While Uber is still facing a series of legal battles across the country, the future of hailing a taxi over your smartphone has gotten a lot easier recently — at least in the heavy cabbing grounds of New York and Washington, D.C. The NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission has just offered a small nod of approval to apps like Uber by passing a one-year pilot program that allows for the hailing of cabs using cell phone apps. Sometime early next year, smartphone users will be able to call cabs within a radius of half a mile in Manhattan's central business district and up to one and a half miles in the rest of New York City, all at the tap of an app. None of which quite brings Uber back to New Yorkers — the TLC shut down the app's compatibility with yellow cabs in October, fearing it would lead to prearranged rides between passengers and cabbies. Uber saw the move as anti-innovation and technology, and today's vote brings back some of the app's functionality — it still doesn't support in-app payment methods, for example. Still, Uber sees the move as a sign of better things to come. "Now, UberTAXI’s return is imminent," writes Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Except that might not happen, exactly. The new TLC pilot program will run for a year, after which the commission can revoke the agreement altogether. However, TLC chairman David Yassky makes it sound like the program will be too popular to ever ban permanently. "The short of it is, we should not ignore technology that’s out there," he said before the vote. "This is not speculative. This is real today. We can look at other cities and see passengers are using these products and benefiting from them." For the few shorts weeks that Uber worked in New York, the app did draw an incredible amount of users. In fact, demand outstripped supply, proving this is something that users may want too much for the commission to take away — its popularity in San Francisco would seem to indicate as much.
The taxi-app win comes less than 10 days after the DC city council passed a "digital dispatch" law, which will allow Uber to operate in the city, as outlined in this post on the company site. Kalanick had said he hoped other cities would look at the legislation as a model. New York didn't exactly do that. But it has moved in that direction, at least. Meanwhile, the start-up still faces law suits in San Francisco and Chicago, as well as cease-and-desist letters in parts of Massachusetts. Following New York's acceptance of the disruptive technology, we wouldn't be surprised if these other big markets followed suit.