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How Taxis Are Upping Their Tech Game to Compete with Uber

How can taxis up their game to compete with ride-sharing services without totally abandoning what makes them so special and unique? There’s an app for that.

While Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services are taking over our streets, the classic yellow taxi cab is hardly going extinct. While the numbers have been dropping, Uber has also run into a number of issues with their public persona, with CEO Travis Kalanick finally stepping down in June of this year.

Furthermore, Uber is known for its contentious relationship with its drivers, many of whom cannot make a living wage even when working over 40 hours. Even so, the ease Uber offers to consumers makes it a healthy competitor to the classic city transport, and taxis will have to fire back in some serious way if they want to survive.

Taxis and Uber are both making strides to retain and poach drivers from each other. Both Yellow Cab and Uber have recently opened up centers in Astoria, Queens for drivers to come in, relax, take lessons, and get support from trained staff. This is reminiscent of all advancements on both sides of the aisle — whatever one company tries, the other can attempt to combat by doing it better.

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Taxis, meanwhile, have one thing that still makes them unique: the curbside pick-up. While ordering a taxi is by all means possible, a huge majority of their work comes from picking people up when they hail a cab, something Uber just doesn’t do. And there is, as with everything, an app aimed at improving that service.

StreetSmart uses AI and previous data on pick-ups to best guide taxi drivers to where people will be at a given time of day. By trawling streets with known patrons on them, the cabs are more likely to find customers. Early tests look good: over a three-month test period, taxi drivers reported that they were 22% busier and that their income increased by 15%. Those are promising numbers. Though StreetSmart can also route them, most taxi drivers still use their own knowledge of the city to get customers where they need to be.

It’s unclear if this effort (or if other competitors) will be enough to stave off Uber, or if an app is even the right way to go. Uber can just as easily use StreetSmart — it isn’t necessarily affiliated with the yellow taxi cabs. In truth, the battle will continue, and be fought in more ways than the technological. In the end, it may just come down to public perception, and whether or not yellow taxi cabs are something city dwellers are willing to give up.