Taxis in California can now ditch their legacy metering hardware and use smartphone-based technology to calculate fares.
Flywheel, the San Francisco-based company which develops an app to let taxi passengers hail and pay for rides with their smartphone, today announced that it won approval from the California Division of Measurement Standards to use its TaxiOS system in taxis across the state.
TaxiOS is a GPS-based taximeter that runs off a smartphone, allowing taxi drivers to use their mobile devices to calculate fares, in addition to managing payments, navigation, and dispatch processes. The system helps taxis utilize similar features seen with Uber or Lyft, like the ability for passengers to split rides or change fare rates based on demand if a city’s regulation allows for it.
“This is a major upgrade and shift for an industry that has had trouble competing in recent years,” Flywheel CEO Rakesh Mathur told GeekWire.
Flywheel has been around since 2009 and is like Uber and Lyft in that it builds software that helps drivers and passengers connect with GPS tracking and mobile payment processing. However, it is focused on both taxi fleets and drivers who pay Flywheel 10 percent of every fare booked with its app, in addition to a $1 service fee from the passenger.
Now, it is expanding to let drivers in California replace their metering system with Flywheel technology. Kristin Macey, director of California’s Division of Measurement Standards, said that it put the system through a wide variety of tests.
“We determined that the software provides the same level of accuracy as a taximeter and gives consumers a real-time display of current ride price, something they expect in a taxicab,” she said in a statement. “The Flywheel system also complies with our existing regulations that taximeters must meet, to charge passengers by time or distance depending on the vehicle’s speed, never both at the same time.”
Mathur said that replacing the old-school meters was the “last big hurdle,” given that managing payments, dispatch, and navigation from a smartphone has already been available to taxi drivers.
“Once you have a smartphone in every taxi, you now have a mobile platform for doing more than just rides,” he told GeekWire.
Mathur noted that TaxiOS gives taxi drivers the ability to add additional revenue streams beyond just offering rides to people. He said “last-mile delivery” is one example, and added that taxis in San Francisco which piloted TaxiOS have already begun to do deliveries.
“Taxis are very attractive to e-commerce partners because they have a very steady supply on the road, versus the many part-time drivers on other platforms,” Mathur explained. “Also, the pricing is very predictable at meter levels – i.e., no surge pricing. We believe this is a perfect opportunity for taxi drivers, who have a unique level of training and knowledge about the fastest routes in any given city, to serve as the logistics backbone by facilitating e-commerce delivery.”
Flywheel is now operating in six U.S. cities: San Francisco (where 80 percent of cabs use Flywheel), Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle, San Diego and Sacramento. The company said it is working with other jurisdictions that have regulations for taxi metering processes to allow TaxiOS to be implemented.
A spokesperson for the City of Seattle said that while local taxi associations have not approached the city about using TaxiOS, “we are open to better understanding this new technology and exploring its use in Seattle,” she said.