(Photo by Flickr user Marcin Wichary, used under a Creative Commons license)
In Baltimore, taxis are getting into the ride-hailing app game.
Transdev, the international company that owns Yellow Checker Cab of Baltimore, is launching its zTrip app in the city on Thursday.
The app, which is available for iOS and Android, was beta tested by the company in Kansas City over the last year. By the spring, the company expects to have it available in 18 cities, said Bill George, president of the taxicab business in Transdev’s On Demand Division.
In Baltimore, the app has been rolling in soft-launch mode this week, with about 200 rides ordered between Tuesday and Wednesday. “Drivers are thrilled with it,” George said.
At this point, it’s obvious that the cab service is entering the same app space where services like Uber and Lyft have made big inroads in recent years. After entering in Baltimore, the ridesharing services officially got on the books in Maryland last year with a new — and separate from taxi — regulatory framework adopted by the state legislature. This week, Lyft announced an expansion into Annapolis and Baltimore surburbs, and Uber added more Maryland cities last October.
Ridesharing companies haven’t been shy about their intentions to disrupt the taxi industry in general, with its entrenched regulations, and the many individual difficulties getting a ride we’ve had over the years. It would be easy to look at the app as an attempt to catch up by imitation. But given all the flack taxi companies take and the fact that we started the New Year with word of an $1,100 Uber ride on New Year’s Eve, it’s only fair to hear George out.
Riders, he said, “can still call for a cab, hail a cab, text for one or order on our website. This is just another way to order the vehicle.”
Like ridesharing, zTrip has driver tracking and a ratings system, and allows riders to pay with a credit card through the app (though cash is still an option). Transdev also introduced a new computer dispatch system in Baltimore that’s syncing with the app and other forms of ordering. But George said zTrip has a couple of features that are designed to make it distinct. For one, there is no surge pricing. “The price is the same, 24/7,” George said. Riders can also book rides in advance. A button on the app also provides access to live customer service, and another is coming soon to request ADA compliance.
George also pointed to the drivers themselves as an asset. They’re professional, and they’re driving regulated vehicles, he said. Along with the dispatch system, the fact that the drivers may know a shortcut also shortens ride times. We asked if Transdev has lost drivers to the ridesharing companies, who offer flexibility as an independent contractor.
“When the app services have opened up, there was an initial departing of some drivers. Typically most of them come back,” he said.
Transdev is planning a launch party for the app from 6-9 p.m. tonight at Phillips in the Inner Harbor. They company says it will donate to the Kennedy Krieger Institute as part of the launch.