly tripled.

It was no picnic on the roads, either: "Commute times by private car for survey respondents nearly tripled, from an average of 47 minutes pre-Sandy to an average of 115 minutes post-Sandy."

The report also praises New York's MTA for keeping the public updated about service changes, and recommends the agency maintain its adaptable subway map. But other transit providers don't come off as well: "During the Hurricane, the Port Authority [which operates the PATH train system] and NJ Transit provided remarkably limited information throughout and following the storm about their service."

Read the full report here. See an impressive interactive timeline of Sandy's impact on transportation.

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When 233 Isn't Enough: Disabled Riders Say NYC Needs More Accessible Cabs

Monday, October 22, 2012

There are only 233 taxis with ramps in NYC. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(Alec Hamilton -- New York, NY, WNYC) One month after the city launched a program to let disabled passengers use cellphones to hail a taxi, some riders say there aren't enough available cabs.

The Accessible Dispatch program allows riders to use phone, text or app to summon one of the city's wheelchair-accessible taxis. There are over 13,000 yellow cabs in New York City, but only 233 of them have ramps.

Anne Davis is on the board of the Center for Independence of the Disabled. She said when demand is low the service is pretty good, but as the day progresses delays tend to grow. "Sometimes you can get a taxi within minutes," she said, "(but) one of my friends waited two and a half hours in the rain. The major problem with the system is that there aren't enough taxis."

According to the program's website, "if the closest available taxi does not accept the job within 120 seconds, the job request automatically jumps to the next closest available cab — and so on, until the job is accepted by a driver."

NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman David Yassky said an effort to put another 2,000 accessible cabs on the streets is currently held up in court as part of the five-borough taxi plan. But he said service has improved.

"We're getting somebody a wheelchair accessible taxi in average of about 20-25 minutes," said Yassky. "We've never done that before. That's really good."

The system is operated by Connecticut-based Metro Taxi and uses GPS to locate and dispatch the nearest accessible cab. Rides must originate in Manhattan.

 

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Transpo Travelog: Trains, Planes, Taxis, Buses, Subways, and a Little Light Rail

Friday, October 19, 2012

Last week, my time was bookended by two weekend conferences. The first was in the Chicago suburbs, the second in Baltimore.

I live in Oakland, California, and the prospect of flying back and forth to California in between conferences seemed both ridiculous and exhausting. So instead, I decided to stay east, visiting friends in New York City and Poughkeepsie for a few days before heading on to Baltimore.

This made for a logistically complex week of getting around. All in all, door-to-door, I used 15 discrete transportation systems to shuttle between five different cities. It sounds like a giant hassle -- but as a transportation reporter, it was great. I loved every minute of it.

I started my journey on a 4:30am BART train ($2.25) to the Oakland Coliseum. It was one of the first trains of the day—BART doesn’t run overnight, much to the chagrin of many Bay Area residents. It also doesn’t yet run all the way to the Oakland Airport (that’s coming soon). So from the Coliseum station, I transferred to a BART airport shuttle bus ($3 in exact change). The process is a little murky unless you’re a local, and I ended up explaining how it worked to several bleary eyed travelers. I even gave one guy a dollar bill just so he could board the bus before it left.

Even at the crack of dawn, the security line at the airport snaked through all the pylons and into baggage claim. I made it through with just enough time to make my flight to Chicago. Got a window seat (my favorite), and watched the sun rise over the beautiful bridges of the Bay before we burst above the cloud layer.

Once in Chicago, I met up with some fellow conference attendees and we split a cab to the distant suburb where the conference was being held ($22 each + tip). On the fare sign in the back of the cab we noticed a special charge—a $50 “vomit clean-up fee.” Must be rough driving a cab in Chicago.

In Chicago, taxicab puking has a price. (Photo by Julie Caine)

Several days later, it was time to head on to NYC. This time, I caught a ride to the airport in a Town Car driven by a guy with a long ponytail named Kenny ($50 cash + tip). He called me a couple hours before he picked me up just to say hi. We had a little time before my flight, and I hadn’t really seen anything at all in Chicago, so he drove me through some of the neighborhoods where he grew up, past his high school and family church, and then cruised along Lakeshore Drive, while he told me about the water pumping stations out in the lake and gave change to every single stoplight panhandler we encountered. “There but for the grace of God,” said he.

The flight from Chicago to LaGuardia was uneventful (dimmed lights and a hushed cabin) -- as was my late-night cab ride to Brooklyn ($35 + tip).

