Sunday, October 16, 2011

Frustrated Passengers Invent Ways To Improve Taxi Service. One Passenger's Method Encourages Taxi Sharing. By John Han.

Android App - Taxi Share San Francisco lets passengers see each other on
a Google map.  It also lets cab drivers see where people are hailing cabs
on the street.
Recently, I was contacted by a man named Dan Fedor, a Chicago attorney who, on an internet search, happened upon the Taxi TownSF website.  But Dan is more than just an attorney from Chicago.  

On the side, he's a co-founder of a fairly new Android app called Taxi Share San Francisco.  And like the app's name suggests, it's designed to help people in San Francisco find ways to share a cab.

As a cab driver, I initially like the idea when I was contacted about it.  I think a lot of passengers would too.  

Although I think there could be many cab drivers who might not.  For example, if two separate parties shared a taxi to the airport, that means only one taxi driver could go to the airport, whereas without the app it normally would've been two taxi drivers going.  

That may be a big turn off to drivers.    

On the other hand, it's said to include a feature that lets cab drivers see on a Google map, the potential customers on the street trying to hail cabs... kind of like a reverse Cabulous.  In other words, in contrast to passengers seeing where the empty cabs are, (like what Cabulous offers), with the Taxi Share app, cab drivers who are empty could see where the hailing customers are.  

With this kind of feature, a cab driver's range of vision could increase by city blocks when searching for fares. 

For a better idea of what the app can do, I got a chance to briefly chat with Dan, and ask about its features overall.

Here's what he had to say... 
Taxi TownSF:  How did you get the idea for the app?

Dan Fedor:  The idea for the app came to me when I lived in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood (about 3 miles from downtown).  On busy days when I would be running late for work and try to hail a cab, I noticed that cab after cab was going by me with a lone passenger most likely also headed downtown and when there are no open cabs to be found, that is a very frustrating situation.  So I began to experiment with the concept of cab pooling.
On those busy days when I was lucky enough to find a cab, I would purposely pull over to someone who was trying in vain to hail a cab and ask them if they wanted to share my cab downtown.  I was never turned down!  

In fact, I asked my wife out on our first date after sharing a cab with her downtown! 

I then began to try to figure out a way for people in taxis to realize that people hailing taxis were willing to share the ride if both were going the same general destination.  Fast forward to me meeting my business partner (Uki Lucas at Cyber Walkabout) creating the app as it exists today.  An app that let's people find each other and communicate their desire to share a taxi to a general and popular destination.  

I was further motivated in 2009 when the City of New York conducted an extensive study of passengers and drivers and launched an experimental cab sharing program (not using smart phones), but in short, using the same concept of fully loading cabs at rush hours and using split fare meters to save the passengers money to midtown for example vs. going alone.  

If you have ever seen Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the entire first scene is a fight between John Candy and Steve Martin over a cab to the airport.

Taxi TownSF:  You mentioned the "social media" aspects of the app, like meeting your wife in a shared cab ride, and how others could potentially connect.

Dan Fedor:  Most everyone who has traveled has at some point shared cab with someone else.  As I mentioned, I asked my wife out after sharing a cab with her to downtown.  

My neighbors met in a cab out of LaGuardia and I assure you we are not the only ones to strike up relationships (personal or professional) after sharing a cab.  

Therefore, we will be incorporating (Match.Com and Linkedin) like features to allow people to request to be put in touch with somone they rode with (if they didn't already exchange information in the cab).  

We will have a rating system so that people can rate fellow passengers and avoid overly chatty riders for example.  In short, we would build in safeguards to protect people's contact information.

Taxi TownSF:  You mentioned a function that would allow taxi drivers to view hailing customers on a Google map using the app.

Dan Fedor:  One of the things I noticed about many taxi related apps is that they offer to tell the riders where the cabs are.  

I think this is much less important than telling the cabbies where the passengers are.  

Everyone has been walking down the street or been on a corner when an empty cab will honk at them in an attempt to determine if you need a cab.  What we can do is the opposite.  If a cabbie has my app, he/she can open it up and see where everyone is who is looking for a cab and where they want to go.  

I see cabs lined up at Union Station in Chicago idling, wasting gas and waiting/hoping for a good fare.  What if a cabbie in that line could pull up my app and see there is a fare waiting 2 blocks away in a less frequented area of downtown going to O'Hare no less?!  A win/win!

Taxi TownSF:  Any other important details?

Dan Fedor:  We don't aim to take cabs off the street.  We were built to maximize efficiency on busy days and to increase the odds of being picked up in less traveled zones of a downtown business district.  

