An e-hailing app called Flywheel, is making its way into the New York City market and its technology could save the yellow taxi industry.
According to the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, Flywheel technology is currently operating in its alternative technology pilot and is being tested in 10 cabs in New York City; however, is limited to driver authentication, credit card reader, driver messaging, and passenger notifications without Taxi TV.
The e-hail app is also expected to include a GPS-based meter, which is in its final stage and is awaiting approval from the TLC. Matthew Daus, the former head of the Taxi and Limousine Commission and a distinguished Lecturer at the Transportation Research Center of The City College of New York said the Flywheel app’s technology could be a game changer.
“They have a meter which is done through a pad so all the data goes from the car into the cloud so you don’t even need a physical meter. It’s all seamless. It goes onto your passenger app,” said Daus.
According to Daus, Flywheel, which is based in San Francisco, has been successful there due to its branding strategies, which involved a partnership with DesSoto cab where a fleet of 300 plus cabs were installed with the app, painted red and a flywheel logo was added to the vehicles.
“They’re everywhere. It’s one of the top fleets in San Francisco,” said Daus.
According to Daus, Flywheels in San Francisco have soft meters which consist of a meter on an iphone or ipads and the application.
“People are not even calling it a taxi. They’re calling it a Flywheel which I think is brilliant marketing,” he added.
Flywheel has plans to continue partnerships with taxi companies as they expand to new cities in the United States, including New York.
“We saw a ton of success as a result of this partnership and are looking forward to bridging relationships with additional taxi fleets nationwide, including the newest city we’ve launched in, New York City,” said a Flywheel spokesperson.
According to NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesperson, Allan Fromberg, Flywheel has already surpassed 10,000 trips in New York City—the number necessary to expand to more than the ten yellow taxi cabs that are in its pilot program.
Flywheel has big plans for expansion in New York City. In an interview with the publication “The Verge,” Flywheel COO Oneal Bhambani said that it plans on having its smartphone meter in 1,000 taxi cabs by the end of 2016 and in all 13,587 yellow cabs by the end of 2017.
However, even if Flywheel were to be approved by the TLC and enter all of New York City’s 13,587 yellow cabs it would face a number of difficulties.
Ridership among yellow cabs has decreased and this July, it was 332,231 compared to 475,475 rides in July five years ago, which Allan Fromberg, a spokesperson at the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, attributes to record-high MTA ridership, the expansion of the CitiBike program, expanded ferry services and app-dispatched for-hire services such as Uber; and Flywheel would face the difficulty of competing in a market where similar technologies in yellow taxi cabs already exist.
Fromberg said both Verifone and Creative Mobile Technologies (CMT), the other two venders of Transportation Protocol Experts Group, a technology application that carries information on traffic and travel information, each have about 50 percent of the market.
“It’s Flywheels challenge to push themselves into that market and lure people away from one of the other two,” he said.
According to Evan Rawley, a professor at the Columbia Business School who studies the taxi industry, when using software as an indicator to determine who has the competitive advantage, Flywheel has the upper hand over Verifone’s payment app, Way2ride.
“Drivers tell me they don’t get a lot of business from Way2ride and people usually say it’s a clunky software system. I think Flywheel has the potential to be a better product,” said Rawley.
The future of Flywheel
While experts say the invention that could have an impact on the future of the yellow taxi cab industry is Flywheel’s soft meter, Michael Woloz, a spokesperson at the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, said it all boils down to taxi owners, drivers and riders having a seamless experience when using new technology and making payments.
“There are always new apps. There are always new ways to improve and it comes out to who offers the best product. Who offers it at the best price. Who has the endurance and commitment to the industry to balance a very complex industry,” said Woloz.