Way2Ride Finally Launches E-Hail Product

Back when I was at Hailo, we knew this was coming and it worried me. VeriFone, Way2Ride’s parent company, has access to 50% of the city’s taxi fleet and their meter info. This means they know exactly where all their cabs are at all times, and whether or not these cabs are actually available (because they can see whether or not the meter is engaged). This was information they didn’t really want to share with us, so it made things harder than they needed to be. Needless to say, it’s pretty important information to have if you’re going to do an e-hail app for yellow taxis.

Way2Ride used to be clunky and hard to use back when it was just an in-cab payment app, but this new version looks much simpler and straightforward. Not a lot of steps to hail a cab and pay, with PayPal integrated into their mobile wallet, and an autotip option (defaulted to 25%!). It does look like they took a few of the best pages from the old Hailo playbook, which makes me feel oddly proud.

Of course, I haven’t actually tried it yet, so who knows what the experience is really like, but right now I’m rooting for it to be just as easy and clean as it promises to be. If it is, and if their marketing is any good, yellow cabs might have at least something to offer people who’ve gotten accustomed to the whole hail-a-cab-on-your-phone thing (that being just about everyone).

All VeriFone needs to do next is team up with CMT, the other member of the credit card-processing duopoly in NYC’s yellow cab fleet, and taxis stand a chance of hammering out the dent Uber has made into their business.

It’s important to note that I don’t believe any of these people are actually The Good Guys. It’s just, the yellow industry has been desperate for some technology (and policy) to make them competitive again, and while this app may not be exactly it, it’s certainly a step in that direction.

Check it out and decide for yourselves:

Endgadget

One-Stop Shop for Civic Apps

Just read this piece on MyCivic Apps, which currently serves 16 California municipalities. Essentially, though each city’s app is a little different, the apps provide citizens with information and services all in one place. Especially interesting are the economic development opportunities thw apps provide, with particular attention to business licensing, permitting, and direct feedback features.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more potential in apps like these, especially with respect to transit and traffic updates, housing information, health code violations, and so much more. The opportunities are limitless. One can even imagine potential community-building and public participation taking place through a central civic app in the future. Of course, that’s only if the apps are easy to use, relatively simple, and intelligently designed — elements that, unfortunately, too many app developers just don’t seem to grasp.

Read more about MyCivic Apps at Route Fifty:

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Regulating the Homesharing Industry

I just got back from the APA conference in Seattle where my favorite session was on this topic, hosted by San Francisco  city planners. Their challenge was clear: regulating a young but fast-growing industry with no data, few resources, and a high degree of political conflict. While I don’t think the policy in place right now is perfect, it’s encouraging that it’s at least out there, being debated and shaped. Sure – it’s not ideal to create rules while the train is already moving, but it’s better than doing nothing, which is what every other Airbnb city is doing. Outside of SF, high-tech short-term rentals are either legal or they’re banned — or some convoluted mixture of the two. SF is at least trying to create innovative policy to keep up with innovations in the private sector. Though there will be initial missteps and political conflict, it’s at least a start. Now we just need to hope that the ultimate policy will actually be as smart as the technology its trying to regulate, and that other cities start to pay attention.

Check out Dan Raile’s great long-read at PandoDaily:

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Airbnb Goes to Cuba

Airbnb is setting up shop in Havana. Although that’s a misnomer since the whole point of companies like Airbnb is that there’s no actual shop to set up. And that’s exactly why it’s only a matter of time before more on-demand tech companies will follow — especially when importing goods, building infrastructure, and hiring labor aren’t central to their business models. Uber and Lyft will no doubt be Cuba-bound soon. As more tourists are expected to flock to the country, it makes sense that nimble, wealthy American tech startups are trying to capture the market first and fast.

As Quartz reports:

While there are already more than 165 listings for AirBnB spots in Havana, only 14% of Cubans have internet access, mainly through internet cafes where an hour’s access costs $4.50—an high rate in a country with an average monthly income of $20.

It’ll be interesting to see how the on-demand “sharing” model pans out in one of the world’s last Communist nations.

Read more at Quartz:

Quartz

New Rules For A New Economy

Great piece by Anand Giridharadas in the NY Times about the need for new labor laws in regard to the new sharing/on-demand economy. In the recent lawsuit against Uber and Lyft by the people who drive for them, a jury must decide whether these workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors. Other startups like TaskRabbit and Handy are facing similar legal challenges. The problem is the existing labor classes are not appropriate for this new way of doing business. As one of the judges, quoted in the Times piece, said:

“The jury in this case will be handed a square peg and asked to choose between two round holes,” Judge Chhabria wrote.

