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

Taxis may soon ditch old meters for smartphones

Taxis may soon throw their old meters and walkie-talkies into the trash heap, if tech-company Flywheel has anything to say about it.

This week, Flywheel gave the San Francisco Examiner a sneak peek at its newest technology, a smartphone app and accompanying credit card reader which may soon replace much of the old equipment on the dashboards of traditional taxis.

Hansu Kim, president of DeSoto Cab Co. told the Examiner the classic red and black taxi meters, reminiscent of 1980s digital clocks, are relics of the past.

“When I look at the old taxi equipment, I see cobwebs and crickets,” Kim said. “We’ve now consolidated all the traditional devices in a taxicab into a smartphone.”

DeSoto cabs were branded with Flywheel colors and named the fleet Flywheel Taxi earlier this year. Flywheel is a company with an app which makes taxis accessible to consumers in much the same way as Uber and Lyft — allowing riders to hail a cab with a smartphone.

Flywheel’s new app and accompanying credit card reader has the capability to replace taxi dispatcher radios, mechanical meters, credit card readers and other traditional taxi functions, all in an Android-based smartphone.

Oneal Bhambani, Flywheel’s chief financial officer, told the Examiner that smart metering has long been in the works, and now the tech is nearing completion.

The taxi industry “has to be unlocked by smartphone, that’s the key,” Bhambani said. To that end, “we’re working hand in hand with regulators,” he said.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency started the “Flywheel Soft Meter” pilot program in July, which will operate through January, SFMTA spokesman Robert Lyles told the Examiner.

“We believe it is optimized for ease of use, reliability and offers the customer the same ability to see the fare throughout the trip as standard meters,” Lyles said. Importantly, he added, it will also be able to process Paratransit debit cards, the method of payment for some in the disability community.

SFMTA granted Flywheel permission to affix 50 taxis in San Francisco with the new technology, most of which were DeSoto cabs, Kim said.

The new app will allow taxi dispatchers to hit a few smartphone buttons to communicate with cabbies in a two way radio, or speak with all drivers simultaneously, Kim said.

But dispatchers will also be able to send push-notifications, and new innovations are as easy to install as a software update.

Traditional taxi meters measure the cost of a ride by measuring the revolutions of the cab’s wheel. Depending on the heat or inflation levels of the tires — or if the meter misses something — the fare could be miscalculated.

By contrast, Bhambani said the new Flywheel tech will measure taxi fares more accurately, due to its GPS technology.

Kim also said the older equipment can cost taxi companies tens of thousands of dollars a year in upkeep and installation.

In order to install the new metering equipment, Flywheel’s new tech will need to be approved by the Weights and Measures Program, through the Department of Public Health. Records show testing of the new taxi meters began in late August.

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