The next day I took the F train into Manhattan ($2.25) and strolled the beautiful High Line for the first time. In the afternoon, I went to Grand Central Terminal, where I took the audio tour of the station ($7— and by the way, radio producers, we could make that tour so much better!) and got a great shoeshine ($7+tip) before boarding the 4:45 Metro-North train to Poughkeepsie ($36 RT).  Traveling alongside the Hudson, looking at fiery red maples and crumbling architecture, I noticed that many of the conductors and passengers were on a first name basis.

Listen: Metro-North conductor

After a night and day in Poughkeepsie, I headed back to the city -- this time to Penn Station, where I was due to catch an Amtrak train to Baltimore ($70). I loved Penn Station. I arrived in the morning to a cacophony of newspaper vendors calling and singing to us as we streamed into the station. “Good morning, everybody! Get your AM New York right here. Read all about it. Buenos días, mami. AM New York!” (Editor's note: Penn Station doesn't usually inspire such affection -- but some people can find the hidden pockets of grace there.)

Penn Station (photo by Julie Caine)

Listen: audio from Penn Station

Grabbed my one and only cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee (one cream, two sugars), and hopped on board the train to Charm City. Out the windows, I watched the compressed East Coast fly by—Manhattan, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore. Next stop Washington DC.

Took a cab from Baltimore’s Penn Station to my hotel ($14 + tip), and was immediately swept off my feet by the nicest cab driver ever, who told me about growing up in a freezing cold basement and never wanting to get out from under the covers in the morning to go to school.  Note: no vomit fees in Baltimore.

(photo by Julie Caine)

A couple days later, and it was time for more travel. Took the Baltimore Light Rail ($1.60) to the airport for my flight home to Oakland, where my kind next-door neighbor picked me up in his car and drove me home (free). As cliché as it sounds, my week really was all about the journey.

 

 

 

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Taxi Hail App Leaves New York City Yellow Cabs in its Rear View Mirror

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

(Photo by Caitlyn Kim)

In a bitter blog post, the head of a taxi-hail smart phone app said his company was pulling the app out of New York City yellow cabs -- one month after launching.

Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, said bureaucracy had prevented his app from gaining a foothold in the city's taxi fleet.

"We did the best we could to get more yellows on the road but New York’s TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission) put up obstacles and roadblocks in order to squash the effort around e-hail," Kalanick writes.

Uber allows ride-seeking passengers to hail available cabbies with their smartphones. But the app got a chilly reception when it entered the New York market in September. Only 160 cabbies participated in the UberTAXI pilot -- a fraction of the city's 13,000 yellow cab fleet.

The TLC said it was restricting the use of electronic hail apps due to "current contractual agreements between the TLC and payment processors." A passenger using the smartphone app pays its fare to Uber. But the TLC has existing -- and exclusive -- contracts with two companies (Verifone and CMC) for payment service. The agency says until those contracts expire next year, it can't allow any other company to process fares.

And another obstacle: the TLC also reminded cabbies last month that New York law forbids the use of electronic devices while driving.

While some cities (most notably Boston and San Francisco) are Uber-friendly, the app has met with resistance in other places. The company has been battling the Washington D.C. city council over regulations, and it's being sued in Chicago over its practice of automatically charging a 20 percent gratuity.

"We’ll bite our tongues and keep our frustration here to ourselves," Kalanick writes, not entirely succeeding. "In the meantime you can try UberTAXI in more innovation-friendly cities."

But the taxi app could one day return to New York. TLC commissioner David Yassky said the agency "is moving toward rule changes that will open the market to app developers and other innovators. Those changes cannot legally take place until our existing exclusive contracts expire in February. We are committed to making it as easy as possible to get a safe, legal ride in a New York City taxi, and are excited to see how emerging technology can improve that process."

That rule change could be introduced at a TLC meeting next month.

Uber's car service hail apps -- UberX and Uber Black -- continue to operate in New York.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Smartphone App Offers What DC Cabs Can't Yet -- Ability to Take Credit Cards

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

M Street in Georgetown (photo by Victoria Pickering via flickr)

One of the biggest gripes about D.C.'s taxicabs is that so few of them accept credit cards -- but that could be about to change.

The D.C. Council passed regulations last spring requiring all cabs to have credit card machines, but since then the changeover has been mired in red tape: the city is still trying to settle a dispute among contractors who bid on the $35 million contract to install new credit card readers in the city's cabs.

