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Test-riding Boston Cab's mobile app, in the wake of their lawsuit against Uber

Posted by Scott Kirsner  March 19, 2013 07:30 AM

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Just two weeks before one of Boston's biggest cab companies, Boston Cab Dispatch, filed a lawsuit against upstart Uber, it updated its own iPhone and Android apps for summoning a lift using your smartphone.

It struck me as a good time to compare Boston Cab's new iPhone app to my experience using Uber, the transportation app which I first reviewed in 2011, just as it launched in Boston. I use Uber about once a week, mostly for riding in cabs or their mid-range UberX vehicles, as opposed to the pricier town cars or SUVs. (Uber now offers four different vehicle types.)

I used Boston Cab's app three times. When I first tried to use the app, to get picked up in Beacon Hill, I entered only the pickup address and not the destination. After waiting on a corner for 10 minutes, I clicked a button in the app to call Boston Cab's dispatch center. While they had seen my request, they hadn't sent a cab because I hadn't punched in my destination. (Uber's app only requires a pick-up address.) I told the dispatcher not to bother sending a taxi, and hopped on the T instead.

But twice yesterday, the Boston Cab app made a taxi materialize in about ten minutes: once at my home in Brookline, and once in Back Bay.

Here's my take on the pros and cons of Boston Cab's app, compared to using the Uber app to request a taxi.

taxipic2.jpgPros

  • It's $1 cheaper than Uber. Uber also mandates a 20 percent gratuity, regardless of the service you receive.

  • After trying to guess where you're at using your phone's built-in GPS, Boston Cab's app lets you adjust the pick-up address if it isn't correct. I frequently have trouble doing this with Uber's app.

  • Boston Cab has a feature called "My Bookings" that lets you view all your trips from the past month, including the amount you spent, time, pick-up point, and destination. You can also click a button to rebook that same trip again.

  • You can book a trip in advance, such as an early morning airport trip for tomorrow. (I didn't test out this feature.) Uber only supports what you might call "ASAP" requests.

    Cons

  • Unlike Uber's app, Boston Cab's doesn't instantly give you information about how long it will take a cab to reach you. (Uber isn't always correct, but at least it gives you a ballpark sense.) You don't see any cab icons on the map until Boston Cab's dispatch center assigns one to pick you up. And even then, you don't get an estimate of how long it will be until the cab arrives. The app also didn't regularly update my cab's location on the map, as Uber's does, to give me a sense of when it was time to pop outside and look for it.

  • Boston Cab's app doesn't store your credit card information, so at the end of the ride, you'll still have to hand over cash, or go through the credit card payment process using the taxi's terminal. With Uber, you can just say "thanks" and dash. The app automatically bills your stored credit card at the ride's conclusion.

  • Entering your destination can be a pain, and the information doesn't get conveyed to the cab driver. (At least it didn't for either of my rides on Monday.)

  • Boston Cab doesn't automatically invite you give your driver a star rating or feedback after each ride.

    The Upshot

    I was pleasantly surprised by Boston Cab's app, but I'm going back to using Uber. I like having a clear sense how long it will take the cab to arrive; not having to enter my destination; and being able to pay auto-magically.

    If you've used either app, or another app like Hailo, what do you like or dislike about them?

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    About Scott Kirsner

    Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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