NEW YORK IS launching the Uber of taxis.
Insiders of the city’s taxi industry are finally launching an app that lets users hail cabs and pay for rides using a smartphone. It’s such a great idea you have to wonder what took so long.
The app is called Arro and, as first reported by Crain’s, it’s in beta testing with 7,000 New York City cabs and could launch within weeks. Here’s how it works: A user launches the app, which gives a nearby cabbie the passenger’s name, pickup address, and cross street. The user, meanwhile, gets the driver’s name and ID number. The app saves credit card info, letting passengers pay the metered fare and tip automatically. Another advantage is no surge pricing; the app developers told Crain’s that fares always will be meter-based.
Arro comes as on-demand ride companies like Uber and Lyft are getting a lot of attention for their impact on public transit. It is largely taken as gospel that the taxi industry’s taken a major hit from the growth of these services. New York’s Taxi & Limousine Commission has seen a dramatic drop in the price of taxi medallions and an increase in foreclosures for medallion owners. Uber and its ilk have dinged other forms of transit too. Just this week, Uber admitted it is testing Smart Routes in San Francisco that let drivers pick up and drop off passengers on specific routes—something that would appear to encroach on bus services. That has some worried that might make the city less likely to invest in mass transit.
But as much as people like to denounce on-demand ride services, the truth is they are far more convenient and much less constrained than public transit. As my colleague Alex Davies noted earlier this year, private transportation models can be successful because they need not please everyone. They also have greater latitude to innovate, which can lead to leaps forward like paying via smartphone. Arro appears to be an effort to bring to the taxi industry a level of service and convenience many people now take for granted.
New York has some 20,000 taxis, but Arro’s partnership with Creative Mobile Technologies limits the service to just a portion of them. Still, the startup reportedly is working on a deal with VeriFone Systems, which would add more taxis. And if all goes well in New York, Arro plans to launch in other cities, including San Francisco, Boston and Washington DC.