They were billed as a game-changing way to hail taxis in New York City, upsetting the urban democracy of the outstretched arm and geographic savvy, and replacing it with a smartphone app.
But according to data from the city’s pilot program for taxi-hailing smartphone apps, the revolution has yet to arrive.
Over four weeks in June, the first month of the program, trips arranged by smartphones accounted for less than one-quarter of 1 percent of all yellow taxi rides. Of the roughly 117,000 requests made using the apps, only 17 percent were “successful,” the city said — meaning a driver and rider eventually found each other using the program.
In other cases, a driver or passenger canceled (presumably because a willing partner was found the old-fashioned way), no driver was available or all drivers rejected a pickup request.
Though supporters expected the apps to contribute significantly to taxi availability in the boroughs outside of Manhattan, nearly 92,000 of the requests came from Manhattan riders. Fourteen percent were successful, outpacing only the Bronx, where 7 percent of requests resulted in pickups.
In Brooklyn, 5,754 of 18,379 requests — 31 percent — via smartphone connected a rider and driver. In Queens, a quarter of 6,465 requests were successful.
On Staten Island, where residents appear resigned to a yellow-taxi-less existence, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission said only five passengers requested cabs during the four-week period. One got a ride.
“People in Staten Island know that finding a yellow taxi is just one step above finding a unicorn,” said David S. Yassky, the taxi commissioner. But, he added, the apps had already proved useful to “at least some passengers at least some of the time.” He cautioned that the program was still in its infancy, but said the data had shown the need for more taxis in the fleet.
As part of its plan to expand street-hail service beyond Manhattan with green livery taxis, the city also authorized the sale of 2,000 medallions for wheelchair-accessible yellow taxis; the sale is expected to start in October.
“If there’s not an available taxicab, having a hailing app isn’t going to create one,” Mr. Yassky said.
The data, compiled using trips recorded by the app companies Uber and Hailo, suggested that the apps were most popular the day after an appellate court lifted an injunction against the program on June 6. More than 13,000 taxi requests were made by smartphone the next day. Over the next three weeks, the number often vacillated between 2,500 and 7,500.
For drivers, much of the appeal of the apps is in the potential for return fares after trips outside Manhattan. After an airport drop-off, for instance, drivers often find themselves with an empty back seat as they return to the central business district. An app’s ability to find a passenger in a lower-traffic neighborhood can add an extra fare or two to a given shift, drivers say.
Still, app developers remain enthusiastic about breaking into New York’s yellow-taxi market, where, according to Hailo, growth has outpaced the company’s past performance in London.
Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber NYC, said the data had “confirmed our suspicion” that taxi-hailing apps were “valuable in certain situations, but ultimately not when you need it most.” He noted that business had increased for the company’s sister services that provide for-hire vehicles upon request, suggesting that some New Yorkers unable to find a yellow cab were still using their phones to arrange a ride.
The pilot program, approved by the taxi commission in December, began after months of false starts, court proceedings and criticism of the Bloomberg administration’s stance from both supporters and opponents of the apps. As Uber sought to enter the market last summer, officials said they could not approve the use of apps until contracts with payment processors had expired, drawing the ire of developers.
The December vote prompted a lawsuit from livery and black car operators, who argued that the program violated the city’s ban on prearranged rides in yellow taxis. The lawsuit led a judge to block the plan in March; an appellate court reinstated it in June.
Avik Kabessa, the chief executive of Carmel Car and Limousine Service, said he had observed a decrease in business between traditional rush periods, which he attributed to the apps.
“What the T.L.C. doesn’t understand is a lot of people will try it when it’s busy,” Mr. Kabessa said. “But when they try in midday and they get it, those are the rides we’re losing.”
Mr. Yassky said it was far too early to assess the program’s effect on the industry.
But the data appear to support Mr. Kabessa’s observation, at least partly. Success rates in rush periods often hovered around 10 percent. But in some off-peak hours, riders are more likely to find a cab using their phones.