DCTC Spends $500,000 for Taxi App - Allegedly to Help Over-regulated Taxicabs Compete with Unregulated Uber

by Sean Riley

[Wash Post

A taxi is now just one tap away in the District.

The new D.C. Taxi app lets you hail a cab through your smartphone almost in the same way you request an Uber or Lyft — and it brings the taxi industry into the digital age by essentially ending the need for you to stand at the corner of the street waving at every taxi that passes by.

The D.C. Taxicab Commission has invested nearly a half-million dollars to get the app up and running and in the process help the taxi industry be more competitive in the Uber era. It’s available for both iPhone and Android phones.

“We think providing the technology platform gives them more than a fighting chance,” commission Chairman Ernest Chrappah said.  “The app is critical. [It] eliminates a barrier. I can now connect to the driver electronically.”

In the interest of fair competition and consumer choice, Chrappah said the commission is taking a leading role to get the industry to reinvent itself and into a position for growth in the digital space. The commission regulates the city’s taxis as well as other vehicles for hire services such as Uber and Lyft.

The app is the latest effort to aid taxi drivers confront rising customer expectations and new technologies such as Uber. Drivers across the U.S. and in the Washington region have said that the most pressing need is to modernize to stay competitive. The app also comes after years of government reforms that aim to modernize the industry, including requirements that D.C. cabs accept credit cards, install new dome lights and shift to a uniform red-and-gray color scheme.

All D.C. licensed taxis– about 6,500 decals registered– are expected to be connected to the app, officials say.

The app gives riders the option to choose from a regular, a large or a wheelchair-accessible taxi. You can see a fare and a time estimate before you hail the cab.  Once you tap “hail,” the closest cab to you is dispatched to pick you up. When the driver gets there, you can choose to pay through the app or swipe your credit card in the vehicle.

The initiative so far has cost $479,000, including project management, market research, design, agile development, programming, APIs, testing, licenses, hosting, training, and user support.