App-Mazing Race

July 19, 2013

An outstretched arm and a couple of fingers can still hail a cab. But apps keep promising that smartphones can do it better — for a tiny fee. With Hailo, yet another taxi-hailing app, debuting in D.C. last week, we figured it was time to put the technology to the test, “Amazing Race”-style. We downloaded apps, typed in our credit-card info and readied our stopwatches to see who’d be the first to complete two trips: one at 6:19 p.m. Monday from The Washington Post (at 1150 15th St. NW) to U Street, and another at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday from the corner of L and Third streets SE back to The Post. Here’s how we fared. Written by Jennifer Barger, Sadie Dingfelder, Vicky Hallett, Beth Marlowe, Holly J. Morris and Fiona Zublin

Curb Hailing

Just wave your arm like crazy
Unlike the app-users in our race, the competitors hailing taxis by hand were allowed to walk or run from the starting point to whatever location was most conducive to cab-catching.

Trip #1
Response time (in minutes): 1:25
Total time: 7:00
Experience: While the other competitors were still poking at their phones in the Post lobby, I was in a cab and on my way. The only downside was having to wait on U Street for my colleagues to show, but it gave me time to think of taunts (“You know moving in slow motion doesn’t ACTUALLY make it any easier to defeat your enemies, right?”). Fare breakdown: $5.40 (meter), $1.60 (tip). Total: $7. F.Z.

Trip #2
Response time: 7:05
Total time: 24:34
Experience: After walking a few blocks back to the Navy Yard Metro station, I snagged a cab after about five minutes of arm-flailing. The garden-variety vehicle was stuffy and the driver sullen, which, happily for this shy rider, meant no chit-chat. I assumed my colleagues had obtained cabs much faster than I, so I was shocked to find myself the second person to reach the office. Fare breakdown: $12.13 (meter), $2.87 (tip). Total: $15. H.J.M.

Best for Technophobes
This cheap, fast mode of travel requires no phone, just a willingness to brave such inconveniences as standing outside on a street. Which didn’t seem inconvenient before we had apps.

Hailo

App Store, Google Play
The British import that had its local launch last week is the first app to win approval from the D.C. Taxicab Commission, so it won’t be shutting down — like Uber has threatened to do. You can’t miss its bright yellow HQ on Florida Avenue. V.H.

Trip #1
Response time (in minutes): 19:33
Total time: 27:58
Experience: A banner on my iPhone said I could get a cab in six minutes, but a box broke bad news: “We’re really sorry. We couldn’t get you a taxi.” After another fail, I tapped the “nearest taxi stand” option — which didn’t show the one across the street. Wandering west, I tried once more. And Jonathan (who also drives for Uber) was on his way! Autotip was set at 20 percent. He earned it. Fare breakdown: $6.78 (meter), $1.36 (tip), $1.50 (fee). Total: $9.64.

Trip #2
Response time: 9:16
Total time: 28:15
Experience: After my last-place finish in Test 1, I was psyched to get a snappy confirmation from Daniel — though it took him longer to arrive than predicted. (A slow-moving taxi icon clued me in that he’d be late, and I called him to find out what was up.) This was his first Hailo fare, so there were a couple of hiccups: He forgot to tell the app the trip had begun, and it took time to make sure he’d processed payment correctly. Fare breakdown: $14.07 (meter), $2.81 (tip), $1.50 (fee). Total: $18.38.

Best for App Newbies
Hailo is still figuring things out, and so are you! There are lots of free- credit promos on Twitter. Once Hailo works through its growing pains, maybe it’ll seem more heaven-sent.

mytaxi

App Store, Google Play, BlackBerry World
After taking Germany by storm, mytaxi raced here in October. Unlike other apps, it passes on its fee to drivers instead of passengers, it lets you pay with cash (or credit via the app), and it displays car2go spots for those times you’d rather drive yourself. J.B.

