Mobile apps reshape urban taxi landscape

February 24, 2013
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The apps offer the promise of increased business, especially in areas where vehicle and cab traffic is low/FILE
The apps offer the promise of increased business, especially in areas where vehicle and cab traffic is low/FILE
WASHINGTON, Feb 24 – Before the smartphone, riders summoned a taxi by waving an arm or calling a dispatcher – but mobile apps are changing that, helping both drivers and passengers.

A number of new services have sprung up in recent years that enable smartphone users to locate and request taxis with GPS. Drivers confirm they’re on the way, and payment is made by mobile phone, with no cash changing hands.

“It gives the passenger control and incentivizes the driver to provide excellent service,” said Yonis Benitez, general manager in Washington for MyTaxi, a German-based firm which has recently expanded to the US market.

“It’s no longer anonymous. They know the driver’s name and the driver’s rating,” from customer reviews which can be seen on the app.

MyTaxi was founded in 2009 in Germany, and in October began service in Washington, one of 30 cities worldwide where it operates.

The apps offer the promise of increased business, especially in areas where vehicle and cab traffic is low.

“We’ve been well-received in DC,” Benitez said. “Our numbers have doubled month over month in terms of numbers of people joining and passengers.”

San Francisco-based Uber offers a mobile app connecting passengers and taxis in six cities, including Washington, and operates in 27 cities worldwide with a “black car” service, which it says costs more than taxis but less than comparable limousine services.

Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick said drivers like the system because “they make more money, they can fill out their downtime and can invest and grow.”

Like other services, Uber has no cars of its own but partners with taxi or limousine drivers who agree to use the app.

“We are like Open Table for restaurants or Expedia for travel,” he said.

Uber has faced some well-publicized regulatory hurdles, and in New York temporarily suspended taxi service, while maintaining its limo operations, as city officials consider regulations on the “e-hailing” of cabs.

In Washington, the city council approved a measure last year to clear the way for app-based taxi and limo services.

“The DC law is cutting edge, it’s pro-innovation, and a lot of cities are starting to follow,” said Rachel Holt, Uber’s manager in the city.

Uber, which has venture funding from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Goldman Sachs, has been expanding globally to cities like Paris, Melbourne and Stockholm while competition heats up in the United States.

Washington driver Peter Faris said he has been able to build a car service with three vehicles around the Uber app.

“We’ve grown as Uber has grown in DC,” he said. “There’s an amazing vibe. It’s hard to communicate the enthusiasm it has created. It has filled a need.”

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