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:



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:


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

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


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:





When “less expensive” actually means “more expensive”

Lo and behold, there’s another new app out there. This one, called OpenStreetCab, lets you compare Uber prices with yellow taxi fares in New York City. A bunch of computer scientists compared these prices from 2013 and 2014 and discovered the benefit shifts from yellow cab to Uber at around $35. That means for the majority of taxi rides, which are short and therefore less than $35, a yellow taxi is cheaper – despite Uber’s advertising to the contrary. I haven’t tested this, but the logic here sounds about right.

Uber has a higher minimum than a yellow cab, and their algorithm is mysterious. Taxi pricing, on the other hand, are comparatively straightforward. Prices are regulated by the TLC and measured by the meter. Sure, there are ways to influence the meter (taking some air out of tires to increase wheel revolutions is one example), but these are severely punished, and it’s not worth it for many cab drivers to even try. Uber’s fares, famously, have no limit, and are measured by time and distance using an algorithm that a regular passenger has no access to. You find out how much your ride costs after you’ve left the car. Their model, however, is elegant and slick. The convenience of using the app still makes it an attractive option despite the lack of fare transparency.

It’s good to have choice. It’s even better to know the options you’re choosing between.

Click the thumbnails to read more:

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You can check out OpenStreetCab here:

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