Trip #1
Response time (in minutes): 3:20
Total time: 12:31
Experience: Mytaxi marked my spot with its cute logo (a yellow X sticking out its “hand”) and, within a minute, showed me a photo of my driver Muhammad, who called to say he was on his way. Rush-hour traffic slowed our journey, but we still managed to beat everyone except the curb hailer. When it was time to pay, the driver encouraged me to go for cash. Instead, I paid credit through my iPhone. Fare breakdown: $8.24 (meter), $2 (tip). Total: $10.24.

Trip #2
Wait time: 20:13
Experience: Roasting on the unfamiliar corner, I confidently punched in my coordinates and watched that X logo spring up again. The map was dotted with yellow question marks indicating member taxis that might pick me up (all pretty far afield), but there was no friendly driver-photo this time. After three minutes, a screen came up that read, “We’re sorry that we haven’t found you a taxi.” I went through this process two more times, then gave up and walked to the Metro.

Best for Downtowners
Response was Man-of-Steel quick for Test 1, but even Muhammad said, “I only answer calls if it’s convenient.” Try mytaxi from a less-trafficked spot, and you might get stranded.

Taxi Magic

App Store, Google Play
Taxi Magic, which has been around since way back in 2008, bills itself as the national taxi app — you can use it for taxi fleets in 60 U.S. cities. It doesn’t communicate with the meter, so you manually type in the fare (and tip) to pay by phone. S.D.

Trip #1
Response time (in minutes): 15:51
Total time: 21:50
Experience: After several attempts at putting in my location and destination on my Nexus 4, the app claimed to be calling my cab. Then a box said: “Taxi Magic is not available.” It vanished and was replaced with a map showing a cab near Foggy Bottom. Minutes ticked by. The cab icon didn’t move. My phone rang, but I couldn’t hear the caller. Then the cab magically arrived. Fare breakdown: $7.43 (meter), $1.57 (tip), $1.50 (fee). Total: $10.50.

Trip #2
Response time: 21:59
Total time: 34:08
Experience: While I waited for my cab to materialize, two taxis, a pedestrian and a cop stopped to see if I needed help. For the first nine minutes, I watched a “calling your cab” screen. I canceled that cab, resubmitted my request, waited five more minutes and then canceled that cab, too. Midway through my third try, I got a message saying my cab had been dispatched. The app then crashed, but my cab still came. Fare breakdown: $14 (meter), $2 (tip), $1.50 (fee). Total: $17.50.

Best for Mystery Fans
Taxi Magic may crash or say it has canceled your request, and then conjure up a cab anyway. Despite the plot twists during both trips, I eventually got where I was headed.

Uber

App Store, Google Play

Uber’s fans are so devoted they’ve repeatedly lobbied the D.C. government to keep cab regulations Uber-friendly. The company keeps its users’ unshakable ardor alive with such new features as fare-splitting.

Trip #1
Response time (in minutes): 8:15
Total time: 14:39
Experience: My partner and I decided to give fare-splitting a go, eliminating the need for one of us to pay the other back with cash. Eww, cash. I had Uber split the fare, chose my buddy from my contact list and sent her an invite; she got a text enjoining her to open or download Uber. Scrooge warning: The fare didn’t divide evenly and I had to pay the extra penny. Fare breakdown: $6.24 (meter), $1.25 (tip), $2 (fee). Total: $9.49. ($4.75 and $4.74) H.J.M.

Trip #2
Response time: 4:41
Total time: 19:04
Experience: Instantly, Uber alerted me that Abdul would be there in seven minutes. He made it in 3½. I’d accidentally set my address down the block — it’s tricky to aim the blue locator pin on my iPhone — so he called to confirm where I was. I told him I was on the corner and waved as he slowed to a stop, and then I hopped into the clean, brand-new cab. (Abdul said I was the car’s first passenger.) I was the first one back to work. Fare breakdown: $12.45 (meter), $2.49 (tip), $2 (fee). Total: $16.94. B.M.

Best for Lazy People
Those who prefer doing as little as possible should enjoy Uber, which now doesn’t even require math skills. And the impressive showing in both tests makes Uber a no-brainer.

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