Technology

Phone app gains support from SF cabbies

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The cabbies are fighting back. They're upset about apps that have private cars taking away their business so they've launched an aggressive new campaign of their own with an app that lets you call a taxi to come pick you up. While the other apps are butting heads with government regulators, this one is working with them.

As Majid Ghorbani drives his taxi through the bumpy streets of San Francisco, a little smartphone mounted right below the meter starts to ring. The phone is running a brand new app called Flywheel.

The technology's been around for two years. In fact, some cab companies were using it even before Uber launched its app for calling black town cars. Back then, it was called Cabulous. Now it's being re-born as Flywheel -- complete with bold new advertising and a promise to help cabbies compete with the black cars and the Lyft drivers with their pink mustaches.

"They get anywhere from 20-30 percent more rides a day by having these mobile apps able to access their vehicles real time," Flywheel CEO Steve Humphreys said.

It's already in about one-third of San Francisco taxis -- next to that other communication device, a UHF radio.

"There hasn't been any advancement in UHF in 50 years and now we have the power of a cellphone," Regents Cab General Manager Steven Anton said.

For cab companies, Flywheel can actually replace older dispatch systems, or in this case, work alongside the two-way radio, to give the dispatchers a bird's eye view of where all the drivers are.

By working with dispatchers instead of going around them, Flywheel has managed to get broad support from cab companies.

And while Lyft, Uber and SideCar battle fines from state regulators, Flywheel earned a glowing endorsement from the city.

"This company worked with us, and is something that we would recommend," SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said.

The MTA says soon, it plans to get all cab companies using location tracking so Flywheel and other apps like it can hail any cab in the city.

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apps, technology, jonathan bloom
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