Flywheel, the taxi-hailing app that is in seven cities along the West Coast, is rolling out a new feature that will allow users to pay for normal cabs via a mobile app — if the cabbie is part of Flywheel's network. Called "Pay by Flywheel," the feature will allow users to take advantage of both the ubiquity of taxis and the convenience of mobile payments — and, therefore, act as a challenge to Flywheel competitors Uber and Lyft.
"It's sort of a best-of-both-worlds solution," CEO Rakesh Mathur told BuzzFeed News. "[We become] a mobile payments company and give riders that convenience for the subset of taxis that are Flywheel-enabled."
This will only work for taxis registered to the Flywheel platform — but that's a large number, especially in Flywheel's West Coast home market. In San Francisco, for example, 1,500 of the city's registered 1,800 taxis are part of Flywheel's platform. (Flywheel would not disclose other cities' numbers.)
Flywheel, which relies on existing taxis, has come up against steep competition from ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft in the last few years. For much of Uber's early days, CEO Travis Kalanick publicly criticized the taxi industry and presented his service, which depends on private drivers, as a solution to the issues of quality and reliability riders may have come across in taxis. But Mathur hopes that with the introduction of Pay by Flywheel, the company will have a chance to capitalize on its advantage — namely, that taxis are the only class of commercial vehicle that can legally respond to street hails in most cities.
"You cannot walk into an Uber or Lyft — there's no way to do that," Mathur said. "What licensed taxis have that Uber, etc. doesn't is that you can actually walk into a taxi, and people actually do that all the time."
"What we're demonstrating here with this product is our uniquenesses that the taxi industry has that ride-share doesn't," he continued. "And we're combining that with technology, and I think that's a level of delight that you can't do if you've got to wait 2-3 minutes for a taxi."
Now, he said, users in cities where hailing a taxi might be quicker than e-hailing an Uber or Lyft can shave a few more minutes off their rides and still enjoy the convenience of cashless transactions.
In addition to launching Pay by Flywheel, the company also announced that it is adding one more city to its roster: Portland, Oregon. As BuzzFeed News reported, Portland recently changed its anti-ride-hail regulation and legalized Uber and Lyft, allowing the companies to work within a temporary, 120-day legal framework. During this test run, the Portland Bureau of Transportation is also allowing new ride-hail companies, whether taxi or otherwise, to enter the market so the agency can learn about what works best.