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PocketCab

Austin isn’t the only city with rideshare innovation happening.

Sugar Land-based PocketCab LLC plans to fill the potential void with a new dispatch app for taxi and limousine companies if Uber does decide to leave the Houston market.

PocketCab works similarly to on-demand services today except that it pulls from independent limo and taxi drivers, not someone looking to use their own vehicle for brief periods like as in San Francisco-based Uber Inc.’s platform. Taxi drivers that don’t lease their vehicles from a large company like Yellow Cab struggle in today’s technology-driven industry and need a place to pick up more rides besides a cab stand at the airport, said Edmund Samora, CEO of PocketCab.

“Taxis need to get on a central dispatch system,” Samora told the HBJ. “Individually, they’ll never be found.

[…]

To list as a driver on the service, PocketCab charges about 10 percent of a drivers earnings, Samora said. The company wants to become the app for the city of Houston, which had previously said it wants to launch an app before the Super Bowl in 2017, but PocketCab will still launch in Houston regardless if it’s awarded the city contract or not, Sinhasane said.

Here’s their website and Facebook page. They’ve been operating in Houston since last October, and this story is as much about their joint venture with MobiSoft to improve their app platform as it is about their goals for Houston. I just like to keep track of this sort of thing, to remind us all that there are and will be other options out there.

And on that note:

When Michael Leto heard the news last month that Uber and Lyft were pulling out of Austin, Texas, because of an ordinance regarding driver background checks, he hopped on the first flight there. As the CEO of a Phoenix-based ride-hailing company called Fare, Leto saw an opportunity too good to pass up.

Leto arrived in Austin on a Monday afternoon, met with the mayor on Tuesday and got approval to operate in the city the following Friday. In Fare’s first two weeks there, the company had already paid nearly 1,300 drivers for roughly 20,000 trips. The business in Austin is so good, Leto said, he’s planning on moving his company headquarters there.

For smaller ride-hailing companies like Fare, the prospect of a suddenly wide-open marketplace — one without the 800-pound gorillas of Lyft and Uber in a city full of drivers and riders already accustomed to the concept of ride-sharing — is an unprecedented business opportunity. The scramble to build the “next Uber” in Austin has been rapid. With more than 900,000 residents, a huge university, active nightlife and a tech-savvy workforce, Austin represents an ideal test bed for new tech services.

Since Uber and Lyft left Austin, half a dozen ride-sharing operators have secured the city’s permission to operate, and a soon-to-launch nonprofit is likely to join the list soon. Another company is linking people to rides on a Facebook group while it perfects its peer-to-peer technology.

“You think about competing with multibillion-dollar companies, and then you show up in a city where all of the infrastructure and training have already been done,” said Leto. “It’s been quite a nice transition for us to come to Austin.”

[…]

Austin marks the first place where the public, which Uber often rallies to its side against regulators and policymakers, rejected its policies. Now it could also be the place that shows whether Uber and Lyft are indispensable.

So far, though, it’s unclear how exactly the companies’ departure will impact Austin residents. Demand for rides right now is typically lower than at other times of year. The spring semester for the University of Texas, which enrolls 51,000 students, ended the day before the vote, leaving fewer potential passengers in town. Tourism season hasn’t kicked into high gear yet, and some of the city’s largest draws won’t occur for months — including the Austin City Limits music festival, which begins in September, and South by Southwest, slated for next spring.

For the drivers — many of whom lost their livelihoods when Uber and Lyft left — the city has worked to help them bounce back. It’s held a job fair to match drivers with new companies and helped set up a hotline to assist former Uber and Lyft drivers in finding work or getting services like unemployment.

“Uber and Lyft left their drivers, in particular, and their riders, in the lurch,” said Councilmember Ann Kitchen, who heads the city council committee that drafted the safety rules for ride-hailing companies.

The city can’t favor any of the companies, but it has offered services for all of the drivers and companies that have shown interest.

Kitchen also said that the surge of companies applying to operate in Austin shows that the ordinance is not overly restrictive.

“We always said that Austin is a great market, and we expected there to be TNCs [transportation network companies] that wanted to come to Austin that would operate within the public safety values and requirements of the community,” she said. “That’s what all of these TNCs are doing.”

Not that that’s likely to cool anyone’s ardor for overriding local ordinances via the Legislature, but it is an interesting counter-narrative anyway. And don’t we usually celebrate when a company relocates its headquarters to Texas? That wouldn’t have happened here had it not been for Austin’s ordinance and the Prop 1 election. Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

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One Comment

  1. Joshua ben bullard says:

    The biggest challenge any company will have in Houston is getting the citizens to pay a lot more for the taxi medallion usage instead of uber/get me that operate free from market entry limitations and pass that savings on to the rider,in lay terms,as long as there are limits on market entry for taxis ,the app is dead on arrival, and every market has met this fate.