Biglaw, Cars, Screw-Ups, Technology

Taxi-Hailing Apps Move Forward After Typo-Plagued Biglaw Clash

Mayor Michael Bloomberg takes a lot of heat. From the smoking ban, to the soda limit, to the bike share program, it seems like nothing he supports can avoid polarizing the public. I’m not defending every idea that the diminutive Mayor Tyrion proposes, just noting that every idea gets a lot of flack.

Bloomberg is so opposed in some corners that a Biglaw firm has taken directly contradictory positions against the city just to stick it to Bloomberg. And like many of Bloomberg’s rivals, the firm got smacked down by the courts.

It didn’t help the anti-Bloomberg brigade to submit a filing complete with some embarrassing typos…

This clash revolved around e-hailing, a new technology that allows smartphone users to request a cab to their location. The cabbie can either accept the hail or not. Basically, it’s a fancy way to avoid straining your arm as cabs whiz past you.

Bloomberg partnered with a couple of firms, Hailo and Uber, to launch a pilot program. For those keeping score, this is one of the rare times that Bloomberg and taxis found themselves on the same side. Maybe there’s hope that Bloomberg won’t “destroy all you f**king guys.”

But a prominent partner at Gibson Dunn, Randy Mastro, cried foul, and sued on behalf of people who hate technology and cars. Mastro seemingly prides himself on taking any case that irks Bloomberg.

So much so that Mastro argued (successfully) two years ago on behalf of the taxi drivers against Bloomberg’s program to issue 2,000 more taxi medallions and 18,000 “street hail” permits to livery services. But in the e-hail case, he’s arguing on behalf of the livery services that there’s a cab shortage.

Mastro secured a TRO against the program after it launched, but yesterday the court struck it down, in a victory for Roberta Kaplan of Paul Weiss.

Our tipster, Adam Garen (named here with his consent), pointed us toward Mastro’s petition for the TRO, which is reproduced in full on the next page. Mastro takes a strong stand against the “pilot” program:

Now, however, anxious to push through this far-reaching program while still in office, under the guise of a sweeskirtping, year-long “pilot” program that is anything but a “pilot”….

Wait… “sweeskirtping”? That’s the new word of the day. Whenever anyone says “sweeskirtping,” SCREAM REAL LOUD!

Later on, the petition includes this very meta heading (bracketed material in the original):

[AFTER YOU FINISH MAKING MY CHANGES, IF THIS HEADER IS STILL AT THE BOTTOM OF A PAGE, KICK IT OVER] The TLC Reverses Course, And Over The Objections of Numerous City Council Members, Pushes through a So-Called E-Hail “Pilot Program” That Directly Conflicts With Numerous Provisions of the Administrative Code

D’oh! In defense of the Gibson Dunn associate who was charged with this assignment, the header was not left at the bottom of the page.

But joking aside, Mastro argues that the e-hail system will divert a number of cabs from street hail duty and create a shortage. This shortage might exacerbate racial discrimination because fewer available cabs means many, many fewer cabs willing to pick up black folks. The argument has a bit of logic to it, but the flip side is that e-hailing is color blind. As Elie pointed out in his earlier write-up, one of the best features of e-hailing is the inability of the driver to racially discriminate against the electronic request. Sure this burns people without smartphones, but that’s a very small segment of the population of NYC these days.

The E-Hail Program will have a disparate adverse impact on the elderly — a protected class under New York City Human Rights Law — who rely on taxis for basic transportation and who own smartphones in far fewer numbers than those who are younger. Only 11% of individuals over 65 own smartphones, compared to 66% for those ages 18-29, 59% for those ages 30-49, and 34% for those ages 50-64. If this program goes into effect in the coming winter weeks, the elderly will literally be left out in the cold as they attempt to run down a dwindling number of taxis available for “old fashioned” street hailing.

Melodramatic, much? Sure, the elderly may not have smartphones, but it’s not like the entire city is moving exclusively to e-hailing. There’s no reason to believe e-hailing will suck up enough cabs to strand every old woman looking for a ride.

And if it did, that would be a good reason why the city should have issued those 2,000 taxi medallions and 18,000 “street hail” permits that Mastro blocked.

(hidden for your protection)

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