Ride or Die

Mayor Bloomberg on Taxi Apps: ‘There Is a Group of Cab Owners That Are Opposed to Anything’

Hizzoner on the impracticalities of e-hailing.
 Mayor Bloomberg on Taxi Apps: There Is a Group of Cab Owners That Are Opposed to Anything

Mayor Bloomberg and Jack Dorsey during Square’s short-lived pilot program.

This morning, on his weekly Friday radio show with John Gambling, Mayor Bloomberg discussed the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s vote in favor of a year-long pilot program to test out e-hailing apps, which let riders flag down a cab with their smartphone.

As we noted yesterday, the pilot was a last-minute compromise when it seemed like lobbying from black car and livery car incumbents would prohibit the passage of permanent rules to open up the taxi market to any app with a license. (Black cars and liveries worry that the ability to “pre-arrange” taxi rides with an an app will hurt their business.)  

In his remarks this morning, Mayor Bloomberg mused on some potential pitfalls of incorporating the apps into the taxi hailing experience:

“The mobile phone knows where you are, so in theory you hit a button and any taxi driver that’s on the same app on his mobile phone or her mobile phone can hit a button and say, ‘I’m going to come.’ What happens if two guys hit a button at the same time? What happens if you hit the button, a guy says he’s coming, and in the meantime some cab pulls up empty–somebody’s getting out? Do you hop in? And what do you do with the first cab guy? Whose obligations are what?”

Overall, however, he advocated for a free market approach, echoing statements made by TLC chairman David Yassky in our interview earlier this week.

“Everyone’s different, I have absolutely no idea which one is better. My sense is always that you should have more than one so the public has a choice and let the marketplace decide.”

But things really started to heat up when Mr. Gambling guessed that cab companies and drivers would be into this sort of innovation. Mr. Bloomberg reiterated the example of adding credit card payment options, which came up repeatedly during negotiations as an example of unfounded fears of incorporating new technology.

“Uh. There is a group of cab owners that are opposed to anything, but yeah most cab drivers should like this. They didn’t like credit card use and now they’ll all tell you their tips are up dramatically.”

Somehow that segued into a diatribe on corruption in the taxi industry!

“The cab industry is a funny industry. I don’t know if there’s any other place in the world where the city gives a license and the people that have that license can then trade it and resell it and the city doesn’t have any interest and any ability to share in the value going up. And the politics, because they support candidates–a normal market would just say: Well, we’ll just issue more taxi licenses. Wrong! Because they have bought the legislatures and stopped the ability to do that. It is one of the great rip-offs of the public any place I’ve ever seen.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s agenda for 2013 might be to disrupt medallions, but the rest of us are more concerned about the MTA.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com