Meanwhile, a new app launching in D.C. allows customers to order a ride on a smartphone — much like the smartphone-based Uber service, which has caused some consternation among the city's cab drivers. myTaxi's GPS will locate the nearest taxi and send the driver a notification on his smartphone, and the driver has five seconds to accept. Payment is made at the end of the trip using the passenger's previously approved credit card.

"We support Visa and Mastercard, or if you are with PayPal you can also store your PayPal account," says Lina Wuller, spokesperson for the Germany-based company. She notes that the GPS feature of that app means that a person doesn't need to have an exact address to order a taxi — which is the case with Uber.

Customers do not pay any surcharges when they pay their fares.  The taxi drivers pay myTaxi 99 cents per fare --- but not until next year.  It is free till then.

Passengers can begin downloading the app today, but it's still unclear how many taxis are actually participating. Wuller declines to disclose how many taxi drivers have signed up, but she says one of them is taxi driver Masood Medgalchi.

Medgalchi is also active in the D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association, which opposes the Taxicab Commission's proposed reforms, including the plan to install the credit card machines.

"We were trying to be proactive about what the government of the District wanted us to do without having the government impose on us," he says.

Medgalchi's group calls the credit card system the district is attempting to push into taxis "antiquated." It's also on hold until the District clears up a dispute over what company should install the card readers.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Aims to Stop Bike "Dooring" by Targeting Taxis

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

(image courtesy of DOT)

UPDATED with Chicago dooring figures below.

New York is dreaming of a world where taxis and cyclists can be friends.

In addition to new logos and a brighter yellow color, the city's taxi of tomorrow will also come with anti-"dooring" decals.

And so will the taxis of today, according to Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman David Yassky.

"We believe the stickers and video will really resonate with riders and inspire them to pause for that critical second before they open the door and exit the taxi,” said Yassky. “It’s that moment of pause that could make all the difference in the world to both a bicyclist and the taxi passenger alike.”

The message not to fling cab doors open without first checking for bicyclists will be hammered home in a video message that will play on all 13,000 Taxi TVs (assuming passengers don't turn them off first). "Take out a friend," reads the message on the video. "Take out a date. But don't take out a cyclist."


Getting doored is rightfully high on the list of fears for any urban cyclist. When a car door opens in a cyclist's immediate path it can not only injure him/her, it can fling the biker into the path of oncoming traffic. It can be common and even deadly, though few studies track dooring.

Illinois began what we believe to be the first statewide effort to track dooring last April. We've asked the Illinois DOT for the figures from that effort and will report back as soon as we get them.

UPDATE: Steve Vance of Grid Chicago got in touch with the data. He used his access to the Illinois DOT online Data Mart and found there were 344 reported doorings in Chicago last year, responsible for one in five bike crashes. It should be said that's a big spike over 2010.

A 2010 survey in NYC counted bike-related infractions at 11 locations found that dooring (including near-hits) is a pervasive phenomenon with 77 infractions over the two days of measurement, 19 of them on one street alone.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin enacted an anti-dooring law in 2009 that switched culpability from cyclists to motorists for dooring accidents, and added a $40 fine for striking a cyclist with a car door.

Taxis, with their frequent stops and passengers exiting from both sides, are at high risk for causing dooring incidents.

(image courtesy of NYC DOT)

 

 

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"From the Draconian to the Inane:" Uber Taxi App vs D.C. Regulators

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

(photo by Martin DiCaro)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) A pitted battle in Washington, D.C. over taxi technology, rights and safeguards turned testy Monday, with hints at compromise as well.

The chief executive of a rising, internet-based sedan-for-hire service accused D.C. regulators of pushing “crippling requirements” that threaten to drive its partners out of business, during a day-long hearing before a city council panel.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said proposed regulations range from “the draconian to the inane,” pointing to one rule that would require sedan companies with which it partners to possess fleets of at least 20 vehicles.

Uber allows customers to order rides directly from its smart phone app, a work around to regulations common in many cities that license and regulate which cabs can be "street hailed." In D.C. "black cars" may not be hailed on the street, but with Uber they can be summoned through a few clicks. Passengers are billed to their credit cards and receipts are emailed. Uber charges a base fare of $7 plus time and distance; drivers keep 80 percent of the total fare.

Kalanick criticized a slew of proposed regulations, saying “grey areas” could lead to interpretations that would harm his business. The CEO’s testimony reflected his faith in the marketplace: if Uber drivers don’t do their jobs well there will not be demand for his product.

