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Apps Will Help Cabs Work More Like Uber, City Says

By Ted Cox | January 6, 2016 4:53pm
 A pair of new smartphone apps approved by the city are meant to give cabbies the same rider access enjoyed by upstart firms like Lyft.
A pair of new smartphone apps approved by the city are meant to give cabbies the same rider access enjoyed by upstart firms like Lyft.
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Justin Sullivan/Scott Olson

CITY HALL — The city has selected two smartphone apps to give riders the same access to taxis they already enjoy with upstart services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday Arro and Verifone won the competitive bidding process to provide a universal taxi app for all cab service in the city. They'll go head to head starting Feb. 1, and all of the city's 12,700 cabbies will be required to use one or the other.

"Chicago is a city that innovates, and in this spirit I am proud to announce that Chicago will become the first city with a universal taxi app,” Emanuel said in a statement released Wednesday. "With the new service, Chicago residents can expect to see improved rider experience and better access to taxis all across the city."

"These apps will create even more transportation options for Chicago residents while benefiting taxi drivers,” said Commissioner Maria Guerra Lapacek, head of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. "By mandating that taxi drivers participate, Chicago residents will have additional transportation options and will more easily connect with a nearby taxi through the use of their smartphones, resulting in more fares for taxi drivers."

David Kreisman, spokesman for the burgeoning Cab Drivers United union, called it "a tool badly needed by cab drivers whose incomes were decimated by the city’s double standard for regulating taxis and companies like Uber."

The city put out the project for bids last May, asking that applicants include secure payment options, estimated wait times and fare estimates, and in the end selected both Arro and Verifone to serve cabbies and riders.

“Arro, which will provide passengers with access to the largest network of taxicabs in Chicago, is fast becoming the people's and driver's choice throughout the country, offering safe, secure quick and reliable service with an honest metered rate,” said Arro founder Mike Epley.

"We are proud that Chicago has chosen Verifone’s Curb mobile hailing app and look forward to working closely with the city, its licensed taxi drivers and its medallion owners to make the universal app a success,” said Sanders Partee, head of Mobile Programs with Verifone Taxi Systems. "Verifone’s Curb is already connected to more than 4,000 vehicles in Chicago, the largest reach of any taxi-hailing app in the market."

Emanuel touted the apps as part of reforms intended to "level the playing field" between conventional taxis and upstart services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. He cited a 15 percent fare increase that took effect with the new year, reduced credit-card transaction fees and allowances for drivers to collect their own fees for advertising on their cars.

Even so, cabbies have complained the tradeoff is not worth giving up their exclusive access to the city's airports, granted to Uber and similar services at the end of last year.

"Any assertion that an app alone will level the playing field with Uber is ridiculous," Kreisman said. "The mayor gave Uber a sweetheart deal of unfettered access to the Chicago market with few of the costs or regulations imposed on cabs."

Kreisman called on the city to "put real resources into marketing these apps, making clear to consumers that they offer both the convenience of electronic hailing and the assurance of a safe ride from a professional, insured cab driver."
He added that the union "will keep pushing for real reform that requires all for-hire transportation providers to play by the same rules. That’s the only thing that will protect public safety and allow cab drivers a fair chance to compete."

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