New Apps Bring Change to Hailing a Cab in Many Cities

By Paul Riegler on 5 December 2012
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Technology Helps Wheelchair Users, Others Get a Ride

In many cities, it’s more customary to pick up a phone and call a taxi company for a taxi than to hail one on the street.  Some cities, including New York, only allow street hails, and, when it comes to passengers who use a wheelchair, finding a wheelchair-accessible cab can be problematic.

Here’s a primer on what is being done to modernize getting from here to there.

Uber, which has captured the mindshare of taxi riders in San Francisco and other cities, has also gotten unwanted attention from regulators in many of those places.  Uber allows its members to use an iOS or Android app to summon a taxi or car service car in San Francisco for a pre-arranged fare.

Other cities include Amsterdam, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Paris, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

As Uber started to roll out its service in New York, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission raised objections, citing rules that do not allow for prearranged rides in yellow cabs. The rules also forbid yellow cab drivers from using an electronic device while driving and further prohibit refusing a fare while available (Uber’s requires drivers to immediately proceed to the Uber user’s location once a driver accepts the trip; the driver is prohibited from picking up any other passengers en route).

Uber’s main competitor is Taxi Magic, which operates in 45 cities including Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Vancouver.  Taxi Magic ran into similar issues in New York and operates Sedan Magic, an on demand car service dispatch system, in that city and in Washington, D.C.

Another player in the field, Cabulous, launched in San Francisco in June of this year and tries to hail the nearest cab in the system.  If the driver doesn’t accept within two minutes, you can ask the system to try again.

Another possibility is to use an app to get a ride from a total stranger.  Two apps, SideCar and Lyft, which both operate in the Bay Area, allow drivers to offer people rides for a negotiated fare that the two companies call a “donation.”  Since the drivers aren’t professional, the companies maintain that they are not subject to any regulation.  The California Public Utilities Commission recently disagreed and levied over $20,000 in fines against the two companies and Uber for operating without a license.

For New York City residents who require a wheelchair-accessible taxi, the WOW (Wheels on Wheels) Taxi app is one of several ways to book one.  The WOW Taxi app was created by Accessible Dispatch, a unit of Connecticut-based Metro Taxi, for the city.  There were 233 wheelchair-accessible taxis in New York as of June 2012 and each one is equipped with GPS vehicle location technology that allows Accessible Dispatch to find a taxi closest to the passenger.  The driver is paid by Accessible Dispatch for travel time to the fare and the passenger simply pays the normal taxi fare.  Pickup can be anywhere in New York City and drivers are required to take passengers to any location in the city, Nassau and Westchester counties, and Newark Liberty International Airport.

The types of taxis available through WOW Taxi include rear-entry, lowered-floor minivans, and side-entry MV-1 cabs.  Drivers have been trained in helping passengers board and exit the cab as well as in disability awareness and etiquette.  Chicago, Miami, and Philadelphia also offer similar programs.

Finally, if you’d rather be driving around in a BMW for a few hours, you now can.  Although not an app, BMW On Demand allows drivers to rent one of its newest models, a BMW 328i, on an hourly basis in the New York area.  Unlike other car sharing services, there is no membership fee and the vehicles can be picked up at BMW dealerships throughout the New York City area.  The BMW On Demand program is also available in Munich, Germany.

(Photo: Jonathan Spira)


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