The biggest news in the last week has been (1) the beginning of the TLC’s e-hailing pilot program following the dismissal of a lawsuit from drivers, and (2) the sting operation by the NYPD against a Sidecar ride last Friday in New York City.
Uber (of the Bay Area) was the first to be approved by the TLC for the pilot program, followed this morning by Hailo (of London). This is not the same as “commercially operating” despite suggestions to the contrary by the shoddy tech reporting surrounding the taxi app world. This pilot program could last for up to 12 months, and is more or less under TLC control. Being able to hail a cab with a smartphone is a wonderful thing that will certainly be the norm in a few years, but a lot of people in the industry (and some outsiders) stand to gain and lose a lot as the lines between yellow cabs and black cars, drivers and fleets, drivers and dispatchers, are redrawn.
In related news, two Sidecar cars were impounded on Friday night in a sting operation. One Sidecar “brand ambassador” (which seems to be a euphemism for an unlicensed taxi driver) received a citation. It didn’t appear in the news until this morning, probably because it will scare other potential Sidecar drivers. The New York TLC made it pretty clear this is what they’d do if anyone tried to operate unlicensed cabs, and it wasn’t an empty threat. Sunil Paul of Sidecar cried foul this morning at TechCrunch’s Disrupt NYC 2013, and is asking, in a very Uber-esque move, for users to complain to Mayor Bloomberg. Shoot first, ask questions later, and if possible, do so under the auspices of reducing people’s carbon footprint and promoting the sharing economy.
The most honest thing Paul said this morning was this: “It is the regulation of taxis that is an illegal restraint of trade." I’m not sure if many people (or Sidecar users even) would agree with that.
If we at Bandwagon could make one request of this ongoing debate it’s this: Whatever its merits, don’t refer to what Sidecar, Lyft and Uber Rideshare are doing as "ridesharing.” There’s no more sharing going on with the operation of these apps than there is when a yellow cab picks you up, and there’s no discernible environmental benefit. If what New York, D.C., San Francisco and every other major city needs is a huge overhaul of taxi-regulation, than that’s what should happen.