App-arently, It Could Be Easier to Grab a Cab

Entrepreneurs Seek New York City Nod for Online Taxi App

Flagging Interest:  Jing Wang Herman is the local head of GetTaxi, an Israeli company vying for the right to be New York’s official cab-hailing app.
andrea palatnik
Flagging Interest: Jing Wang Herman is the local head of GetTaxi, an Israeli company vying for the right to be New York’s official cab-hailing app.

By Andrea Palatnik

Published September 12, 2012, issue of September 14, 2012.
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As those who live in the city will tell you, anyone who thinks New Yorkers can catch a New York cab in a New York minute does not live in New York.

But now, the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission is set to award an exclusive contract for a cab-hailing app with a receiving device that will be installed in all city taxis. The smartphone app, with its plethora of features, promises to revolutionize that quintessential New York experience of cabbing it when time is urgent and you’re running late.

Among other things, the app will allow individuals seeking a cab to alert any taxi driver within the vicinity that they are on the street and ready to board. Potential passengers who are near each other and heading in the same general area will also be able to find each other with this app and share a ride. The app will also allow customers to pay for the fare without ever touching their wallets, recover lost items and even rate a driver’s performance behind the wheel.

It’s the TLC’s way of trying to stay ahead of the companies’ plans to introduce their apps to New York taxi drivers on their own, while trying to preserve what it can of the decades-old TLC rule that forbids yellow cabs from taking remote pick-up requests from riders.

This being New York. there is, of course, a Jewish angle to the bidding contest for this lucrativefranchise: Jews run three of the companies reported to be under top-tier consideration. Each of the three has its own unique Jewish story. Collectively, they also reflect the heavy involvement of Jews in the burgeoning field of developing practical new software apps.

One of the companies, GetTaxi, is based in Israel. Its founder, Shahar Waiser, was born in Moscow and made aliyah at age 15, leaving his parents behind. Waiser finished high school in Tel Aviv while living in immigrant housing. He joined the Israeli Army soon after. There, while working for the army’s technology division, Waiser founded a startup listing classified ads for real estate and cars, the first of six firms he has founded so far. GetTaxi, which opened in April 2010, operates in Israel, Russia and the United Kingdom — and, soon, too, Waiser hopes, in New York.

“If we could change the way taxi drivers behave in Israel, we can do it everywhere,” Waiser said. He noted that his app seeks not only to make passengers’ lives easier, but also to change the whole experience of using taxis as a means of transportation.

Waiser recruited Jing Wang Herman to be the face of GetTaxi in New York. Born in China, she is married to Matthew Herman, a noted Jewish chess prodigy, and is in the process of converting to Judaism. Herman, 30, gave up a promising career in finance to, in her own words, follow an old-time passion. She admires taxi drivers for their freedom — “New York City is their office” — and for how knowledgeable they are about the city.

“To me, to be a New Yorker is to know New York like the back of your hand, and I think cab drivers are at the top of that list,” said Herman, who is the CEO of the U.S. division of GetTaxi.


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