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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Jamie Campolongo talks zTrip and the transportation service of the future.

Jamie Campolongo talks zTrip and the transportation service of the future.

Late last month, Yellow Cab of Pittsburgh hosted a press conference to publicly announce its transformation into the innovative app-based transportation service zTrip Taxi. The announcement finalized the company’s aggressive $5 million rebranding campaign, which was initiated in order to compete with the ride-share startups Uber and Lyft. Among the new offerings are a crop of new drivers, an upscale black car service and a fleet of new and existing vehicles emblazoned with the zTrip logo.

zTrip president Jamie Campolongo reflects on the decision to retire Yellow Cab and the next steps the company will soon take.

It’s been a few weeks since Yellow Cab officially announced it would become zTrip Taxi. How has the transition been so far?

We’re pleased with where we are with it. We’re 150 cars into this whole new rebrand. We should be done with all the cars, either purchasing new cars or painting our late model cars, by September. The app is working great. The counts aren’t crazy, but we see 11 or 12 calls a day moving over to the app side of the business, so we think we made the right decision going more app-based.

What prompted the shift from Yellow Cab, which has been around for a long time, to zTrip?

Yellow [Cab] is 103 years old and it served the city for a long time. We knew that the business model and the industry was changing. With Uber and Lyft coming into the marketplace, it changed not so much the business as the culture of the customer, and we knew that our old style of the telephone-based cab company wasn’t going to cut it. Not that we’re going to give up on traditional service.

When you spend $5 million bucks, and you’re going to buy new cars and all this, then let’s just get on with it. Let’s get better cars, more fuel-efficient cars. Let’s go more app-based. Pittsburgh didn’t need a new fleet, it really just needed a new company.

You have a new fleet of cars, but drivers are also able to use their own cars to provide rides. Are they working in tandem?

The cab company of the future is a hybrid model. If you want to keep the traditional business, you’re going to have to do a product like [zTrip’s ride sharing app] Yellow Z, where you have personal cars. Legislation just went through, and the governor signed it last week, so we’ll be able to get people to buy into the taxi company and then we’ll have our own cars. It’s going to be different than what we’ve seen going forward.

How are you trying to compete with ride services like Uber or Lyft?

We don’t do surge pricing. We accept cash and credit. We have a now or later option that lets you book up to 365 days in advance. And we’re local. What the focus groups told us was we want authentic Pittsburgh but we want you to be as good as everybody else. And that’s our challenge. If we give a Pittsburgher the same level of service [as Lyft or Uber] and we don’t surge them, then they’ll come to us. We have customers already so we don’t have to go out and do customer acquisition. What we have to do is listen to our customers and give them what they asked for.

What has been the biggest challenge introducing this to the public?

For us, actually embracing the culture change all the way through the company has probably been the biggest challenge. There will be a lot of advertising that’s been held off just to make sure that we got through these first three weeks. Next week, you’ll see a lot of advertising and social media try and get us past the next challenge, which is people walking out and going, “Is that a cab?” Because it kind of looks like the Red Bull car.


Yellow Cab of Colorado Springs becomes latest taxi provider to switch to zTrip brand.

Yellow Cab of Colorado Springs becomes latest taxi provider to switch to zTrip brand.

Yellow Cab of Colorado Springs announced Monday it will change its name to zTrip on Thursday as part of new strategy to combine smartphone hailing with its traditional taxi service to better compete with app-based riding sharing services Uber and Lyft.

Transdev On Demand, parent company of Yellow Cab of Colorado Springs, started using the zTrip name in 2012 and has adopted the new brand in all but two of the 18 U.S. cities where it operates, including Boulder in January 2016 and Fort Collins in June 2016. Yellow Cab of Denver, which is operated by Metro Taxi, also uses the zTrip app.

“zTrip is the new face of the taxi industry,” said Vanessa Keim, director of marketing for zTrip of Colorado Springs. “It is the best of both worlds. You can use an app to hail a ride, but you can still hail a cab on the street or call or go online to book a trip and we still provide wheelchair-accessible service.”

About 90 percent of Yellow Cab’s 145-vehicle fleet has been repainted with the zTrip logo; the rest of the vehicles will be retired by year’s end and thus will not be repainted, Keim said. The company also expects to receive 15 new vehicles later this week with the zTrip logo and colors, she said.

The company will host a celebration from 4:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Weidner Field, 6303 Barnes Road, home of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks soccer club, that will include free entertainment, beer from Pikes Peak Brewery, food trucks, face painting and a fundraising benefit for Jason and Janelle Graham, family members of a zTrip driver whose Houston home was destroyed last month by Hurricane Harvey.

The zTrip application allows users to book and cancel a trip, choose the type of vehicle they want to pick them up, get a rate quote upfront that does not include surge pricing used by other providers for peak demand periods, choose the payment form, get text message updates and track their driver until arrival, rate the driver and get customer support. The company said all of its drivers are licensed and work full time, are fully insured and have completed background checks.

“Unlike our competitors, we aren’t fighting background checks, we are embracing them,” zTrip President Bill George said in a news release on the name change. “We are committed to providing our drivers with the best working environment in the on-demand transportation sector.”

The company was founded by The Broadmoor hotel in 1927 to serve its guests and was acquired in 2012 by what its now Transdev On Demand. Springs Cab began serving the Colorado Springs area in 2011 and both Uber and Lyft expanded to Colorado Springs in 2014. Teller Cab serves the Ute Pass area, including Woodland Park.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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Refusing to fight Lyft and Uber, Pittsburgh’s zTrip carves out market.

Jamie Campolongo is trying to close the gap between 11 seconds and two seconds.

That nine-second difference is an eternity in today’s world when potential customers are in a hurry to get a ride.

