In light of Uber’s abrupt entry and exit from the mobile platform space directed at improving the efficiency of the NYC yellow taxi market (taxis that must be hailed, no dispatching), other companies that have been grabbing headlines, albeit in the transportation section of the paper for having brought in millions of dollars of investor money, might well experience similar market headwinds, not to mention regulatory concerns here in NYC.
I have always been a bit confused about the Hailo model, which in effect seeks to convert yellow cabs into more of a livery type utility, whereby a rider can “call” (mobile request) a cab to be dispatched to a certain location. That notion flies in the face of how the industry has been structured for nearly a century. In NYC, those two domains, the hail and dispatch, have been divided to serve different rider behaviors for reasons that are both obvious and practical. And with recent events, or some may like to view them as successful failures, the idea that a business can be built on a mobile platform that is designed to facilitate a behavior that is counter to the real nature of the business, in this case it is the street hailed taxi cab market, is beyond my rational comprehension. But Hailo and Uber are not alone in thinking that there is an opportunity here. A small start up , ZabKab, has garnered some attention and they too think there is some wiggle room here. However, they are a bit more tactful in their approach to seed this concept — they seem to dance around the regulatory rhetoric by saying that their app simply allows yellow cab drivers to know if there is someone, somewhere, already “waiting” on the street attempting to hail (really more like finishing up dinner at a restaurant or preparing to leave a party) but happen to be doing it a few blocks away, out of the direct sight line of the cab driver. And it’s ZabKab’s app that will allow the cabby greater visibility over the urban landscape to locate would be riders who have chosen to broadcast their location to all yellow cabs in the area.
I am certainly curious to see how this plays out, but if Uber’s foray is any indication, those who are looking to tackle the yellow cab market with smart technologies may need to take a serious look at which components of the system are amenable to change and which ones are fundamentally immovable.