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Yellow Cab among last holdouts after Flywheel threatens to drop taxi companies from app

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Taxis wait along Fourth Street to load passengers outside the Marriott Marquis Hotel. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Less than a week after owners of the Uber-like taxi app Flywheel threatened to kick half of The City’s cabbies off their digital platform if they didn’t improve, cab companies are in talks with Flywheel to stay on the app.

Flywheel has agreed to allow many San Francisco cabbies to continue using the taxi-hailing software — except for drivers at its largest competitor, Yellow Cab, and a handful of other companies.

Hansu Kim owns both the app and taxi companies Flywheel Technologies and Flywheel Taxi, but most of San Francisco’s taxi fleet relies on Flywheel Technologies to attract riders who hail traditional cabs with their cell phones.

Late last week, Kim said Flywheel’s service needed to improve. To do so, he said, cab companies needed to bring their insurance and service up to certain standards and also display Flywheel logos on their cabs, or else they would be kicked off the app.

With the push of a button, a portion of their customers would disappear into the digital ether.

All told, 1,053 taxi drivers would have been effected, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. But as of Monday, Kim told the San Francisco Examiner that many of those companies were discussing options with Flywheel.

“It’s safe to say we are in talks,” said Mark Gruberg, who helped found Green Cab and serves on its board. “We have not made any commitment … We have not yet seen a contract. We have no idea, and I don’t think anyone else does either, what he’s asking of us.”

Though companies like Green Cab are in talks with Kim, the only holdouts are apparently the co-owned companies Yellow Cab Co-Op, Luxor Cab, and Citywide, as well a handful of smaller companies such as S.F. Taxi, Vina Cab, American Cab, and Comfort Cab.

The combined Yellow Cab, Luxor Cab and Citywide are, together, Flywheel’s largest rival.

Kim said Yellow Cab refused to display Flywheel logos on its cabs, and did not pay a “substantial” bill for use of Flywheel’s customer dispatch system, though Kim would not disclose the full amount. Chris Sweis, owner of Yellow Cab, Luxor and Citywide , confirmed the unpaid bill.

“There has been no effect to service” since Flywheel axed certain companies from its app, Kim said, but “we must provide a standard of service to remain competitive” against Uber and Lyft.

In a letter to his drivers at Yellow Cab, Luxor and Citywide, Sweis wrote he is trying to develop an alternative app to Flywheel, adding, “What is most dissappointing is how embarrassing this is for the industry.” He told the Examiner he is open to coming “to terms” with Flywheel, but added Kim asked Sweis to sign an agreement to not compete by creating or using any apps that would rival Flywheel.

Kim said Sweis’ claim was untrue. He said he voiced concern that two apps may not work well on a technical level, but would not bar Sweis from trying to create his own taxi app.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents local drivers, decried Flywheel’s move to shut out drivers.

“Taking drivers off the app will hurt them financially, and could also result in reduced service to the public,” wrote SFTWA President Richard Meghoo in a statement. “This was a bad decision, made all the worse by the fact that it was announced with less than five days’ notice.”

Meghoo wrote Flywheel could benefit by attracting banned drivers from other companies to its fleet.

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