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The city cab app

Meet Arro.

Houston’s fractured taxi market is headed toward a rare bit of unity, with a push by the city toward how people hail cabs in the 21st century.

As the taxi and limo industry adjusts to new ways of doing business, under intense competition from firms like Uber, city officials plan to consolidate dispatching via a private smartphone app in an attempt to buoy travel options for visitors and residents.

Citing a need to better use the nearly 4,000 taxi and limo permits across roughly 9,000 drivers, city officials announced Monday that Arro, a company already combining dispatch in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, will develop a universal taxi app for Houston’s 146 taxi companies.

“We’re excited to bring the taxi industry, fully, into the digital age,” said Tina Paez, director of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.

Cab and limo companies encouraged the city to develop something to even the playing field with Uber, which has dominated the ride market since arriving legally in Houston in November 2014.

“I think you will have people come to rely on faster cab service than they do now,” said Duane Kamins, owner of Lone Star Cab Company.

The app would mean all cabs could be hailed based on who’s closest, breaking the taxi reliance on downtown cab stands and airport trips that leads to bunching of vehicles and a lack of available rides in other neighborhoods. The app also provides an emergency scenario, should Uber – which opposes some of Houston’s regulations – bail right before thousands descend for the Super Bowl.

City Council is expected to discuss the app at its meeting next week.

Starting with consolidating taxi companies into a single online dispatch system, the app will eventually expand to include other features such as transit schedules, real-time traffic information and bike sharing information.

Council member Michael Kubosh, however, questioned at a Monday committee meeting why the city was entering into the app business – or even encouraging a vendor to jump in.

“If you want government intervention and you all are holding hands singing Kumbaya, I will vote for your government intervention,” Kubosh said.

No taxpayer money will be used to develop or advertise the app, though city staff will guide the process with Arro, and elected officials could devote time to promoting it.

I don’t see any problem with the city’s involvement, especially given the other features mentioned. Cabs remain a regulated utility, so there’s a pretty good argument to be made that the city should get make this kind of investment. The concerns CM Greg Travis raised about Arro’s app receiving mediocre user ratings are more worrisome, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s a good idea, and it brings independent cabbies into the fold as well. Let’s see what the beta version looks like and go from there.

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2 Comments

  1. Joshua ben bullard says:

    So everybody is going to be forced to pay 3rd party companies from our airports and our hotels instead of just self boarding themselves 8 ft away,Turner should change allll taxi zones to fully Integrated vehicle for hire zones so people aren’t forced to pay app fees when they don’t need to pay them at our airports, downtown, and hotels, its crazzzy to force every person pay one of 2 men every time you hire uber/or taxi,u should be able to pay your driver direct at our airports, hotels,and downtown so Houstonians can put that money back on their kitchen table,there is not 147 taxi companies in Houston -there are 3 men that own every taxi “medallion” that Houstonians don’t want to pay anymore kuffner,so now turner is going to encourage you to app an old taxi at a higher price than uber-i say the app is dead on arrival, no doubt in it.open entry the market Sylvester. Allow Houstonians to pay their driver [email protected] stadium. Its laughable that their are 20,000 fans having to leave NRG stadium and pay one man 29% extra to uber ,when Sylvester could put a vehicle for hire zone on the stadium grounds,lower the price below app fees .its genius. Mayor Turner should stop accepting right to labor fees via campaign contributions from Big Taxi and open the market,abolish taxi medallions and #freehouston.

  2. Me says:

    This is all very interesting, but it still misses the critical point.

    Even if taxis do get their own “app,” and even if a city decides to intervene, the TNCs still have a back-breaking advantage, and nobody even seems to notice.

    Yes, it’s that cost-per-vehicle thing. TNCs can put a car and driver on the road for less than a couple of hundred dollars (not counting the bribe–er, “subsidy”). It costs taxis thousands of dollars for each and every car.

    At least in California, TNCs aren’t limited in the number of cars they can employ. The number of taxis is indeed capped in many communities, and almost all communities have that option.

    If the TNCs can have as many cars on the road as they want, and if it costs them next to nothing to put twice that many out at any given time, how long before the taxis start to lose ground? The name of the game, after all, is customer service–i.e., response time to a request for service. There are other factors, too, but sooner or later the cost per car will overshadow everything else.