NYC Taxi Commission official bolts for Uber

Matt Flegenheimer
Ashwini Chhabra
Getty Images

At first, they were adversaries—the taxi agency leery of a smartphone app that could upend decades of street-hailing history and the business that responded by hitting the tech-friendly Bloomberg administration where it hurt.

The company, Uber, would subsist in "more innovation-friendly cities" like Boston and Toronto, its chief executive said in 2012. Its six-week, legally questionable stint inside New York City's yellow cabs, which had allowed drivers and passengers to find each other with the touch of a phone, was over.

But more than 18 months later, with the technology now approved by city officials and accepted by riders, it seems the relationship has been consummated in earnest.

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A top official at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, Ashwini Chhabra, is leaving for Uber, he said on Monday, becoming the company's first head of policy development and community engagement.

The move comes days after the commission approved an extension of a pilot program for street-hailing smartphone apps, including Hailo and Taxi Magic.

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Though some city and industry officials have previously expressed concerns about the technology's growth, questioning whether those without cellphones might find themselves with unequal taxi access, a report from the taxi commission last week said the apps had been a success.

Both drivers and passengers have cited the apps' value when they find themselves in neighborhoods outside of central Manhattan, where street-hail service is less common.

Those in the black and livery car industries had complained that the apps would undercut their business. But according to the commission's review, so-called e-hails accounted for less than one in every 200 yellow-cab pickups, suggesting that any effect on the finances of the for-hire vehicle business has been limited.

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During his tenure as deputy commissioner for policy and planning, Mr. Chhabra said, the agency did not always progress as quickly as he would have liked on smartphone apps.

"I won't say that at New York TLC, we always got it right," he said. "Regulators often move slower than entrepreneurs."

— By Matt Flegenheimer, The New York Times