We had the ear of the former commissioner in Chicago and an indication she was willing to increase the additional passenger fee to help incentivize the cabbies to pull over,  (this means drivers could add a surcharge onto the fare for passengers who are splitting the costs).  We will be building a fare splitter/calculator into the app and having a destination screen focused on events in town.  

We hope to win sponsorships from bars and restaurants and make them the "destination of the week" and we will be promoting the use of our app as a way for people to avoid drinking and driving.
(End interview)

For the record, I think true centralized dispatching would be hands down the best way to improve the distribution of taxi services to the public.  But since the three major cab companies in San Francisco - Yellow, Luxor, and De Soto, are fiercely opposed to it and would use their power to block it, and since they only want more and more cabs put out, passengers are forced to invent alternatives. 

In my opinion, this app is a pretty smart idea.  Of course, it's not perfect.  Nothing is.  


  1. Way to go John! Excellent presentation of both sides of the story! Thanks!

  2. Thank you John for covering the app!
    We are very flattered and looking forward to improve the app and move it to multiple cities.

  3. If your readers want to learn more, they can visit

  4. It is great idea to see customers hailing on
    google android. I do not have android but I plan to buy one in the near future.

    However, sharing cab comes with some trouble as
    I have experience that you get one good customer
    but the other one is cranky and he start arguging about who get out first, how much he or she to pay and what share the other pays as the routes could be partially different and the one joined later than the other but thanks to Dan Fedor for effort.

  5. John, do you realize how much drivers HATE making multiple stops? This is one of the main reasons I (and, I'm not the only one) don't take any radio calls from Marina on Fri & Sat nights. First, they'll take forever to come outside and then you've to deal with, "Oh, we'll be making 3 stops." And, we all know how generous and considerate they are. Every stop potentially means losing $3.50 flag drop. Imagine making 4 stops and the last guy handing over a credit card w/o adding any tip on a Friday or Saturday night! Now, if you get couple of rides like these on any weekend night, your night is pretty much screwed. If getting cab is their main concern then let them add flag drop for every stop they make and I'm sure no driver will complain. Multiple stops is one of the main reasons no one wants to pick up a group of 3 or 4 persons. On the other hand, the feature where drivers can see potential customer can really be helpful for both the drivers and passengers.

  6. Will the original customer be responsible for the fare and security of the driver? What if the second passenger end up throwing up in the cab or robs/hurts the driver? Who are you going to hold responsible? You bet, first customer's ass gonna be on line too. Sharing cab with random people is asking for nothing but trouble. Sorry guys, its a bad, bad idea.

  7. Ah, the cab drivers begin to speak! Hooray!

    To the first anonymous commenter who says, "... drivers HATE making multiple stops...etc." I'm not saying this app is not without its imperfections.

    The part I REALLY like about app is it would let drivers see on a Google map where people are on the streets trying to hail taxis. That's pretty darn awesome. The sharing part is more for the passengers.

    To the second anonymous commenter who asks, "Will the original customer be responsible for the fare and security of the driver?" All that stuff is good speculating and good stuff to ask... valid points. There has yet to be answer to that.

    It's good that both of the driver's comments have raised good points from the drivers' viewpoint. That's the whole point of this comment section and the blog itself.

    As Uki D. Lucas says in his comment, "We are very flattered and looking forward to improve the app..." Perhaps these kinds of comments from drivers would help give the founders of the app a helpful perspective.

    Thanks all for reading and commenting.

  8. Oh yeah, the founders of the app also put out the idea of adding a surcharge to the meter for shared rides. I don't know if that's going to be a persuading factor for drivers.

    Adding a flag drop for each stop is a pretty good idea. That would be a little better than a surcharge, unless the surcharge was $5 or so.

  9. As a cab driver in central California I believe I can make the point with complete certainty that we live or die by our tips. It is the very scarcity of cabs on a busy Friday or Saturday night that inclines folks to tip us richly enough to survive on the measly $2 or so that your average stumble-home-from-the-bar trip generates for us after expenses. If you optimize the pickup and delivery of fares (which I agree with and support whole heartedly) then you must must must absolutely must increase the fare significantly, either with added flag drops at each stop or with a shared-cab surcharge in order to compensate for the loss of tips and keep driver income up to speed with the cost of living. If you don't think ppl will stop tipping then ask yourself when was the last time you even thought about tipping the attendant who takes your order for your mc-cheesy burger shake and fries at the fast food joint, a shining model of over-optimization :)


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