Most Kansas City taxis to operate like Uber and Lyft in wake of new state law.

Most Kansas City taxis to operate like Uber and Lyft in wake of new state law.

April 25, 2017 08:09 PM

Updated April 25, 2017 08:10 PM

Baltimore Gets On-Demand Ride Alternative to Uber, Lyft.

Baltimore Gets On-Demand Ride Alternative to Uber, Lyft.

Baltimore residents who prefer to hail a ride with a mobile app now have an alternative to Uber or Lyft: zTrip.

Transdev, the company that owns Yellow Checker Cab of Baltimore, launched the app yesterday for iOS and Android, Baltimore reported. The app is already being used for cabs in Kansas City and Denver, and will soon be available in as many as 18 U.S. cities.

zTrip is among a lineup of ride-hailing apps released by local governments or taxi companies to help traditional yellow cabs compete with the likes of Uber. Cities including San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles have all launched ride-hailing apps. When Washington, D.C., launched its app last year, the city mandated that every cab have the new app turned on while on duty.

Operating similar to other popular ride-hailing apps, zTrip has a sleek interface that lets users see nearby drivers and request a taxi or black car. It also has a driver rating system and allows riders to pay and tip with a credit card through the app (although cash is also still accepted).

There are a couple key differences, however, that riders may find appealing: no surge pricing and the ability to book a ride in advance. The apps will also soon have a button riders can hit to request ADA compliance. Accessibility has been an issue for Uber and Lyft in the past. In summer 2014, three mobility-impaired plaintiffs from Texas claimed that Uber and Lyft violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to provide a way for wheelchair users to take advantage of their services.

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Austin Yellow Cab gets new app to hail a ride.

Austin Yellow Cab gets new app to hail a ride.

Yellow Cab Austin, its business battered by new competition from ridesharing companies, is adding a new app to hail cabs — and it strays from the term “cab” in this rideshare-loving environment.

The company announced Thursday that it will begin using the ZTrip app for passengers to book rides. Yellow Cab already has an app, Hail-a-Cab, that does this. In a statement announcing the launch of the company’s ZTrip app, the company said it would keep Hail-a-Cab operational while trying to transition customers to the new app.

The new Yellow Cab ZTrip service has been in development for months, according to John Bouloubasis, president of Texas Taxi Inc., the parent company of Yellow Cab Austin and other Texas Yellow Cab franchises in San Antonio, Houston, Galveston and Pasadena.

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” he said. “We were looking for another app that’s a national brand, and they have the tech support to take this to the next level.”

ZTrip, as an app, has already been operating in Austin since March. That’s because ZTrip is not its own ridesharing or taxi service. Rather, it is a mobile software platform developed by Paris-based TransDev International that traditional for-hire ground transportation services contract with to add app-based ride-hailing services to their offerings. ZTrip has already partnered with local taxi companies in PittsburghKansas CityBaltimoreOrlando, TampaDenver and Phoenix. In Pittsburgh, Yellow Cab announced it’s going so far as to change its name from Yellow Cab of Pittsburgh to ZTrip Taxi.

In March, ZTrip’s app launched in Austin in partnership with the owner of the local ExecuCar and SuperShuttle franchises. That company obtained a transportation network company operating authority, the legal instrument that allows Uber-style ridesharing services in the city, from the city of Austin. Despite obtaining this authority, the ExecuCar/SuperShuttle and ZTrip partnership operates more like a traditional taxicab company, with fully-liveried company cars ferrying fares from A to B.

But Yellow Cab will not be applying for a TNC operating authority, according to Bouloubasis. Rather, the ZTrip app will just be another way a user can hail a cab.

“They are going to be operating as taxicabs,” said Bouloubasis. “It will put passengers with licensed, vetted taxicabs.”

Bouloubasis said the company plans to add ZTrip booking to its subsidiaries in San Antonio, Houston, Galveston and Pasadena.

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Boulder Unveils Real Uber Competition With zTrip.

Boulder Unveils Real Uber Competition With zTrip.

Those in Boulder, Colorado, can now catch some zTrips.

The release offers the following on a company that is moving into the future after ride-hailing apps turned the tide of consumer expectations: “zTrip, a new innovative taxi service will launch with a fleet of 60 vehicles in the Boulder market today. zTrip combines the trust and safety of a taxi service, with the ease and speed of an on-demand car service app, providing benefits not available from any other competing ‘Car Hailing’ service in the area.”

As Daily Camera reports, the local taxis have been repurposed to make way for an innovation that is akin to an Uber service that is becoming all the more ubiquitous in major cities around the world.

The report states: “As of Tuesday, the fleet of Yellow Cabs in the county are now the zTrip fleet – 60 cars (mostly Scion XDs) that can be hailed via smartphone app.”

This unveiling takes place at a rather auspicious time for the budding business. We previously reported on 100 Uber drivers striking in New York City over a decrease in fares.

This is where companies like zTrip might be able to step in and reinvent the classic taxi model.

The release lists myriad ways that it differentiates itself from a company like Uber.

Here are a few posted in the release: “No surge pricing: The same low price every time, whether it’s 2 p.m. or 2 a.m.; Professional and licensed drivers with full fingerprint background checks: You don’t have to worry about who is driving you home; 24/7 live customer service: You can talk to a live support team member anytime.”

And, the most pertinent to travelers, this is relegated to the Boulder area.

Bill George, President of zTrip Boulder, offered thoughts on what could be a ray of hope for other companies that wish to wiggle their way into the Uber spotlight, stealing some fares back from ride-sharing companies that continue to dominate the market.

George proclaimed, “Unlike our competitors, we aren’t fighting background checks, we are embracing them.”

