An entrepreneur pitches an app solution to New York’s accessible-taxi problem
By year's end, tech entrepreneur Jay Bregman will have launched the latest application designed to improve the taxi-riding experience in New York City: Hailo. Like Uber and Taxi Magic before it, Hailo aims to do for car service what Seamless has done for the restaurant delivery business: enable clients and businesses to find each other online.
But unlike its predecessors, which in New York deal with livery cars, Bregman says this one will be used by yellow taxi drivers. And though the app would seem to stretch the notion of a taxi "hail," which is the province of yellow cabs, versus pre-arranged service, which is the province of black cars, Bregman doesn't foresee any regulatory hurdles.
“The reason I’ve moved to New York is we don’t believe there’s really anything to be done, or rules that need to be changed in order for this technology to be deployed," he said.
Ashwini Chhabra, the Taxi and Limousine Commission's deputy commissioner for policy and planning, basically agrees.
“In our conversations with them, we’ve said, 'you guys are bright, take a look at our rules and see if there’s anything there would be an issue,'" Chhabra told me.
The app works by zeroing in on a passenger's location using G.P.S. and then alerting drivers in the vicinity to the potential client. Once a driver has agreed to pick up the fare—using the driver's version of the Hailo interface—the client gets an estimate of the wait time.
The client can also specify a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, a market sector Bregman is eager to tap into.
“This technology will help connect disabled New Yorkers, as it does in London, directly with those resources," says Bregman, the New York-born Dartmouth educated founder and C.E.O. of Hailo, which launched on Nov. 1 in London, where he says it's gained “a strong foothold among the handicapped population.”
(Of course, the main difference between New York and London is that here, only 232 of the city's about 13,000 taxis can handle wheelchairs. There, it's more like 100 percent. So supply should remain an issue.)
The app doesn't just find rides for drivers. It also allows the cabbie to process payments and notifies him of nearby events where there’s an anticipated surge in taxi demand. Since its launch in London in November, about 4,000 drivers, who pay a fee for the service, have used the app, and it has facilitated 275,000 taxi rides, according to Bregman.
Bregman recently raised $17 million from Accel Partners, a venture capital firm, to underwrite an expansion into New York, Chicago, Toronto, Boston and Dublin. In New York, Bregman has set up offices in Chelsea and is in the process of hiring a general manager and three taxi drivers, who will help tweak the app to make it more New York-cabbie friendly, and then help sell it to other taxi drivers.
Bregman says taxi drivers, and taxi customers, will be able to use the app to find each other within the next three to six months, at which point, he says, "It's two taps to a taxi."