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What's the difference between Hailo and Uber taxi?

There are two new apps in town both designed to make hailing a cab (something I daresay wasn't that hard in the first place) a little bit easier. As someone new to smartphones - I've barely had my iPhone 4S two months and my last cell was a Nokia thing with an LCD display - I feel I'm more than qualified to mash my fingers on the screen in an attempt to make a car come to me, wirelessly!

So, first impressions. I downloaded both Hailo and Uber and began the configuration process. Both were extremely similar: enter my name, email, and credit card details. Plus points for Uber, though, which let me scan my card like a QR code instead of punching in the numbers like some sort of neanderthal.

Registration complete, both apps presented me with the home screen. Hailo shows my current location and a little counter telling me how many minutes away the nearest car is to me. Uber gives me a similar screen but the app also allows me to see on the map the nearest taxi, "black" and SUV. In Uber, both taxi and SUV options were temporarily unavailable so I had to select the more expensive black option, though it wasn't entirely clear what it was (for the uninitiated, it's a sleek, four-seater sedan).

At this stage, on the surface, both are almost identical. Some helpful souls in the

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App Store comments' section left promo codes for Uber which gave me $10 credit. A quick Google search scored me a $5 off coupon for Hailo. In just a couple of minutes I'm ready to summon a driver to my door. Both apps use GPS to find me though I can drag the marker to a different location if necessary.Behind the scenes is where Hailo and Uber differ. Though they both seem to offer similar services, Uber offers a selection of luxury vehicles for the style conscious metro traveler. Hailo sticks to regular cabs and seems to work best for people who need a quick ride.

Both companies make allowances for tips: Hailo lets you set an automatic tip while Uber builds the cost of gratuity into the fare and pays the driver at the end of each week with their regular pay packet. Both make it possible for me to order and pay for a journey without reaching for my wallet or lifting a receiver.

Hailo charges a city standard $4.25 minimum fare plus the cost on the meter. At the end of the journey, the cost is automatically tallied up and billed to my credit card on file (ye olde cash is also accepted). Uber operates in a similar way, charging the flat fee for the pick-up plus the meter. A minimum fare of $15 applies for sedans and the company charges $30 minimum plus a $15 surcharge for SUVs. Cancellations cost $10 with Uber and $5 with Hailo.

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A document circulated recently by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association - a trade group with a vested interest in keeping taxi services in the telephone era - suggested apps like Uber are placing passengers at risk by operating without the safeguards provided by traditional dispatchers.

"All of our drivers are licensed taxi drivers or licensed limosine drivers by the City of Toronto, and all the cities we operate in," says Andrew McDonald, the GM of Uber Toronto. "They're fully insured ... and we also check their vehicle registration. All of these things make them licensed to drive in Toronto. The same way a taxi driver picks up a street hail on the side of the road, the passenger is not at risk."

McDonald says the drivers in the Uber pool are freelancers and free to accept jobs from the company as they choose. The software is designed so drivers can pick up fares around their regular schedule. In response to the TLPA's claims that Uber absolves itself of liability in the small print, McDonald likens the company to Expedia selling Air Canada flights. "[They're] not going to assume all responsibility for what happens on your vacation."

In contrast, Hailo is a fully-licensed dispatch company.

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So, bottom line. Both Hailo and Uber are a cinch to use and really quite intuitive to set up and navigate. For my money, Hailo has a slight edge in terms of presentation, though neither are unsightly. If you need to arrive in style, use Uber and book a black sedan or SUV. People like me will probably be fine with Hailo or the taxi option in Uber.

Right now, Uber operates in more cities in Europe and North America which will be useful if you're a frequent traveler and don't want to spend time in local telephone directories. Hailo, at present, is also available in London, New York, Dublin, Chicago, and Boston. For wheelchair users, Hailo promises an accessible vehicle option soon. In the meantime, the app lets users call the driver with any special requests.

Whichever company you choose you'll get a sense that this is the future. It can't be long before many more of our daily tasks are streamlined by smartphones. Now, if there was an app to bring me dinner from my favorite restaurant and a decent bottle of wine.

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