Tech startup helps Seattle cab company enter mobile app fastlane



Posted on April 30, 2014 at 7:44 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 30 at 7:53 AM

Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft have driven the traditional taxi industry to distraction - and disruption.

That's all thanks to smartphones and a business model that pays private citizens to move people around town using their own cars.

But some tech startups are trying to give the taxi industry a lift.

Just like Uber, the Flywheel app lets you use your smartphone to hail, track and pay for rides. But Flywheel partners with existing taxi companies. In Seattle, that's Eastside For Hire, which charges a flat rate. That means no running meters and - in a development that will please Uber's critics - no surge pricing when demand goes up.

Flywheel, which launched out of San Francisco in 2009, supplies cab companies with hardware and software. Eastside For Hire provides about 300 licensed, insured cars, along with background-checked drivers and regulatory approval.

Not having to abide by regulations is one of several complaints that taxi drivers have lodged against app-based ridesharing services when the matter has come up with officials in several cities, including Seattle and Dallas.

For Flywheel, which is currently available in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, regulation can be a potent marketing weapon.

"The advantage really is that we're able to come into these cities and scale efficiently and sustainably because the fleets are already in existence," said Flywheel Seattle marketing manager Alex LaChance. "They're already on the road, they've gone through all the background checks and the licensing, insurance. They're ready to go. They just partner with Flywheel as another way to give rides."

Flywheel is already getting aggressive with its pricing. Starting May 5, the company will cut its rates for short distance rides in Seattle by 30 percent.

Flywheel is just one of several taxi hailing apps on the market, including Hailo, Taxi Magic and GetTaxi. Even Uber has a similar option called UberTaxi.