A new app hailed as a tech-savvy way to find a taxi could be a major boon for illegal gypsy cabs.
The ZabKab app, released Wednesday, allows anyone with an iPhone to register for free as a driver — even if they aren’t licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Daily News has learned.
A News’ reporter and photographer hopped in a car Thursday and used the app to hunt for would-be fares, finding many potential cyber customers, but no live riders during a four-hour prowl.
Livery- and gypsy-cab drivers — who aren’t legally allowed to pick up street hails — could easily apply the same business savvy.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” said Ira Goldstein, spokesman for a trade association of drivers and buses that cater to corporate clients. Goldstein downloaded the driver app and said he was getting constant pings through the day.
“I’m sitting in my office on Wall Street and I’m getting hailed,” he said.
TLC Chairman David Yassky agreed the app is problematic.
“I have definite concerns about the potential for people to be misled by the app, and for it to encourage illegal hustlers,” Yassky told the News.
The TLC will be meeting with creator Flatiron Apps to discuss a number of these concerns, officials said.
The new technology is likely to add fuel to a pending lawsuit filed by yellow taxicab owners, who say they pay for the exclusive right to pick up street hails. They’re fighting to block Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to allow livery cabs in upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs to pick up passengers on the spot.
Illegal street hails are big business.
TLC enforcement officers targeting illegal hails seized more than 3,000 unlicensed livery cars this year alone, records show. To combat the practice, the agency is in the process of boosting its enforcement team to 250 inspectors, up from 150, as part of the mayor’s five-borough taxi plan.
When being hailed using ZabKab’s GPS-based system, drivers see a blinking icon depicting a figure with a raised arm. The challenge, the News team found, is reaching impatient customers before they hop in a cab hailed via more conventional methods. The app freezes for safety reasons when the car exceeds 15 mph, adding to the difficulty.
The News’ would-be hacks responded at 5:30 p.m. to an electronic ping from a Battery Park City doorman, who said he’d successfully used the app twice on Thursday.
“A cab came really fast each time,” said doorman Michael Mitchell, 35.
Too fast, apparently. Our hoped-for fare was long gone.
It’s unlikely we’d have gotten the job anyway.
“I would only put someone in a yellow cab or a livery car that we call,” Mitchell assured.
Martin Heikel, co-founder of Flatiron Apps, said scurrilous drivers are operating “at their own risk.”
“Non-yellow cabs, if they use the app, then they’re really just breaking the rules and regulations that are punishable by TLC enforcement,” Heikel said.
“So it’s at their own risk if they were to take on a tool to take on more hailers. I don’t think most of them will.”
Still, he added: “If it becomes an issue, and it’s important enough for TLC, then we will certainly be willing to talk to them and work with them on a solution. We already have some thoughts in mind should that become a problem.”
— With Erica Pearson and Mariela Lombard