Last Friday I was feeling lazy and running late. Normally I would’ve taken the subway, but instead I hailed a cab (which took forever to find) to the Harlem 125th train station and waited so long for my credit card to process my $10 trip that I ended up missing my train. This wouldn’t have happened had I been using Hailo, a London-based smartphone app that uses GPS technology to connect taxi drivers with people looking for a cab.
Thursday the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission approved a one-year pilot program for “e-hailing” taxis. Toronto, San Francisco, Dublin, Tokyo, and London (to name a few cities) have all employed such technology with favorable results. It may seem unbelievable during the hours of 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. in the city when the streets are packed with arms shooting into the air, frantically trying to hail off-duty cabs, but according to Melissa Pault a New York City taxi driver, (and New York Times contributor) 40% of a 12-hour shift for a driver can be spent without passengers. This means close to five hours of drivers not only not making any money but actively losing money on gas and cab rental fees.
Hailo works by allowing a user to open the app on their phone and click on a “pick me up here” button located on the bottom of the screen. The closest driver who is a registered Hailo user receives an alert; if the driver already has a passenger they can opt to skip the request, which automatically sends it to the next closet driver. When a driver agrees to pick you up a notification is sent back to the original smartphone with an ETA and the number of the taxi(to avoid confusion or competition should another cab arrive sooner). This should take anywhere from 2 to 9 minutes. The driver and the passenger have the option to rate each other which encourages normal human courtesy and generous tips and discourages the dreaded “I don’t go there” when you tell a cab you’re going to Brooklyn — it’s just over the bridge I’ll direct you from there …
Taxi drivers and passengers are enthusiastic about bringing Hailo (or one of its competitors Uber which began its service in NYC a few months ago and was forced to halt) to New York City, but the city does have a fairly strict “no prearranged rides” policy and many livery companies (black cabs) are using this as ammunition that Hailo should not be allowed. Pault mentions that hypocritically black car companies, “have developed their own smartphone apps that allow for extremely speedy responses to customer car-requests, in order to compete more directly with the speed of response of taxis using the conventional street hail.” Uber and Hailo have developed apps for specifically for black cabs which have historically required an advanced reservation.
Thursday afternoon, Uber was reapproved for use in New York. Hailo is likely just days away. The Hailo website even has a spot to enter your email address if you want to be notified “when Hailo launches in New York,” not if. For now it seems like everyone wins but it will be interesting to see what the competition between the different apps spawns. Some have also voiced concern that a portion of the tip intended for the driver will actually go to the company. The biggest perks of the technology for me is that these services have a very effective lost and found system that emails a receipt including the driver’s number should you leave something behind. Founder Russell Hall has been quoted saying that the London service returns items at least thirteen items a week. Had Hailo come sooner, not only would I have made my train last Friday, but my old license, two wallets, my first cell phone and about 12 of my scarves wouldn’t be driving around the city having journeys all their own.