Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft have changed for-hire transportation forever. Taxis are still required to serve vulnerable populations that TNCs may not, but Uber and Lyft are attracting the most profitable rides. Taxi companies, drivers, and regulators across the world are seeking to improve taxi service by importing some or all of the features of TNCs - smartphone apps, gps tracking, seamless payment, robust rating systems, and dynamic pricing. Some taxi fleets are already developing or buying branded apps to upgrade their dispatch services, but the success of any transportation service is ultimately dependent on how quickly, cheaply, and reliably a customer can get to their destination in relation to other services.
Last year, Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced a bill to develop a universal taxi app for the County. The bill gives the County Department of Transportation the authority to approve multiple universal taxi apps as long as they make their data openly available so that any app can dispatch all drivers. Riders get faster service, drivers make more money, and vulnerable populations are still served. Many cab companies already have apps but none have the universal experience or fast response time of ride-sharing technology like Uber and Lyft. If other jurisdictions adopt similar rules, it will create an incentive for private companies to agree on a universal specification and create an ecosystem of taxi-based apps and services. By granting tech companies access to all taxis, the universal protocol could become a platform for further innovation, without jeopardizing the public safety or universal service goals of taxi regulation.