It was late on St. Patrick’s Day. The parade crowds had ebbed, then the bar crowds surged, and now people were starting to think about winding down the party. Walking home along Prytania Street, I watched a taxicab pull to the curb ahead of me. A wobbly reveler started moving toward its back door. Suddenly a yelp was heard from across the street.
“Don’t you f—ing THINK about getting in that cab,” a well-dressed, twentysomething woman screamed. “I CALLED that cab and have WAITED on that cab and it is MINE.”
Such are the taxicab wars in New Orleans, where finding a cruising vehicle on party days – and really, aren’t they all here? – can be as frustrating as scoring flashlight batteries during a hurricane scare.
Now smartphones may well become the weapon of first choice for those on the battle lines. While Uber and other ride-sharing companies negotiate terms with City Hall, more traditional taxi services are looking at their own apps that can quickly and digitally match drivers and riders.
“A couple of years ago, I saw Uber on the horizon,” says Simon Garber, who owns taxicab medallions in New York, Chicago and New Orleans. “So I decided to do an app of my own. We used engineers in Russia to create it.”
The result is TaxiCabApp, which got a soft launch several months ago in New Orleans and Chicago. Customers who download the free app can find a cab via smartphone, pairing with the nearest vehicle shown on a local map via GPS.
Garber, whose operates locally under the auspices of New Orleans Carriage Cab Company, is a veteran in the trade. He arrived in New York from the Ukraine in 1978, and started driving taxi cabs at 18. According to his website, Garber owns 400 taxis in New York, and 900 in Chicago.
In addition to his Carriage cabs, “any drivers can download the app and be part of it, as long as they are licensed, insured and approved,” Garber says.
The cost of the ride to the consumer is the meter fare, he adds. Payment is set up with a credit card.
“There’s a lot of software development in it,” Garber says. “It’s like a bicycle; you start with the basics and they can add so many levels. More bells and whistles are coming.”
One new wrinkle is a series of short, videotaped Cab Rides that feature New Orleanians interviewed in the back seat of Ammanuel Haddis’s cab. Full disclosure: I appear in one, and NolaVie will post the series here. After all, where else is Big Easy life in all its variety mirrored quite so aptly as the interior of one of our cabs? And Haddis is iconic as one of the city’s big-personality drivers, long on style … and opinions.
So far, Garber says, TaxiCabApp has created a lot of local buzz. As he puts it, “this is the future.”
He’s probably right about that. In a city where virtually everyone is out late, virtually hailing a ride home makes all kinds of sense.
Here is a teaser for Cab Ride. Stay tuned for the series.