Smartphones can soon be used to "e-hail" NYC taxis

We've heard this tale one too many times. You play games, text and talk on the phone while you're in the back of a cab. When that cab stops, you rummage to pay for your fare, but might leave your phone behind in the process. The next thing you know, the cab drives off but you can't even recall the license plate number, unable to identify to authorities where your phone was lost. Chance of recovery: 0 to 50 percent

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission has approved a plan that will let riders use their smartphones to "e-hail" yellow cabs.

Under the plan approved Thursday, downloaded apps will link customers with drivers starting Feb. 15.

Uber, a mobile app that hails drivers via smartphones, considers itself a big winner of the decision.

"New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission -- a regulatory board that historically has seen its role as protecting the status quo -- will launch a year-long pilot program to let New Yorkers and visitors alike use their phones to connect with yellow cab drivers blocks or miles away. For New Yorkers, this means that Uber can get you a taxi along with the black car service you know and love," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in an email to users Thursday.

Uber launched an experimental e-hail program in September, but as questions of its legality arose, the company halted the service. According to a report by the New York Times, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade found 11 potential violations of taxi guidelines, including automatic tipping, no cash payments and rejecting passengers while on duty.

Commissioner David Yassky says the city will lay down some ground rules to accommodate people raising their arm to stop a cab the old-fashioned way.

But the commissioner says that as long as the technology exists, it should be available to customers and drivers.

Until now, the city has banned yellow taxis from prearranging rides.