The SFMTA has granted Flywheel permission to use an app, smartphone and credit card reader in 50 cabs in San Francisco. (Courtesy Flywheel)

The SFMTA has granted Flywheel permission to use an app, smartphone and credit card reader in 50 cabs in San Francisco. (Courtesy Flywheel)

Taxis launch Uber-like dashboard app ‘TaxiOS’

Soon taxi drivers will throw out old-style taxi meters, and usher in new tools of the trade — if tech company Flywheel has anything to say about it.

Taxi technology company Flywheel announced it recently secured regulatory approval for its newest innovation: smartphone taxi meters.

“This is big for us,” said Percy Rajani, chief technology officer at Flywheel. “We can start really cranking up. … Now you’ve got the device in there so it’ll be a platform for all the other services.”

Flywheel’s software, TaxiOS, will run on dashboard-mounted smartphones. Rajani said with TaxiOS, Flywheel cabbies may soon be able to offer many of the services competitors like Uber and Lyft do, like dynamic pricing during slow-periods, carpool services, price splitting with other passengers and delivery services.

The announcement from Flywheel specifically details approval from California’s Division of Measurement Standards, which had to evaluate the app’s ability to charge fares based on GPS readings, which the San Francisco Examiner reported previously in our “sneak peek” of TaxiOS in October.

Though Flywheel already exists as an app for passengers, Flywheel’s new app and accompanying credit card reader can replace taxi dispatcher radios, mechanical meters, credit card readers and other traditional taxi functions — all in an Android-based smartphone.

The new app will allow taxi dispatchers to hit a few smartphone buttons to radio cabbies directly, or speak with all drivers at once. In a tech twist, dispatchers will also be able to send digital text alerts to cabbies. New innovations are as easy to install as a software update.

FlyWheel Taxi (the rebranded DeSoto Cab Co.) will be the first taxi company to adopt the technology in San Francisco, according to Flywheel.

The dynamic pricing model is a new feature riders benefit from right away, Rajani said. When periods are slow, taxis will be able to offer lower fares for riders.

“That passenger opens the app, and it may tell them it has a 20 percent discount or so,” Rajani said. “It tells the driver, and they can accept it. We only hail drivers who have already signed on to the program.”

Still, not everyone is sold on the new system. Some cabbies told the Examiner on background that they have concerns over the pricing of Flywheel’s system.

Marcelo Fonseca, on Yellow Cab Co-Op’s board of directors, said although Yellow Cab has its own app, he’s hoping Yellow Cab hops onto Flywheel so San Francisco cabs have a united front.

The Transportation Network Companies, Uber and Lyft, are “lightly regulated” unfair competition, Fonseca said. In light of this, he said taxis need to compete with a central dispatch “for the entire San Francisco fleet.”

Yellow Cab Co-Op, which at about 550 cabs has the largest fleet of cabs in The City, will meet with Flywheel over possibly adopting the new metering system in January. A possible vote may occur at a subsequent meeting, possibly by the end of January, Fonseca said.

As the Examiner previously reported, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency started the “Flywheel Soft Meter” pilot program in July, which will operate through January, according to the SFMTA.

Robert Lyles, an SFMTA spokesman, told the Examiner at the time that soft meters “will also be able to process Paratransit debit cards,” the method of payment for some in the disability community.

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