Apps drive taxis into new era
Before the smartphone, people summoned a taxi by waving, whistling or calling a dispatcher - but cellphone apps are changing all that, helping both drivers and passengers.
A number of new services have sprung up in recent years that enable smartphone users to locate and ask for taxis with GPS. Drivers confirm they're on the way and payment is made by cellphone, with no cash changing hands.
"It gives the passenger control and incentivises the driver to provide excellent service," said Yonis Benitez, general manager in Washington for MyTaxi, a German company that has recently expanded into the US market.
"It's no longer anonymous. They know the driver's name and the driver's rating" from customer reviews posted on the app.
MyTaxi was founded in 2009 in Germany and in October began service in Washington, one of 30 cities worldwide in which it operates. The apps promise increased business, especially in areas in which vehicle and taxi traffic is low.
"We've been well-received in DC," Benitez said. "Our numbers have doubled month by month in terms of numbers of people joining and passengers."
San Francisco's Uber offers a cellphone app that connects passengers and taxis in six cities, including Washington, and operates in 27 cities worldwide with a "black car" service that, it says, costs more than taxis but less than comparable limousine services.
Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick said drivers like the system because "they make more money, they can fill out their downtime and can invest and grow".
Like other services, Uber has no cars of its own but partners with taxi or limousine drivers.
"We are like Open Table for restaurants or Expedia for travel," Kalanick said.
Uber has faced some well-publicised regulatory hurdles and in New York temporarily suspended its taxi service as city officials consider regulations on the "e-hailing" of taxis.
Uber, which has venture funding from Amazon's Jeff Bezos and from Goldman Sachs, has been expanding globally to cities such as Paris, Melbourne and Stockholm while competition heats up in the US.