If you aren’t in the taxi industry in Canada’s major cities and towns, you might not otherwise recognize the slow shift under way because of smartphones. One app has been designed to link passengers with drivers while cutting out dispatchers and their fees. Others are popping up, too, and more are likely to follow.
While not the first to come to market with a taxi-focused app in Canada, Hailo is perhaps the most open. It’s also the first smartphone-based taxi company in North America to obtain a license after the City of Toronto approved it. London, England, and Dublin, Ireland, are the only two other cities where Hailo operates, though New York, Boston and Chicago are next.
Essentially, passengers in Toronto using an iOS and Android device (BlackBerry and Windows Phone are coming) can hail the closest taxi, regardless of what company or route sign it has. The closest driver, using the same app, is alerted and has 20 seconds to confirm the pickup. Passengers know how long the driver will take, their name, phone number and even a rating out of five. They can view the cab’s location and also decide on the tip and payment method in advance.
As of the launch a few weeks ago, there are more than 500 drivers in the city on board, with at least another 1,000 coming in. The company has a storefront in Toronto’s east end to train smartphone-wielding drivers in as little as 30 minutes. There are no membership or brokerage fees, other than the undisclosed cut Hailo gets from the fares participating drivers earn.
This follows in the footsteps of Uber, a car service with a fleet of black sedans or SUVs where passengers and drivers use its iOS or Android app to arrange pickups. It has expanded from a number of U.S. cities to serve Toronto and Vancouver and more Canadian cities are on the horizon.
In this case, passengers can opt for flat rates to and from specific areas, or pay set rates per kilometre with a base fare starting at $8 for a sedan or SUV. In effect, the vehicles are just higher-priced and more spacious cabs because drivers aren’t limited to set routes. With a credit card on file, passengers don’t even have to touch their wallets.
The interesting caveat between these two is that Uber is unlicensed. It considers itself a technology company, not an app-based cab company – a distinction that has drawn the ire of some in both municipalities they operate in.
Beck’s Taxi in Toronto and Taxi Diamond in Montreal both recently released their own apps to make it easier for passengers. Dialing #TAXI  on a smartphone isn’t app-based but does connect you with the nearest cab company in your area.
As smartphone adoption amongst drivers grows above the estimated 30 per cent Hailo claims, it’s possible that other licensed app-based taxi companies might enter a changing industry sooner than later.