Whenever Mike Evans goes drinking with his buddies on the weekend, he’s smart enough to call a taxi to drive them around. Sometimes, that could be a little tough.
It could take 45 minutes for Evans, a 42-year-old police officer from South Salt Lake, to get a cab on a weekend night because the dispatch is so busy with calls.
Now, it only takes five minutes for the ride to come. Evans says a new mobile app called NexTaxi exclusively for the Ute Cab Company makes hailing a taxi much faster.
“I just think it’s much more convenient than having to wait in line on the phone,” he said. “That NexTaxi app uses GPS to track the closest cab. The most I’ve waited for a cab with that app is five minutes.”
NexTaxi, which is made by a Tucson company called Universal TranWare, is the first e-hailing taxi service to arrive in Utah, following on the popularity of other services such as Uber and Hailo.
Like those apps, a customer in need of a ride can use NexTaxi to send a message to the Ute Cab’s electronic dispatch system to hail the closest available taxi. The app is available for both the iPhone and Android phone via the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store, respectively.
The app uses the GPS locator in the customer’s phone, so it can instantly locate the rider and send that information to the dispatch system. The rider can send the address of where he or she wants to go or by calling up addresses from their phone’s contacts list or a point of interest on the map, such as a shopping mall. Then a signal is sent to the nearest available cab, and the driver knows immediately where to pick up the rider and the rider’s destination. There is no need to call the dispatch office.
And when the ride is over, the customer can pay the driver through the app and even add a tip — with no paperwork for the driver.
The NexTaxi app is tied in to Universal TranWare’s electronic taxi dispatch system, which Ute Cab Company has used for more than two years. Drivers use an Android tablet to record each ride, and the cars have GPS locators so customers using NexTaxi can see where their cab is before it arrives. All of Ute Cab’s 75 cars, which cover Salt Lake County, are connected to the computerized dispatch sytem and NexTaxi.
“It saves paperwork, which means it saves time,” NexTaxi CTO and founder Earl Epstein said. “Every ride counts in the day, and that’s the big advantage for the driver. Time is money.”
One app feature lets customers to leave special instructions for the driver to, for example, not ring the doorbell or to help the rider into the car. And there’s a button to stop the cab after it’s dropped passengers off in case they left something in the car.
The app also can save favorite locations that a rider visits often, as well as a list of recent trips.
“We’ve had a 100 percent success rate [with the app],” Ute Cab Dispatch Manager Mike Norvell said. “Every passenger that uses it continue to use it. They are only using the app so they aren’t tied up with the telephone and the dispatcher.”
He said a small number of people have begun using the app since Ute Cab adopted it this summer, but “it will grow in popularity.”
“Every single passenger that I have talked to has absolutely loved it,” Norvell added. “We’re super happy and excited about how this is going to turn out.”
Unlike the growing taxi service Uber, which uses a new fleet of black luxury vehicles, NexTaxi has implemented it in a cab company’s existing fleet so there are no added fees over the usual cab fare. And NexTaxi doesn’t have to jump through a city’s regulatory hoops to start a new fleet of taxis there, Epstein said.
So far, NexTaxi is deployed in about 50 U.S. markets including Chicago; Austin, Texas; and Tampa, Fla.
Uber ran into regulatory problems in New York City during its test phase earlier this year. Last spring, the Livery Roundtable and the Black Car Assistance Corporation filed for a temporary restraining order to stop services like Uber, claiming it was akin to pre-arranged yellow cab rides, which are outlawed by the city. A judge later dismissed the order.