That was an unshakable fact that Mr. Campolongo, who has been president of Pittsburgh Transportation Group for 25 years, realized three years ago — not long after Uber and Lyft dramatically rolled into Pittsburgh.

The San Francisco-based ride-hailing apps suddenly could offer anyone a ride within minutes, which eroded taxi cabs’ market share while flouting state regulations that had granted Yellow Cab of Pittsburgh monopolistic authority.

In response, Mr. Campolongo did something remarkable for an industry infuriated by the newcomers’ audacity: He joined forces with the ride-hailing companies to legalize their operations.

“We knew Uber was going to get what they wanted,” Mr. Campolongo said in a recent interview in his office in Chateau. Instead of fighting his new rivals, “What we said was: How about a ‘me, too?’”

The result was passage of legislation, signed by the governor last year, that amended Pennsylvania transportation rules to permit ride-hailing companies. At the same time, the taxi company underwent a brand overhaul, developing its own mobile app and trading in the mustard-yellow, checkered boxy cabs for silver Toyotas, Hyundais, Kias and Dodges.

The old and stale Yellow Cab of Pittsburgh became hip and sleek zTrip — a ride-hail company informed by a 100 years of experience, but embracing a digital reality.

In some ways, zTrip is a mix of both. The company still owns a fleet, which today totals about 290 cars that can be leased on a daily, weekly or weekend basis by drivers. Though drivers pay for leases, the company covers insurance costs and maintenance.

An additional 100 to 150 people drive for the company using their own vehicles under the YellowZ banner, not unlike Uber and Lyft drivers. That group is designed to grow and shrink with demand.

The move to shift the business strategy appears to have paid off. Though he declined to provide specifics, Mr. Campolongo held up a chart showing sales up 30 percent from last year and fully recovering from declines when Uber and Lyft moved in.

In addition, trip completions are way up and complaints are way down. The silver zTrip cars can now be spotted across the city and are ubiquitous at major events. Mr. Campolongo plans to increase the fleet by 21 percent next year.

In the process, zTrip has had to work a little harder, and in different ways, to manage its workforce.

About half of drivers for zTrip today were with the company three years ago — meaning about half are new to working for a cab company. The company modified driver training to put more weight on customer service and small business management tips now that they are competing against other companies.

Tim Knight got the keys to his first zTrip vehicle in September 2016. He had never driven for a taxi company, but he did have experience in customer service and sales.

It took him less than a month to get a strategy sorted out: He would drive from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., take a break from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., then go back out for afternoon rush hour.

“Some of it was being in the right place in the right time,” he acknowledged.

Mr. Knight had no problem establishing a base of customers who would reach out to him for a ride. Soon enough, he was asked to be a mentor to other drivers. In April, he was hired on as the market expansion manager — a full-time position that brings on new zTrip drivers and serves as their liaison with the company.

Now that the job comes with the ease of technology and a cooler brand, recruiting is easier.

“Taxi cab drivers used to be the job of last resort,” Mr. Campolongo said. While Yellow Cab of Pittsburgh struggled with a shortage of cab drivers, zTrip can’t expand its fleet quick enough. “We have probably 85 people backlogged, waiting to get into training.”

On the customer side, Mr. Campolongo is candid about the issues that riders have had with taxi cabs over the years — problems that aided the rise of ride-hailing.

Users of ride-hail apps often cite horror stories of being stranded places or missing flights because taxi cabs failed to show. Stereotypes of cabs as musty, and even dangerous, pervaded the industry.

With the mobile app, Mr. Campolongo claims, better service has accompanied the cleaner image.

“I think people generally feel a little more comfortable in a taxi cab, but they were really uncomfortable with the service levels and response time,” he said. “Now that we’ve closed the gap in technology and comfort and the type of car we’re in, people are coming back.”

He read down a list of partnerships that zTrip, with deep roots and long-standing partnerships with other Pittsburgh businesses, has developed. The company even provides between 70 and 80 rides a day for students from nine local school districts and some private schools.

In many cities, the cab industry resisted ride-hailing and any change in regulations. The national taxi cab trade association has waged an ongoing campaign called “Who’s Driving You” that tallies criminal incidents allegedly involving Uber and Lyft drivers and asks for people to submit complaints.

Mike Pinckard, president of the 1,100-member Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, noted companies were put in a tough position by being forced to play by the rules while Uber and Lyft broke them.

But now that many states are adopting regulations governing ride-hailing, a small number of the taxi group’s more than 1,000 members are reaching out to capture that market.

Mr. Pinckard’s own company, Phoenix, Ariz.-based Total Transit, launched a ride-hailing alternative in January 2016 that currently gives 200,000 trips per month — or about 60 percent of the number of rides formerly performed by traditional taxis there.

“We believe that all of the key components are there to compete and win,” he said.

The challenge can be balancing the swelling demand for rides and ensuring drivers get enough trips to make money. In Pittsburgh, Mr. Campolongo said he is aiming to increase the zTrip fleet to 350 cars in 2018.

Cab drivers traditionally relied on steady trips to and from the airport, sometimes neglecting other areas

While those rides could bring in $35 and take an hour round-trip, the technology now gives drivers more pings throughout the region. Shorter rides can add up and usually mean more money for drivers, Mr. Campolongo said.

That’s where the nine-second gap comes in. The new version of zTrip’s app will send ride requests directly to drivers, without first sending the request through a central dispatch system.

Customers using the app to call a ride have no patience for even that brief delay.

“Before our technology can even tell them how long the ride will take to get there, they cancel,” Mr. Campolongo said. “There’s no patience. You’re off to the competitor.”

“Now, if we could just do something about that 2-star rating” on Google Reviews, he said with a laugh.

Daniel Moore:, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.