San Francisco taxis look to compete with ride-sharing apps

July 15, 2013 10:22:41 PM PDT
The battle is heating up between taxi drivers and new ride sharing services, they say, are stealing their business.

Four huge billboards in San Francisco's Montgomery BART station are taking aim at taxi companies. Uber X has been around for a while, but now it's cheaper than a cab. And apparently, people like it.

"What we actually found was when we lowered prices, the demand went up so much that the driver earnings per hour actually went up, which was really amazing," said Uber San Francisco's General Manager Ilya Abyzov.

Uber is best known for the smartphone app that summons black town cars. Uber X calls Priuses and other hybrids priced about as cheaply as the ride sharing services Lyft and Sidecar.

Meanwhile, taxi drivers are watching their paychecks shrink.

"Oh, I would say it's down at least 25 percent, "said DeSoto Cab driver Ed Healy.

DeSoto just adopted Flywheel, an app that lets you call a taxi the same way you'd call one of the other ride-sharing services.

DeSoto Cab General Manager Athan Rebelos says it helps them get to customers faster.

"Waiting for a cab is not like it used to be, even 24 months ago," he said.

Flywheel's now in about half the taxis in San Francisco, but at DeSoto Cab it still only makes up about 10 percent of their total calls. Flywheel thinks they can do better. And to make it happen, they're giving away free taxi fare.

Cab drivers are handing out business cards worth ten dollars toward a taxi ride if you're a new Flywheel user. The makers of the app are footing the bill themselves.

"We're trying to get you in a cab. Give it a try; we're confident you'll be coming back. And that's actually what we've seen," said Flywheel CEO Steve Humphreys.

Flywheel is endorsed by San Francisco's transportation authority but Lyft, the ride sharing app with the pink mustaches, just got its own endorsement from Mayor Ed Lee.

He proclaimed a local holiday for the company's one year anniversary.

"The mayor's office in San Francisco has seen the long term value for Lyft to help make a city more community oriented, more affordable," said Lyft Co-Founder John Zimmer.

Lyft and Uber say they want to coexist with cabbies. Whether they're allowed to depends on a ruling by the California Public Utilities Commission. That ruling is expected any day.


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