Uber and Lyft’s square-pegged workers don’t fit into the round hole of employee because they have no real supervisors, they work irregular hours of their own choosing, and they are free to work for anyone else, too. But they also don’t fit into the hole of independent contractor, like your accountant or neighborhood plumber, because they cannot negotiate their own price, aren’t peripheral to the business (but are central to it), and are subject to extensive control and monitoring.

It’s time for a new class of labor to be developed and regulated. This is one of the first challenges policy-makers and labor departments can tackle, but it will take thought and extensive research to figure out how to handle the creation of a new class of workers. It will, however, be worth the investment as the number of these types of “jobs” continue to swell, providing much-needed primary and secondary incomes to those who pursue them.

Click the thumbnail to read the Times piece:

New York Times

Fixing What’s Broken

Citibike may find redemption after all. The bike-sharing program’s new owner has made a splash, shutting down the service over the weekend in order to update software and make other improvements. Long-term upgrades are also on the horizon, and there is hope yet for New York’s bike-sharing users. From WNYC’s Morning Edition:

“Things were broken when we came in,” said Jay Walder, the CEO of Motivate, which took over the bike share program last year. “The system wasn’t really built to handle the demands of this city.”

Things that didn’t work: the software, the management, and the infrastructure. It looks like Motivate is going to overhaul all three to finally give NYC a bike-sharing program that lowers the obstacles to use and blends more seamlessly into the larger transportation network.

So many city residents were turned off by the cacophony of complaints surrounding the Citibike service. Many never even bothered to try it, figuring it was just another hassle in a city already full of transportation hassles. But if Motivate follows through with better bikes, better docks, and better service all around, we may finally get to see the full potential of bike sharing in our fine city.

Click the thumbnail below to read and listen to the full story at WNYC:

WNYC

Government-Run Sharing?

Just came across Dean Baker’s opinion piece on Aljazeera America from yesterday in which he advocates for a publicly-run version of the “sharing economy.” In Baker’s own words:

In addition to a level-the-playing-field approach, we can also treat the sharing- economy companies to some new competition: a public option. The idea is that governments can set up public sites that would provide the same services as the sharing economy companies. The difference would be that the public sites would cut out the middleman. They would be set up to benefit customers and service providers, with the government charging only the fees necessary to cover costs.

While this sounds on the surface like something I’d be in favor of, having worked at one of these tech companies, I know first-hand how unworkable it would be to have government-run sharing apps. Full-stack product development, setting up initial networks, targeted marketing, and real-time empathic customer service are just not in the government wheelhouse. Governments regulate — that’s their wheelhouse. And that’s what they should be doing with a long-view on the sharing/on-demand economy.

Right now, many local governments across the globe are in panic mode — creating regulations in reaction to new technologies that have real-world impacts (Uber and AirBnB are the obvious players here, but there are so many others: TaskRabbit, Handy, Car2Go, MiniBar, PostMates, and on and on). Workers, customers, and even former employees are filing lawsuits against on-demand companies left and right. I see this as part of the natural process of establishing equilibrium. But it doesn’t have to be this difficult — or litigious.

The sharing economy is here to stay, and it will only continue to grow. There is so much potential for positive change from these emerging technologies. Bike-sharing is one excellent example, especially when implemented in an intelligent way. But regulators need to educate themselves on what’s out there and what the implications of each application might be, not only for health, safety, and labor, but also for other as-yet unknown impacts. Governments need to get one step ahead instead of ten steps behind.

They also need to stop clinging to the status quo, protecting entrenched industries just because they’re, well, entrenched. It’s time to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of the innovative versus the status quo, and figure out sensible and sensitive regulatory cocktails that benefit and protect the most citizens. This, of course, is no small feat, but I believe our governments are up to the task. They can do this better than they would ever be able to manage running a technology company, that’s for sure.

It’s time for governments to become innovators, not of technology, but of regulation.

Read Dean Baker’s piece here:

Aljazeera America

Aljazeera America

Las Vegas Downtown Project On the Decline?

