Archives for September, 2013

All Hail the Taxi App

With free download, you can hail, track and pay for a taxi through your smartphone

PEORIA – Now you can catch a taxi in Peoria without waving your arm or calling the cab company.

With the NexTaxi app, hailing a cab is as close as your smartphone, said John Franks, owner of Peoria Yellow Checker Cab in Peoria, a company with more than 20 taxi cabs in operation.

“It’s completely voice-free. The app allows you to order, track and pay for your ride all through your phone,” he said.

The technology is relatively new, so there aren’t too many people using their smartphone to call cabs right now – probably fewer than 100 – but that number is growing, said Franks, who’s run the business since 2006, taking over for his father, who bought the taxi franchise in 1986.

It’s not the first computer innovation for the company, he said. “We purchased a computerized dispatch system in 2007. Dispatchers enter an order, and the computer chooses the best taxi based on GPS positioning and dispatches the cab,” said Franks.

“In 2011, with the tablet revolution, we upgraded our system with Universal Tranware, the company that produces NexTaxi, the e-hailing app,” he said.

“Our drivers have tablet computers right in the cab. They receive messages from dispatch as well as from a customer,” said Franks.

Earl Epstein, the co-founder and chief technology officer for Tucson, Ariz.-based Universal Tranware, said the app used in Peoria is now available in 50 cities across the country and in Canada.

“Our core business has been working with taxi fleets for 20 years. Now we have a mobile application that allows you to arrange a ride with that fleet,” he said.

While hailing a cab by phone has brought a number of players to the electronic cab stand – companies like Uber, Hailo and Lyft- NexTaxi is the only app that links you to established taxi companies, said Epstein.

“Rogue cabs that come into the market can be a problem. We only deal with established fleets,” he said.

The NexTaxi app is free to download from Apple and Google, said Epstein.

The new technology serves the Peoria area well, said Franks. “Peoria is a cab town, but we don’t do much of a flag-down business here,” he said, referring to cabs hailed from the street.

“Usually there’s a direct connection with regular customers who use cabs to go to the store or a medical appointment. We also do lots of business with the hotels,” said Franks.

 

Peoria Yellow Checker Cab company owner John Franks holds his smartphone displaying NexTaxi, an app that allows the user to hail a cab.

Photo Credit: DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR

Peoria Yellow Checker Cab company owner John Franks holds his smartphone displaying NexTaxi, an app that allows the user to hail a cab.

With NexTaxi, a customer can order a cab and then track its progress to the pickup destination. “You know when the taxi gets there; it alerts you,” he said.

“We have corporate people coming into Peoria that can now request a taxi while they’re on their plane,” said Franks, adding that another opportunity for Peoria Yellow Checker is weekend business – between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. – for people at clubs who don’t want to – or can’t – drive, said Franks.

“We’re hoping that younger customers – those in their 20s who use their smartphones for almost everything – will find this to be a nice feature,” he said.

“Our goal is to keep up with the evolving business that’s going on in Peoria,” said Franks.

 

Peoria Yellow Checker Cab company driver James Hardin displays the device in his cab that receives the information transmitted by the user of NexTaxi, an app that allows the user to hail a cab through their smartphone.

Photo Credit: DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR

Peoria Yellow Checker Cab company driver James Hardin displays the device in his cab that receives the information transmitted by the user of NexTaxi, an app that allows customers to hail a cab through their smartphone.

 

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com. Follow his blog, Minding Business, on pjstar.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter.

California agency set to hammer down regulations for ride services such as Uber, Lyft, Sidecar

 

Lyft driver picking up passenger

ESSDRAS M SUAREZ/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGES

A conflict in San Francisco between the troubled taxi industry and opportunistic ride services will reach a milestone Thursday when the California Public Utilities Commission votes on proposed regulations for the mobile app-based startups and possibly sets a precedent for the rest of the nation.

Since ride services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar launched in The City in the past few years, heavily regulated taxi drivers have been accusing them of using personal cars for commercial reasons and without comprehensive insurance. They also have said government agencies have unfairly allowed them to continue operating.

In August 2012, the CPUC sent cease-and-desist letters to the ride services. After they failed to comply, the commission allowed them to stay in business as it drafted regulations, which require background checks on drivers, specific insurance requirements, zero tolerance on alcohol and drugs, and driver training. The proposed regulations also put a name to the services: Transportation Network Company vehicles.

The companies don’t see the developments as a bad thing.

“We started having criminal background checks, having insurance from the beginning because we’ve always wanted to do them, not because of our regulatory structure,” said Lyft co-founder John Zimmer. “I think as long as the focus remains on safety and allows for innovation to provide the solution that consumers want, then it’s a positive thing.”

But Hansu Kim, president of DeSoto Cab Co., which has a 170-taxi fleet, said the concern should be about drivers using personal vehicles for commercial purposes, which Lyft and Sidecar introduced and Uber followed.

Kim admitted he is “all for consumer choice” and that his own industry has been failing to meet demand, but regulations for these companies need to be on par with the stringent requirements for taxis.

Even if the new regulations level the playing field, Kim had another concern: “You really think CPUC is going to regulate and enforce rideshares locally? No way. They don’t have any kind of edifice to even enforce them on a state level.”

Regulations would be a good thing simply because “right now is, there is no regulation everywhere,” said Earl Epstein, a founding partner and chief technology officer of NexTaxi, which has been working on taxi dispatch systems for two decades and integrated an app for cab fleets three years ago.

“Any kind of new technology has a good time at first because they enter the space and don’t need to play by rules,” Epstein said. “And until someone comes up with rules, they get away with it.”