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Tech Industry

Now taxis can tap tech to be more like Uber

Cabbies could swap out all their ancient hardware for Flywheel's new smartphone system.

Flywheel's TaxiOS gets regulatory approval to hit more streets in California.

Flywheel

The taxi industry is getting some high-tech help in its battle with ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft.

Flywheel, which makes an app for hailing cabs, said Tuesday its TaxiOS smart meter has gained the approval of the California Department of Weights and Measures, allowing the GPS-based taxi metering system to operate statewide. The Redwood City, California-based company is positioning the system as a replacement for an array of a tools used by taxis, folding the taximeter, payment, navigation and dispatch functions into a single mobile device paired with cloud storage.

"Cabs finally have technology that will allow them to compete in the on-demand economy, removing all the antiquated and expensive hardware from taxis and replacing it with a single inexpensive smartphone," Flywheel CEO Rakesh Mathur said in a statement. "It also opens up new options to consumers such as more flexible pricing and fare splitting. Cab drivers will also have new options like delivering for e-commerce or more flexible shifts thanks to cloud-based cashiering through TaxiOS."

Flywheel's system could help taxis from becoming an afterthought for urban travelers in need of a ride across town. The taxi industry's main threat is coming from Uber, which makes a smartphone app that sidesteps traditional cabs and provides a connection between people who want a ride and de facto cab drivers who pilot their own vehicles. Since its launch six years ago, Uber has blossomed from a San Francisco-based startup into a multinational service in 295 cities and 55 countries.

The growth for Uber and other ride-hailing companies such as Lyft has come despite roadblocks from government regulators and taxi commissions, which argue that on-demand ride services are taking business away from cab drivers without having to adhere to the same regulations as traditional taxis.

Yellow cabs do still pick up more passengers in most cities than their tech-savvy competitors, but the startups are gaining ground.

Uber drivers in New York City provided an average of more than 100,000 rides per day in July, a fourfold increase from a year earlier, according to data provided to the Wall Street Journal by the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission. In June, yellow cabs provided an average of 410,000 daily trips, an 11 percent decline from a year earlier.

TaxiOS, which was unveiled in November, has been undergoing tests on about 50 taxis as part of a pilot in San Francisco. FlywheelTaxi, a San Francisco cab company formerly known as Desoto Cab, has partnered with Flywheel to use the devices, and Flywheel says other fleets across the US have expressed interest.