Passengers looking to flag down a taxi can do so with the swipe of a finger on one of the many smartphone applications that have cropped up in recent years to replace the curbside ritual.
This week, the District gets another.
Hailo got its start in Europe before crossing into North America last September. After setting up shop in New York, Chicago, Toronto and Boston, the app goes live in D.C. today.
Hailo is also among the first “digital dispatch services” to comply with a new set of rules put in place by the D.C. Taxicab Commission as the regulatory body tries to keep pace with an industry that’s no longer fueled solely by cash for rides.
By the end of August, every cab in the District must accept credit card payments through an approved “payment service provider” that will funnel to the commission a 25-cent fee per ride as well as data about passengers’ travels.
Apps such as Hailo are required to work with the same payment service providers, even though many use their own technology to process payments, to ensure the commission receives the same fee and travel information, said Ron Linton, the commission’s chairman.
The commission also requires digital dispatch services to provide a list of their drivers and vehicles to ensure they’re properly licensed.
Hailo and a second application, called TaxiRadar, have already met the requirements. But others have vigorously opposed the rules as an unnecessary burden that could hinder their own software and make customer data vulnerable.
San Francisco-based Uber, which offers both taxi and upscale black car services, has been among the most vocal opponents. Rachel Holt, the company’s general manager in Washington, said the risk of fraud when a driver manually inputs meter information into its application and charges customers is no different than when a waiter adds a tip onto a credit card bill at a restaurant.
“I’m not sure what problem they’re trying to solve,” Holt said. “That’s the problem I have. I’m not sure what issue is trying to be solved except for one that’s being fabricated.”
To order a cab, a Hailo user selects his or her location on a map and pings nearby drivers. A driver accepts the request and arrives at the designated location in minutes. For the service, the app charges a $1.50 convenience fee. The company passes fares along to drivers within 24 hours of receiving the payment.
The company doesn’t employ its own drivers, but rather markets the app to existing cabbies as a way to keep their back seats full. Meanwhile, it bills itself to prospective passengers as a way to have a taxi ready before you even step onto the curb.
“Our marketing is really about building the highest, happiest engaged community of cab drivers in a city as we can. And when we’re ready ... only then do we launch with the consumers, so we nail that first-time experience,” chief executive Jay Bregman said.
A large fleet of satisfied drivers means more wheels on the road to grab passengers. To reach out, the company has established a center on Florida Avenue NW where drivers can socialize, grab a bottle of water and troubleshoot issues with the app. Hailo said it also regularly seeks feedback from users about improving the curb-to-curb experience.
“Just as in any business … it’s about meeting the customers’ needs in a way that sometimes they aren’t even expecting it,” said Tom Barr, Hailo’s president and chief operating officer for the United States.