Complaining about taxi service is something of a New York City hobby, whether it’s justified or not. But the systems through which you can complain (calling 311, or reporting a complaint online) can be cumbersome, especially when you’re still in the cab. However! There’s an app for that, available free for iPhones and on the way for Blackberries and Androids. It has won an award, it’s called Report A Taxi, and it is, basically, exactly what it says. Here’s how you use it:
Download the app. If (and when, because you know it’s inevitable) you have a bad cab experience, go to the app, enter the driver’s medallion number — you can also use your camera to take a picture of it — choose an issue or enter your own, and enter the date and time of the incident, along with the location. Then submit. The guys on the other end will review and send your complaint on to the Taxi & Limousine Commission (they also tweet some of them). We asked the makers of the app a few questions about Report A Taxi — and about what the reports have revealed so far.
Tell us about the inception of Report A Taxi.
The app launched in July 2011 as a joint venture between Y INTERACT and Elyxor. We supported the launch with a website, promotional video, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. It really started getting attention (downloads and incoming reports) when it won a Gold International Davey Award in November. When Report A Taxi was featured in WIRED Magazine’s Gadget Lab on December 1st, the pace understandably picked up even more! So far for December we’ve received approximately 15 reports.
Why did you create the app? Do you have personal cab horror stories?
These days, consumers have opportunities to provide quick and easy reviews of restaurants, retail outlets, websites, and customer service experiences. But taxis are different because they are moving targets — you have a bad cab experience and you’ll probably never see that driver again. Report A Taxi was created to fill that gap.
Ahmed Yearwood, owner and founder of Y INTERACT, grew up in Harlem/Sugar Hill and had to deal with taxis refusing to take him home from midtown and downtown all the time. That’s still a major issue for New Yorkers. The recent TLC sting operation illustrates this. There are other issues, too: Cab drivers are constantly talking on their cell phones, which many passengers don’t realize is illegal (including hands-free), and many drivers give customers grief with regard to accepting credit card payments.
How does the app know where you are?
It can use your phone’s GPS to automatically pinpoint your exact location at the time, or the customer can type in their location. We haven’t yet received any images of medallions or locations. It might just be quicker for the customer to type it in.
What are the biggest problems people are reporting?
To date, the top five reports have involved (in rank order):
1. Refused service while on-duty
2. Refused credit card payment
3. Rude service
4. Using cell phone/hands free while driving
5. Attempting fares while off-duty
Weirdest write-in so far: a cabbie was pulled over by the NYPD!
Where do the reports come from?
The bulk of reports come from Manhattan, and are pretty evenly distributed among neighborhoods such as the Flatiron, SoHo, the LES, the Upper East and Upper West sides, and then Brooklyn and Queens.
How do you get the TLC the data?
Technically, the app is not yet connected to the TLC’s database. Our team receives the reports, then submits them to the TLC via their website. We have met with the TLC regarding the app, so it’s definitely on their radar. We have also been in contact with NYC DOITT regarding linking to their database. Overall, the response from city has been very positive. They even provided us with the list of all NYC medallion numbers to verify before submission.
Once the report is submitted, the TLC takes it from there just like any other report from their website or 311. We’ve received feedback from customers letting us know that the TLC followed up with them, so we know it’s working!
What if you don’t get the medallion number…can you still complain?
Sure. It’s easier for the TLC to ID a cabbie by their medallion number, but we will still submit reports that don’t include one.
What sort of positive things do people say about their cabbies?
Polite service and drivers making a helpful suggestion are the top two. Especially with NYC traffic, having a driver who knows alternative routes and avoids congested areas is a huge help.
We’ve even received a “Praise An Angel” report from a passenger who took a taxi to Connecticut. That’s certainly commendable!
Anything else people should know?
Just like the TLC website and 311, we ask people if they’d like to attend a hearing either in person, or over the phone. Many choose not to, which indicates that some passengers just want to have their voices heard. The app was designed to be quick and easy to submit, and customers are really taking advantage of it. Interestingly, we learned from one customer review that the “minimal telephone hearing” resulted in a $150 fine to the driver. We’d like people to know that. A minimal investment from a passenger can lead to a real result.