To battle Uber, Flywheel is returning to the one advantage taxis have over the on-demand fleet: people can flag them down on the street.
In a market like San Francisco that is saturated with ridesharing startups, calling a car is as easy as opening an app and pressing a button. Flywheel, like Lyft and Uber, operates on the same premise, but the app summons an old-fashioned taxi instead of a pink-mustached Prius.
All of these on-demand services have a small wait time while the driver comes to your location. And while you wait, you watch a parade of black Ubers, red Flywheels and pink mustaches — some occupied, some empty — that you can’t hop into because your ride is somewhere en route.
It’s a trade-off that many people have already accepted: a few minutes delay for ease of payment and a car you can track.
Flywheel thinks its new “Pay by Flywheel” feature will give people the best of both worlds. The new feature, which the company is announcing Thursday, allows anyone to hail a passing cab on the street and then pull out their phone to pay.
“The premise is people walk into taxis constantly. You can’t do that with Uber, Lyft etc,” said Flywheel CEO Rakesh Mathur. “If you walk in front of a cab and it’s right there, why wouldn’t you get in?”
If a person hails a Flywheel cab, once their ride starts they can open up the app and pay. The phone’s GPS picks up the location and matches it to the route and GPS location of the cab, and the user confirms that they are in the correct cab number before they pay.
Right now, the cabs must be in the Flywheel network, so you can’t hail a yellow cab in New York and pay yet, but it does mean 85 per cent of cabs in San Francisco fit the bill, according to the company.
Thanks to a February partnership with San Francisco’s De Soto cabs, one in six cabs on the city’s streets are now painted Flywheel red, Mathur said. The on-demand taxi app is also in Seattle, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego and Portland, starting today, as well.
Expanding along the West coast is “low-hanging fruit”, he explained. A lot of business travellers are flying up and down the coast for work, so being able to use Flywheel in cities from Seattle to San Diego means consistency and repeat users, he explained.
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