San Francisco taxicabs traditionally have been a disjointed industry, and that continues to be the case even as city regulators push to get all cabs on board the vehicle touted as their savior from Uber and competing app-based ride services.
Flywheel, the hailing app for taxis that has The City's blessing, has successfully installed its smartphone devices on every cab company's fleet except the largest — Yellow Cab Cooperative. The yellow color scheme has more than 600 cabs, which is more than one-third of all taxis in San Francisco, according to Yellow Cab President and General Manager Jim Gillespie.
Meanwhile, Flywheel claims 80 percent of The City's cab drivers use the app, including 464 Yellow Cab drivers. That percentage is that high because Yellow Cab drivers are signing on to Flywheel individually, since the company won't.
Yellow Cab has been resistant to form a relationship with Flywheel because the app service installs its own smartphone device instead of integrating into the taxi company's dispatch. Gillespie also fears that his drivers would get distracted by having two devices that could offer hails simultaneously or while the driver already has a rider.
While Yellow Cab does not prevent its drivers from using the Flywheel device during their shift, the company is now fully promoting its own app – launched 15 months ago and upgraded in July – and even offering classes four times a day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to train cabbies.
“We're the only company in The City that is promoting its own app and I think that is something we can do because we have 600 on our fleet,” Gillespie said. “I'm hoping over the next couple of months, it will be, 'Oh, yeah, that is the Yellow Cab app.'”
Unlike Flywheel, which takes a 10 percent commission per transaction from drivers, the Yellow Cab app does not. Since the Yellow Cab app upgrade in July, it has generated 5 percent of the company’s total calls and that “continues to increase,” said Nate Dwiri, a consultant for Yellow Cab.
Establishing brand recognition among Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and now Flywheel may be a challenge. Hossein Khoshrozeh, 53, a Yellow Cab driver for nine years who signed up with Flywheel 14 months ago and also uses the Yellow Cab app, noted differences between the two.
“The Yellow Cab app doesn't have the convenience of other apps, they don't have people's credit cards on file,” he said. “It's not as efficient and it's not as easy to remember. Lyft and Uber are brand names now.”
Khoshrozeh added that the number of hails he's received from Flywheel has greatly increased in the last six months, while he currently gets one or two customers from the Yellow Cab per shift.
“Throughout the last several months, but especially recently, we've had a lot of new Yellow Cab drivers that are signing up on a regular basis,” Flywheel Chief Product Officer Sachin Kansal said. “Our service has continued to gain momentum.”
Full participation from all taxis in San Francisco would make the user experience much better, Kansal added, since having various apps with different shares of the driver pool could cause fragmentation and slower response times.
Malcolm Heinicke, a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors member, in a meeting last month told taxi head Kate Toran to work on getting 100 percent of cabs on Flywheel or a single hailing app.
“Any company that is not with Flywheel is really shooting themselves in the foot,” said Hansu Kim, President of DeSoto Cab Co., which got on board in January. “I see Flywheel as saving the industry.”