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Shifting Gears: Decision on Electronic Hailing Apps to Fall to de Blasio

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Bill de Blasio has been a vocal critic of many of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's taxi initiatives and could choose to roll some of them back come January when he enters City Hall. One program in particular - the policy of e-hails - will test not only his relationship with the taxi industry, but also his approach to new technology.

The new way of hailing a taxi is with the touch of a button on a smartphone, thanks to hailing apps like Hailo.

"You can hail a taxi with the app before you even sign the check at dinner," said Monica Brouwer, marketing manager at Hailo. "So we give consumers convenience. We give them control over their day."

Uber, another popular app, is also active in New York City, even operating its own base, but its focus is so-called "black cars."

The use of electronic hailing apps, or e-hails, is more contentious when it comes to yellow taxis, which, by statute, can't make pre-arranged pickups. That's the province of the livery cab industry, which believes that taxi e-hails eat into its business.

"Where you match a specific driver with a specific passenger, that's a pre-arrangement," said Avik Kabessa of Livery Roundtable.

"You can't box out an entire industry from technologies," said Michael Woloz of the Metropolitan Taxi Board of Trade.

The yellow taxi industry is all for e-hails, and even joined the city in successfully fighting back a lawsuit by the livery industry. In June, the city moved forward with an e-hail pilot program.

"It's not going to replace sticking your hand in the air, and that's probably good, but it does provide a kind of supplement to the core service," said David Yassky, chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission had been planning to vote Thursday to make the e-hail pilot permanent, essentially authorizing any future use of hailing apps for yellow taxis, but that drew accusations that the agency was seeking to jam through a decision before the new mayor takes office.

Instead, Yassky put off a vote, leaving the decision to Bill de Blasio, who's received generous support from both the yellow and livery industries, and has so far not taken a clear position.

"That kind of technology, if done properly, could be very helpful," de Blasio said. "I also think, as I've said about everything with our transportation industry, there are real delicate balances that have to be struck."

De Blasio is certainly familiar with the technology. Records show that his mayoral campaign spent more than $1,600 on car trips using Uber.

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