ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque’s oldest cab company is making a big change to try to take back some of the business that’s shifted to ride-sharing services over the last few years.
The old “Yellow-Checker Cab” company was recently bought out by a new owner that’s renamed the taxi business “zTrip.”
The new owners are positioning themselves as a so-called “better choice” by combing elements of traditional taxicab services with those of ride-share services.
“We like to bill ourselves as the perfect hybrid between a rideshare vehicle and a taxi cab,” said Bill George, President and CEO of zTrip.
Over the last few months, George’s company has been buying up old taxi businesses across the U.S., including Yellow-Checker Cab in Albuquerque. So far, zTrip is now in 19 U.S. cities across states like Colorado, Texas, Kansas and Florida.
“We saw what the fleets were in Albuquerque,” said George. “There was a lack of an investment, there was a lack of investment in technology in the vehicles.”
An old fleet of cars is just one of the reasons some people say they’ve turned away from traditional cab services in recent years.
“They’re a little sketchy, smelly,” Albuquerque resident Jennifer told KRQE News 13 Wednesday when asked about her thoughts on old cab services.
Others have complained about the comfort and price of old cabs.
“It’s just charging you while you’re at a red light, so the meters going up,” said Jessica of old-style cab service.
Meanwhile, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have taken off in popularity in the metro area. Those services hire local drivers to use their own private cars to give rides. With Uber and Lyft, customers can only get a ride through their use of a smartphone app.
CEO Bill George says zTrip is different than ride sharing.
“We want to be a better choice from the safety aspect, from the insurance aspect,” said George.
The company says it screens and hires all zTrip drivers. The company also owns the entire fleet of cars used for rides, including handicap accessible vehicles.
To compete with on-demand ride-sharing services, George says zTrip also has an app that works just like Uber or Lyft’s. George says their pricing is comparable too, with no surge pricing as is commonly seen with ride-sharing services.
People can also call zTrip directly to book a ride, or hail a driver from the side of the street.
“Here’s what a taxicab does really well, here’s what a rideshare does really well, what if we bridged that gap and put both of them together?” said George.
Albuquerque is zTrip’s first service area in New Mexico, but the company says it’s still looking to expand.
Kansas City’s licensed taxi business is about to all but disappear. But not its taxis.
On Monday, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed a law pushed by ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft. It poses lighter regulation than Kansas City’s ordinance governing drive-for-hire businesses. Crucially, it declares that the rules passed in Jefferson City trump those adopted by City Hall.
That Kansas City ordinance had been designed, amid much debate, to adapt to the app-driven business models used by Uber and Lyft. Those companies recruit vehicle owners to make themselves available to
On Tuesday, the CEO of Kansas City’s dominant taxi business said that all but about 40 of the roughly 450 vehicles the company operates won’t bother with a city license come fall.
Instead, said Bill George, cabs that have operated under the Yellow Cab and 10/10 Taxi will be shifted to zTrip, a “transportation network company,” or TNC — subject to the same state licensing standards as fellow TNCs Uber and Lyft.
“We were ambivalent about the bill” that Greitens signed into law, George said. “But it gave us the flexibility we needed. … We’re always going to survive.”
Scott Wagner, Kansas City’s mayor pro tem and chairman of the council’s finance committee, said he was disappointed that the state had taken control of overseeing the businesses.
“I never celebrate when the city is pre-empted from what it should be able to do,” the council member said. “I am a little disappointed about the decision to transition taxis over to TNCs. But I’m not surprised, because it’s always been the desire to treat those the same.”
City Hall could lose some revenue if it’s licensing fewer taxis, but it also will have less work to do on inspections and background checks, said Assistant City Manager Rick Usher.
“That’s a decision that the state has made,” he said. “Once it’s law, the governor has signed it, it’s just a matter of complying with that. … I don’t think it’s worthwhile for the city to have a chip on our shoulder about regulatory power.”
George said Yellow Cab would continue to get city licenses for 40 to 50 traditional taxis, at a cost of $250 each, so that those vehicles can pick up passengers hailing rides from the curb at Kansas City International Airport.
The rest of the fleet will take a can’t-beat-’em-join-’em approach to competing with Uber and Lyft.
Under the zTrip brand, the cars will be available by smartphone app. George notes that unlike the better-known ride-hailing networks that grew out of Silicon Valley, his zTrip cars will also be available by dispatch, can be booked in advance and will accept payments not just through an app, but with credit cards and cash.
“We’re all picking up riders on demand for a fare,” George said. “We’re all in the same business. As long as we all have the same flexibility, I’m fine with the new rules.”
He expressed a slightly different view when the legislation was under debate in Jefferson City.
“The proposed bill strips the state and municipalities of any type of true enforcement over what is clearly a for-hire business,” George said last year. “If that is the state’s misguided intent, they must equally apply this measure to all vehicles for hire, including taxicabs.”
Uber worked with the Kansas City Council, sometimes contentiously, on rules policing the business and setting requirements for background checks of drivers. Lyft resisted and pulled out of the market in 2014. It had left the state of Kansas until lawmakers in Topeka loosened its rules last year. Lyft returned to Johnson and Wyandotte counties in November.
In the wake of the signing of Missouri’s new law, which takes effect in late August, Lyft was vague about any plans it might have for coming back to Kansas City.
“Lyft will now be able to expand our operations, bringing safe, reliable, and affordable transportation options and increased earning opportunities to those around the state,” the company said in an email. “Lyft is working with local communities to launch (before the law takes effect) in order to ensure more Missourians can enjoy the many benefits of Lyft. We are currently working on expansion plans and hope to announce those soon.”
Uber and Lyft lobbied heavily in Jefferson City for the changes. Uber, for instance, hired former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley to push for rules overriding the Kansas City ordinance.
City Hall, meanwhile, pressed the legislature to keep Kansas City’s regulatory powers in place. It argued that the looser state rules in the new law don’t offer customers the same protection from fraud or crime.
Under the city ordinance, a third-party vendor conducts background checks on potential drivers. City inspectors require them to have proper insurance and approve the vehicles as safe and in good condition.
Kansas City also insists on yearly criminal background checks, said Jim Ready, the manager of the city’s Regulated Industries Division. The Missouri law does not include that requirement.
In an analysis of the legislation when it was under debate in the General Assembly, Ready wrote that the proposal had “no requirement to run an individual background check more than once. In KCMO and almost every other city in the United States, a criminal background investigation must be run on a vehicle for hire driver every year. …
“An applicant who was convicted of first degree assault for beating a passenger with a crow bar while in their vehicle for hire who also had a history of violent criminal behavior would be eligible to be a TNC or taxicab driver if these incidents had taken place more than seven years ago. If an applicant was convicted of this crime within their first year of becoming a vehicle for hire driver, they could continue driving forever since a criminal background check is only required once.”
The roughly 700 drivers in George’s operation, people who’d been subject to the city’s more stringent rules, are already independent contractors. About two-thirds of those drive full-time, he said. He said he’s been able to recruit former Uber and Lyft drivers because so many have become disgruntled with those companies.
“They like driving for a living,” he said. “We can take better care of them.”
He said the new state law “allows us the freedom to run the way we see best to suit our customers.” His company oversees taxi businesses in more than a dozen cities, and he was unaware of other cab operations that had transformed to become transportation network companies.
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.”
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.
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.