As Uber offers free rides and Hailo unveils, taxi hailing app competition heats up

–Globe file photo

The race is on to pick cab riders up, with several new competitors hoping to change how — and how often — consumers hail a taxi. Uber, which had been operating a luxury car service through its iPhone and Android apps, launched its TAXI service in September, and, despite some legal wrangling, now offers service with “hundreds’’ of taxis, according to the company’s Boston General Manager, Michael Pao.

Through this week, the San Francisco-based start-up is offering free taxi rides to Boston users.

Joining Uber today is Hailo, which got its start by offering service with London’s famously professional black cabs. Boston is its first US launch, though it has previously expanded to Dublin and Toronto.


A third, locally-based service, TaxiRightNow, is hoping to launch soon as well. I previously profiled them when TaxiRightNow won a best of show award at the Inter-Collegiate Mixer for Entrepreneurship.

Each service takes a different focus to the same basic problem, but the end product for users is roughly the same: You take out your smartphone, launch the respective app, and click to hail. At the end of the trip, the passenger pays the tab via the smartphone app, meaning you don’t have to shuffle around for cash, nor worry about whether the cab accepts credit cards.

And so now, the competitors, along with more established apps like Taxi Magic, which works with existing dispatchers, are fighting for market share of both users and drivers: One without the other won’t last long.

’’It’s going to be the drivers that decide who wins,’’ said Ron Zeghibe, co-founder of Hailo. Zeghibe said that Hailo has survived “taxi app’’ wars before when Hailo launched in London, when it was the eighth app to launch.

Now, he said, there are just two, with their remaining competitor “limping’’ along. He said the service is launching with 600 registered drivers, and it has highly tuned its driver-facing app to be an information dashboard that tracks mileage, average fares, total income, and more.


There’s a bigger focus on simplicity and creating a “magical’’ experience with Uber. It sounds hokey, but it really resonates with users. Yesterday I received so many glowing e-mails regarding the service I would have thought it was a sock-puppet campaign if I hadn’t heard the same from many, many people I know. Even Scott Kirsner admits he’s a “big fan’’.

Sam Garzon, founder of yet-to-launch TaxiRightNow, told me last month that he sees plenty of room in the market for his service, which he said aims for the regular commuters.

But how many taxi-hailing apps can one city support? Taxi drivers can, if they wish, generally run and install two or more apps on their iPhone and Android devices, picking up fares from wherever they come, but is the extra hassle worth it? If not, consumers might find one or two apps provide a much more reliable, and more importantly responsive, service, while the also-rans struggle to gain adoption.

“My personal view is that in each geographic region, there may be a dominant player,’’ Pao said. “Consumers don’t want to open three different apps to see which cars are available, and drivers don’t want that.’’

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