“It sounds like hyperbole but so many of our customers literally feel like we have changed their lives,” Kalanick testified. “We hear from families that chose to sell their second car, couples who can finally go on date night in hard-to-reach areas, and from women who feel totally comfortable heading out of their office late at night because they have a photo, license plate and phone number of their driver.”

Monday’s testimony marked the latest move by Uber and district lawmakers to find common ground as the D.C. Taxicab Commission (DCTC) attempts to protect the city’s own regulated taxi industry from a completely unregulated enterprise.

Uber announced it would equip yellow cabs in New York City with the service pushing the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission to remind its drivers they cannot accept prearranged rides, nor use mobile devices while driving, pending a review of regulations. Uber plans to find a way to expand in New York City.

D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ronald Linton has called Uber “arrogant.”

“The commission is in the process of adopting a regulation to add a new class of public vehicle-for-hire known as the sedan class for consideration and approval. This new class of service shall provide for rules to provide minimal regulatory requirements,” Linton testified on Monday. “I would also emphasize that this is a proposed regulation.”

D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chaired the Environment, Public Works, and Transportation Committee hearing, sought a conciliatory tone during Kalanick’s testimony, but the CEO refuted her claim that the district is attempting to work with Uber, not against it.

Cheh conceded that some of the proposed regulations may not make a lot of sense and suggested that Kalanick might be misreading the proposal to require sedan companies own at least 20 vehicles.

“The attorney general has read those regulations… you don’t have to have 20 taxis. So I’m not defending that. I’m just saying the rhetoric about the [regulations] being designed to put companies out of business or eliminate them is a little over the top and not correct,” Cheh said.

“I’ve read the regulations,” responded Kalanick. “And we’ve had my attorneys read them and I’d say at best it’s a grey area,” referring to confusion about rules governing the differences between taxis and sedans.

“That may be true,” Cheh said. “But I just wanted to make a statement… that these regulations are not law. I don’t want the rhetoric of the taxi commission trying to put people out of business to take hold.”

“But that is the reality of it,” Kalanick responded, adding that the DCTC “has been on the attack since the moment we got here.”

Proposed restrictions on makes and models and requirements that sedans only be painted by the manufacturers would add unnecessary layers of regulations that serve no purpose other than to make doing business in the district difficult, Kalanick said.

Uber sedan driver Saad Hamadi, who owns a single town car, testified that fleet requirements would drive him out of business. “The requirement for most cars to be 2009 and newer would cause me hardship because it is a 2008 model. It’s clean, looks nice inside and out, and my customers have never complained about its age.”

Despite the testy exchanges, Councilmember Cheh sought to emphasize that the district wants to welcome innovative companies as the landscape of vehicle-for-hire services changes. Earlier this year a survey posted to Cheh’s website revealed deep dissatisfaction with D.C. taxis among the public, a reason Uber supporters say the sedan service should be left alone: if the city-licensed taxis were more dependable Uber sedans wouldn’t be so popular.

Uber’s flexible pricing policy is considered by regulators to be unfair to the city’s taxicab industry because it allows Uber drivers to raise their prices during periods of high demand while traditional taxis charge a set minimum fare plus mileage and time measured by dashboard meters.

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New York City's Taxi of Tomorrow Becomes Taxi of Today

Thursday, September 20, 2012

(Caitlyn Kim, New York, NY -- WNYC) The Taxi and Limousine Commission approved the city's next generation of yellow cabs Thursday morning.

The Nissan NV200 -- New York's "Taxi of Tomorrow" - on display at the 2012 New York Auto Show (photo by Kate Hinds

The Nissan NV will hit New York City streets next fall. Among the features of the new taxi, which retails for about $29,000, are an interior skylight, a charging dock for passengers' electronics, and air bags.

Any taxi vehicle purchased before next fall can remain on the streets until it has to be retired due to wear and tear, which usually takes about five years. By 2018, the Nissan model is expected to be the only taxi in the city.

That means hybrid taxis will be one of the 16 car models phased out. The Nissan only gets approximately 25 miles per gallon.

The hybrid, while environmentally attractive, did have its detractors. Passengers complained of a lack of leg room, while cabbies said it was less reliable than the old Crown Vic model.

New Yorkers got a chance to look at the NV at the car show in April, and many praised the new features and the expanded leg room. But the boxy shape of the taxi didn’t please many.

Nissan won the 10-year, $1 billion contract to provide the exclusive taxi for the city in May 2011.

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