Taxinow app iPhone

Will new app change the way we hail cabs?

Launched in Vancouver last December, TaxiNow is a free iPhone app and website (an Android app is in development) designed to improve the experience of hailing a cab. The concept is pretty simple: instead of calling a central dispatch or hunting from the curb, passengers request cabs via the app itself, which, thanks to GPS technology, shows where nearby taxis are located and tracks their progress to the user's location.

Sounds pretty good. Although I get pretty consistent service when I currently order taxis, it'd be nice to have a better idea of their actual arrival time than the standard "10 minutes" that I'm always quoted. I always find myself waiting outside at the three or four minute mark because I hate having to make the driver get out and bang on my door.

Plenty of apps work well in theory, however — the biggest challenge that faces TaxiNow is signing up drivers to the program. If the company can't attract a minimum number of taxis, the added features on offer won't be worth much. To find out more about the app and its recent arrival to the Toronto market, I caught up with TaxiNow founder Jamie Sutherland via email.

You've already launched the app in Vancouver. How's it been received there?

We launched TaxiNow in December 2010 in Vancouver and the overwhelming response by drivers and passengers has been positive. Downloads continue to increase, and we now have over 200 drivers using TaxiNow. We are connecting passengers and drivers regularly. While the vast majority of our customers are in Vancouver and Toronto, we are getting downloads all over the world.

How many drivers do you think you need on board in a city like Toronto to make TaxiNow an attractive alternative to the dispatch system already in place at major cab companies like Beck and Diamond?

Just by sheer volume of taxi usage, we believe there is an even greater opportunity in Toronto [than Vancouver]. There are roughly 10,000 licensed taxi drivers in Toronto and over 2,300 of these drivers operate under a Standard License or an Ambassador license which are not associated with a taxi brokerage. They are essentially independent, owner-operated drivers that don't have access to centralized dispatch. TaxiNow provides access to every single licensed driver which will could make us the single, largest "taxi driver fleet" in Toronto and across all of Canada for that matter.

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For the most part, I've received pretty consistent service when calling Toronto cab companies. What are the advantages TaxiNow offers to someone like me who's mostly satisfied with the current system?

While we solve a similar problem of getting a passenger a taxi, we are very different from a major taxi company. The first reason we are different is our proprietary auto-dispatch system. This is truly an amazing system and the first of its kind in Canada to our knowledge. It allows passengers to hail the closest taxi regardless of taxi company. To explain why this is such a great system, one needs to understand the problems and frustrations that passengers currently experience when hailing a taxi.

Problem: Passengers are frustrated by having to wait on hold when they call a taxi company. Solution: We solve this problem by providing a visual of all the closest taxis and the ability to hail instantaneously with one click. There is no waiting on hold.

Problem: Passengers are frustrated when a taxi takes longer than expected or doesn't show up at all. Solution: We solve this by providing a visual of a taxi driving towards the passenger's pick-up location. The passenger can watch the taxi drive the whole way providing total peace of mind.

Problem: Passengers are frustrated when they simply just can't get a taxi. Solution: We solve this by allowing all licensed taxi drivers to use TaxiNow regardless of taxi company. Imagine every available taxi driver made visible to passengers. The passenger can hail the closest taxi without having to call four or five different cab companies.

The second great feature in TaxiNow that makes us different from taxi companies is our comprehensive cross-Canada taxi phone number listing. With one click, passengers can view the phone numbers of the top five closest cab companies based on their GPS location. You no longer have to fumble to find local taxi numbers using Google search [Eds. Note: 416TAXICAB provides one central number for Toronto cab companies, but requires a bit of internal navigation to connect with one's company of choice]. We've also heard that travellers love TaxiNow because they only have to remember one thing to get a cab anywhere in Canada...just open up the TaxiNow app.

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How does the cab driver receive notification of a call? Can this be done in a hands free capacity?

With the proprietary auto-dispatch system, a driver receives a notification when a passenger sends a request for a taxi. The request provides information on the passenger's name, pick-up location, and a short optional description. The driver has the option of accepting or rejecting the request.

Yes, this can be done hands free. Taxi drivers typically have smartphone mounts in their cabs similar to regular dispatch systems.

The app is currently free. Is the plan to keep it that way?

Yes, it's completely free for passengers and drivers. Right now we are laser-focused on creating the best possible experience for passengers and drivers. We are researching revenue opportunities, but for now we are set on creating the most amazing experience for hailing a taxi.

Lead photo by dileeps in the blogTO Flickr pool.


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