City could subsidize wheelchair-accessible taxis

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

The City is proposing to subsidize the purchase and upkeep of taxi cabs equipped with wheelchair ramps, in a bid to restore service for the disability community across San Francisco.

The problem is stark, taxi industry insiders say.

The advance of ride-hail giants Uber and Lyft led to sharp declines in the taxi industry — that part of the story, many know. But a lesser-known fallout of the rise of tech-enabled rides is the decline of drivers behind the wheel of specially-equipped taxis for those who use wheelchairs.

As taxi drivers flee an ailing industry, so too have drivers for ramp-equipped taxis, leaving wheelchair-users largely unable to hail a cab. Uber and Lyft do not run ramp-equipped cars in large number, and have been sued by disability nonprofits for discrimination.

The decline of ramp taxi service is a chicken and the egg problem, said John Lazar, former owner of Luxor Cab, which specializes in disability-community service…

Hansu Kim, co-owner of Flywheel Taxi, said boosting ramp taxi service is not just a moral imperative, but also makes good business sense.

“It’s not as lucrative, but the taxi industry, by embracing paratransit services, is a focus other industries aren’t doing,” Kim said, referring to Uber and Lyft. And those new SFMTA incentives will do the trick. Kim said. “It gives me more incentive to put out these more expensive vehicles.”… (more)

San Francisco’s largest taxi company up for sale

By Ryan Levi : KQED – excerpt

The blows keep coming for San Francisco’s struggling taxi industry. The city’s largest taxi company, the bankrupt Yellow Cab Cooperative, is up for sale.

A series of large personal injury lawsuits against the company combined with the growing popularity of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft pushed Yellow Cab into financial insolvency.

Taxi operator CityWide has already submitted a bid to buy Yellow Cab and its 500 or so cabs. Flywheel, formerly DeSoto Cab, is expected to follow suit.

So what does this mean for the state of taxis in San Francisco? Is this a sign of darker days ahead? Or is it just part of the new ride-share reality?

Mark Gruberg drives for Green Cab and is a board member of the San Francisco Taxi Worker Alliance. Count him among those who see the Yellow Cab sale as particularly bad news.

“I think it’s a very dire warning to everybody else,” he said. “The loss of Yellow does not bode well for the rest of the industry.”

He’s worried about whether the rest of the city’s cabbies will be able to absorb the hundreds of taxi medallions that Yellow Cab is currently operating… (more)

Flywheel Taxi sues state, says cities should regulate Uber, Lyft

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

Flywheel Taxi has filed suit against state regulators, claiming the taxi industry is regulated unequally compared to its new technology cousins like Uber and Lyft.

The suit was filed U.S. District Court of Northern California on Sept. 23, but announced by litigant Flywheel Taxi late Friday.

“The fact is, I cannot compete against a company that plays by another set of rules,” said Hansu Kim, president of Flywheel Taxi.

Taxis and ride-hail apps like Uber play by two sets of standards, the suit argues. Taxis must have robust vehicle inspections, video surveillance to protect passengers, Department of Justice criminal background checks, in-person training, restrict vehicle carbon emissions, restrict vehicle mileage, be fully insured, and more.

But Uber and Lyft, by contrast, do not need to meet those same strict standards, the suit argues. Notably, Kim said, the taxi industry has taken on financial losses in the face of stiff competition from Uber, and Lyft.

Those technology companies are legally known as Transportation Network Companies, and are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, the regulator targeted by the suit.

The CPUC said it hadn’t yet seen the suit, and therefore could not yet comment. Uber and Lyft did not immediately return requests for comment.

Flywheel Taxi’s suit argues the uneven playing field between the old and new for-hire transit companies is a violation of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

It also claims those rules differ because two sets of regulators — cities and the state — regulate taxis and for-hire apps. The CPUC, a state entity, regulates Uber and Lyft. But city agencies across California, like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency regulate taxis.

“I’m all for the market determine the best service, but this is an unfair playing field,” Kim said… (more)

Phil Matier: San Francisco’s DeSoto Cab Company Ditches Longtime Name For Flywheel App

By Phil Matier : cbslocal – excerpt (audio track)

The oldest cab company in San Francisco is rebranding itself to keep up with its high-tech competition. After more than eight decades, DeSoto is hopping on board with Flywheel. Phil Matier reports. (2/18/15)… (more)

New paint job and billboard image, but they are keeping the standard cab prices instead of on-demand sliding scale.