Some bad news coming out of Tony Hsieh’s Las Vegas ambitious Downtown Project (DTP). Hsieh, the Zappos.com CEO, handed over the reigns of the project last year and is now selling off a ton of the properties he acquired in his attempt to create a utopian city on the outskirts of the Vegas strip.

PandoDaily sums it up well:

In the past few weeks, the DTP has been selling off many of its flagship entertainment properties. Several sources close to the project tell me that’s because Hsieh and his team are finally coming to terms with the fact that they’re not cut out to operate most of the businesses they’ve created or invested in. Instead, DTP will focus on what is working: Being the money behind the project– whether that’s investing in local small businesses, a handful of startups that appear to be doing well, and owning an ass-ton of real estate.

What’s the lesson here? I loved the idea of a startup city and had high hopes for the project as it blended urban planning with deep pockets and a startup mentality. BUT… perhaps DTP could’ve benefited from having some experienced planners on board as it sounds like most of the problems were related to management and execution.

Again, without knowing the entire roster of people on the DTP team, a blend of backgrounds and expertise may have helped the project. Or maybe one person shouldn’t own an entire city. There’s way more analysis to be done here.

Read more about DTP at BloombergBusiness

BloombergBusiness

Read more about the changes at DTP at PandoDaily

PandoDaily

Uber Cars Now Outnumber Yellow Cabs in NYC

From WNYC and the Associated Press this morning:

New York City’s storied yellow cabs are taking a back seat to black cars.

Uber cars, often black sedans that can be summoned with smartphone apps, now outnumber the yellow taxis that city riders have hailed with a whistle and a wave for generations.

It was a changing-of-the-guard moment that passed with little fanfare this week in figures released by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission: 14,088 registered Uber cars compared with 13,587 yellow cabs.

But it hardly means yellow cabs are out of favor. There are still more than 10 times as many rides in yellow cabs as there are in Uber cars.

That’s because most Uber drivers work less than 40 hours a week while most yellow cabs are on the road nearly 24 hours a day.

There it is. It’s only a matter of time before Uber trip numbers start climbing as well. They’ll keep adding cars because there are no regulations to stop them. This is in addition to the thousands of livery and black cars already on the streets that aren’t associated with an Uber base. I need to do some digging to get total numbers and will update when I have them, but we’re seeing a glut of vehicles that’s reminiscent of the 1920s and 1930s when there was no cap on the number of cabs that could roam the streets. And city residents HATED it. That’s why we got the Haas Act regulating the number of cabs, which stayed fixed for decades, and still limits cab numbers to this day.

Click the headline thumbnail to see the original story.

WNYC/Associated Press

WNYC

San Francisco is LEAPing Into the Transit Future

So Leap Transit has arrived. This “smartphone enhanced” private bus startup is now offering commuter service during peak hours from the Marina to downtown San Francisco.

This is another great example of the private sector taking city transportation matters in their own hands. San Francisco is ground zero for this type of innovation partly because of some serious transit gaps, partly because of, well, Silicon Valley.

Leap is doing a few cool things that the city (and cities everywhere) would be wise to adopt:

  • Streamlining the boarding and payment process (but more about this in a minute)
  • Live updates about where buses are on the route (NYC has this with BusTime already)
  • Live updates on how many seats are left
  • Consistent fare for all hours of service (no surging!)
  • Payment via stored credit card info

They also offer food and drinks for sale, sort of like an airplane, and have re-envisioned the interior experience. While these are cute innovations, they’d be far too expensive for city governments to implement if they were to take notes from Leap and others like it.

On the downside, Leap has made a few odd choices:

  • That streamlined boarding process? You need to scan a QR code upon boarding. QR codes are a little clunky so I’m not sure why they went with that. Maybe we’ll see improvements on this in the future. The bluetooth check-in sounds more promising, but may also be a battery-killer.
  • An intensive sign-up process
  • No wheelchair-accessible service at the moment (apparently there are plans for this going forward)

Other points of interest:

  • They collaborated with MUNI on where to place their routes (good partnering!)
  • They’re attempting to “connect” people on the bus with social profiles — this is a compelling idea of the bus as public meeting space but…
  • The service is clearly targeted for a specific socioeconomic segment — I can imagine some SFers being turned off by the overpriced snacks

Still, here we have a venture-backed startup taking on a big city problem with a targeted solution. It’ll be interesting to see how the service grows.

Learn more about Leap Transit by clicking the thumbnail headlines here:

TechCrunch

TechCrunch

CityLab

CityLab