The D.C. Taxicab Commission has invested nearly a half-million dollars to get the app up and running and in the process help the taxi industry be more competitive in the Uber era. It’s available for both iPhone and Android phones.
“We think providing the technology platform gives them more than a fighting chance,” commission Chairman Ernest Chrappah said. “The app is critical. [It] eliminates a barrier. I can now connect to the driver electronically.”
In the interest of fair competition and consumer choice, Chrappah said the commission is taking a leading role to get the industry to reinvent itself and into a position for growth in the digital space. The commission regulates the city’s taxis as well as other vehicles for hire services such as Uber and Lyft.
The app is the latest effort to aid taxi drivers confront rising customer expectations and new technologies such as Uber. Drivers across the U.S. and in the Washington region have said that the most pressing need is to modernize to stay competitive. The app also comes after years of government reforms that aim to modernize the industry, including requirements that D.C. cabs accept credit cards, install new dome lights and shift to a uniform red-and-gray color scheme.
All D.C. licensed taxis– about 6,500 decals registered– are expected to be connected to the app, officials say.
The app gives riders the option to choose from a regular, a large or a wheelchair-accessible taxi. You can see a fare and a time estimate before you hail the cab. Once you tap “hail,” the closest cab to you is dispatched to pick you up. When the driver gets there, you can choose to pay through the app or swipe your credit card in the vehicle.
Drivers have to download the app on their phones now but eventually the commission plans to have the technology integrated to the system that already exists in their vehicle.
“Drivers see the app as a tool they can use to provide customers the service they desire,” said Royale Simms, a union leader that represents taxis drivers associated with the Teamsters.
Riders say they like having the new option. Carol Tyson, a regular cab user and an advocate for more transportation options for people with disabilities, said she’s used the app to hail a cab when there were none at L’Enfant Plaza on a recent Sunday.
“I thought it was great. I asked for a sedan and it came in minutes. The driver called me ahead of time just to check in,” she said. “I am especially grateful that the app has a wheelchair accessible option that’s right there on the first screen and you don’t have to put in any special codes or anything like that. It really highlights some prioritizing in making sure that there’s transportation for everybody in the District.”
The integration of the technology is a logical step for the taxi industry as data suggests that only a very small portion of trips in the District are done through dispatch services, Chrappah said. And, in the world of car-for-hire, most of the growth is in digitally-arranged trips.
The free app has been in testing mode since late December, but is now available in the App store.
Chrappah said he envisions the integration of other vehicle for hire services to give consumers all the options available to them in one platform. For example, a resident would be able to choose between ordering a taxi, an Uber or a limo service within the same app.
The initiative so far has cost $479,000, including project management, market research, design, agile development, programming, APIs, testing, licenses, hosting, training, and user support.