DeSoto Cab Company Now Flywheel

wraltechwire – excerpt

A San Francisco taxi company is ditching its 82-year-old brand and renaming itself after a smartphone app in the latest sign of how mobile technology is changing the way people get a ride.

The transformation dumps DeSoto Cab’s Depression-era identity in favor of Flywheel, an app that helps traditional taxis compete against increasingly popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.

“We think we are pioneering the way taxi cabs need to be in the future,” DeSotoPresident Hansu Kim said in a Wednesday interview. “There is a perception that the taxi industry is backward so we need to recast ourselves as being technologically innovative.”

The newly minted Flywheel taxis will be owned and operated independently from the Flywheel app, which is made by a 6-year-old startup in Redwood City, California, a suburb located about 25 miles south of San Francisco… (more)

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SF cab company goes mobile in hopes of better competing with ride-hail apps
The move also represents the first fleet for any taxi-hailing app in the world, DeSoto President Hansu Kim told The San Francisco Examiner… (more)

Taxis in San Francisco are fighting back through apps, with the city’s blessing

by  Time – excerpt

Standing on the corner of California and Polk in San Francisco, I took out my phone and ordered a ride from Flywheel, an app that’s competing with rival transportation services like Uber and Lyft by leveraging the thousands of taxis already on the road. Like with those services, once I order a Flywheel ride, a map pops up with a car icon, showing me where my ride is in relation to me and allowing me to monitor the driver as he or she gets closer.

On this particular morning, as I watched multiple Lyfts go by (unmissable with their trademark giant pink mustaches attached to the cars’ grilles), and a couple Ubers (the black cars now identifiable by small logos that must be placed on their windows), my driver’s icon drifted away from me. After some minutes passed, I called the driver, who assured me he was on his way. When he continued to travel not towards me, I canceled the order and got a new Flywheel, which picked me up and promptly delivered me to the company’s San Francisco office, with my bill and a 20% tip paid automatically through the credit card I stored on the app.

Once at Flywheel, Chief Product Officer Sachin Kansal explained what had likely happened with my misguided driver. “He may have been ride-stacking,” Kansal explained, meaning that the driver accepted my order on the app and then took a street hail, thinking he could deliver the latter before I ever knew the difference. But the moment I canceled my ride, the driver’s plan was foiled. He would be blocked from the system until Flywheel investigated the case, and these did not appear to be circumstances that would yield quick forgiveness from administrators. Kansal made sure I knew how swiftly justice would be dealt, because this is not the kind of mistake companies can afford to treat lightly in the midst of the Great Ride App Wars…

Using apps like Flywheel is a way for taxis to fight fire with fire instead of tattling, however justified it might seem. Flywheel’s Kansal says that drivers may double the amount of rides they get in a shift through the efficiency that the system provides, matching people who need rides with nearby drivers. “There are weaknesses that others have. There are regulations that they may be breaking,” he says. “But 90% of our energy is spent on making sure this experience always stays top notch. That the experience that you had this morning never happens again.”…  (more)

 

 

SFMTA board offers support to third-party taxi hailing apps

After giving the green light last year for the development of an e-hailing app for all taxis in San Francisco, transit agency officials had no qualms about shifting gears Tuesday to focus on the data meant to enable the technology.

In addition, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board offered support for third-party hailing apps already in business. An independent company, Flywheel, already works with drivers from every city cab company on its e-hailing app and its ads will run on Muni buses starting in June, Chris Hayashi, head of taxis for the SFMTA, reported at Tuesday’s board meeting. The agency is open to promoting similar app services like Taxi Magic, she said.

For SFMTA board member Malcolm Heinicke, advertising for companies like Flywheel and Taxi Magic seemed like a “natural progression” of the e-hailing effort.

“Maybe it’s time to jump on the bandwagon and use some of this money to advertise to the community that there is this fleet and it’s bigger than Uber,” he said.

The SFMTA is now directing its efforts to importing cab location, occupancy and other data into its new software system originally acquired to develop the city-run app. It will then decide whether to proceed with its own app… (more)

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SFMTA may change corse wit development o’taxi haileeun’ app