The president continued while highlighting the obvious safety features of zTrip: “As a parent of college students I don’t want my kids ever driving after they have been drinking. However, I am also very concerned about who might pull up to drive them home – zTrip provides the solution to put parents at ease, without sacrificing the ‘rideshare experience’ that students are accustomed to.”

At the moment you can hail a zTrip car on the street like a classic cab or by phone or in-phone app.

And there is a bit of monetary incentive at the moment: “To promote a safe ride home on Valentine’s Day, and honor CU Boulder’s 140th anniversary, zTrip will give away 140 free rides up to $25 in Boulder over the weekend (2/12/16 – 2/14/16).”

As previously mentioned, San Francisco’s Yellow Cab succumbed to bankruptcy while citing the rise of Uber and Lyft for its demise.

In Boulder, they are finding a way to change with the times. The taxi isn’t dead as long as you find a way to repurpose the fleet for the kind of trip commensurate with a new generation.

ZTrip may just be showing the industry the way home.

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What’s This Local Ride-Hailing Company zTrip?

What’s This Local Ride-Hailing Company zTrip?

Originally published on May 12, 2016 7:30 pm

Austin is facing its first weekend in more than two years without Uber or Lyft. Both companies pulled out Monday to protest voter rejection of Proposition 1, which would have eliminated mandatory fingerprint-based background checks.

Opponents of Prop 1 responded to Uber and Lyft’s threat to leave by arguing that if there is money to be made on ride-hailing in Austin, other companies will replace them. The city’s taxis are not able to meet demand during peak hours and special events, according to one study, but anyone who’s tried to call a cab on a Saturday night prior to the arrival of Uber and Lyft could tell you that.

Three transportation network companies are now operating in Austin. Wingz is only driving people to and from the airport, for now. GetMe says it’s bringing on more drivers, but will not be able to meet demand the first weekend since Uber and Lyft left.

The third ride-hailing company in Austin has not received as much attention. The app zTrip (not to be confused with the DJ and producer Z-Trip) was developed by the transportation company Transdev. Outside of Austin, it offers its range of services in Kansas City, Denver, Boulder, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Minneapolis and Orlando.

Unlike Uber and Lyft, zTrip does not hire people to drive their own vehicles. Instead, it allows you to hail or schedule a taxi, limousine, black car service and in the case of Austin, large-capacity shuttle vans. Like Uber and Lyft, you see the vehicle approaching in the app, and you can pay with your smartphone.

The company has only 140 vehicles accessible through zTrip in Austin. Its president, Bill George, says that number will grow quickly, but only by the hundreds, not the thousands of vehicles estimated to have been available through Uber and Lyft. However, George says zTrip is committed to complying with all local regulations, including fingerprint-based background checks.

We spoke to George and asked him some questions about zTrip.

It seems like you are trying to bridge the gap between taxis and transportation network companies? 

Absolutely, and that’s really what defines us and sets us apart from the other TNCs. We bring you all the convenience of a taxicab, where you can just hop in and choose to pay the driver through a credit card or cash in the car, or you can certainly use the app [to pay].

Where we really set ourselves apart, too, is that we do not surge price, and we also allow you the opportunity to hail a car right now, but you can also order one in advance.

Without surge pricing, how do you incentivize drivers to work downtown during times of peak demand, which are typically Friday and Saturday nights, when many of their potential customers could be drunk and possibly unpleasant to deal with?

Philosophically, I’ve always had a problem with surge pricing. In some cases, it will get a few drivers more on the road, but what it’s really designed to do is manage demand.

My whole career has been spent trying to convince you to leave your keys at home and let us take you some place and bring you home. If it costs you $15 to get someplace, I don’t think it should cost you $45 to get back home. Our per-mile rate on a daily basis is a little bit higher than the TNCs, but the rate is the rate.

It’s not a good situation when you have drivers living for the surge. That’s what creates unsafe situations. Drivers are very smart and learn how to game the system, and customers become smart. All the sudden they put their [pickup location] in for a block away where there is no surge, and they tell their driver to come and meet them.

Up front, transparent pricing, I think, is a better model.

But none of Austin’s 915 taxis is available on the app.

We started 10-10 Taxi in Round Rock about two years ago, and we’ve got 70 or 80 cars up there that are involved in that.

When the TNC regulations came out, we filed for a TNC permit in Austin. Previously, because we were only based in Round Rock, we could only pick up trips in Round Rock. With our TNC permit, we’re now able to pick up within the [Austin] city limits.

In addition to our super shuttle and executive car businesses down there [in Austin], we have over 140 vehicles. We are on the verge of making a major announcement of adding another 500 vehicles on within the next three weeks. In addition, we’ve got other drivers that we’re adding.

Since the news of Saturday’s election broke, I think we’ve had about 600 driver applications come in online.

When do you intend to announce the news of the additional 500 vehicles?

We think we’re going to have an announcement next week.

We are coming up on the first weekend in more than two years with no Uber or Lyft in Austin. Will you be able to meet demand?

No. It’s going to be a ramp-up period. To say that we can get all those vehicles replaced in that quick of a time is not feasible. We know that we’re adding daily, and we’ll continue to do so. We’re working to do it in a measured way to make sure that the drivers we’re bringing on board meet our standards and are in compliance with what the city’s mandated.

How long will it take?

I think it’s conservatively an 8- to 10-week ramp-up.

Have you experienced an increase in consumer demand since Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin on Monday?

Absolutely. Since word came out officially on Sunday and with the pullout on Monday, we’ve seen a tremendous jump in our volume. That’s why we’re working to get other partnerships involved so we can solve the demand issues.

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