Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Flywheel, the Taxi-Hailing App Formerly Known as Cabulous, Sidesteps Controversy

As the largest taxi market in the country prepares to allow new-fangled cab-hailing apps — the vote is scheduled for tomorrow morning in New York City — one mobile player is giving itself a makeover.

FlywheelfeatureFlywheel, formerly known as Cabulous, helps users hail and pay for rides. It partners with taxi fleets to use their existing systems, as well as individual drivers. It currently works with 5,000 drivers in 2,000 cabs across the U.S.

Today the company is changing its name (to be more inclusive as it expands to other types of transportation and other countries) and relaunching its iPhone and Android apps to include “intelligent adaptation to driver and consumer behavior,” as CEO Steve Humphreys described it.

The new apps include features that allow riders and drivers to call each other while shielding their phone numbers from each other, charging automated cancellation fees based on how far a cab has already travelled to pick up a passenger, and dropping unreliable drivers from being displayed.

There are four million taxi rides per day in the United States, said Humphreys, citing the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association. However, across the country taxis are 47 percent utilized.

Flywheel’s premise is to take advantage of all that existing infrastructure while making it more efficient. Versus black car services like Uber or peer-to-peer ride-sharing services like Lyft, which often court controversy, Flywheel is actually rather conservative. All it does is add a little smartphone magic to what’s already there.

Unlike many of its competitors, Flywheel extracts itself from the payment process, by linking taxi meters directly to its app and charging a flat $0.60 fee for mobile payments.

Humphreys argued that his approach — which also involves a team based in San Francisco conducting business remotely, rather than setting up local operations in every city — makes the most sense.

“You can grow much faster working with the cars because we’re able to work with all the regulatory regimes,” he said. “We’re not going to have all of these speedbumps coming up on the regulator side around safety, accessibility and fairness.”

Still, Flywheel faces its own uphill battles against brand recognition for existing taxi companies, more famous start-ups, and the friction of changing its own name.

Humphreys said his company plans to spend some of its $8 million Series A round (raised earlier this year from investors including RockPort and Shasta Ventures) on branding and marketing. First up, he said, 150 cabs in San Francisco will be topped with big ads for the Flywheel services they support.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald