A revolution may be brewing in the city’s congested taxi cab business.
The upstart website FastCab and its smartphone app may be about to transform the existing dispatch system into one directed solely by customers.
And that possibility has the cab companies fuming, the city taxi bureaucrats mum and the Taxi Commission consulting its lawyers.
But the author of this potential revolution says his digital system exists only to relieve the crippling bottleneck caused by the city’s taxi dispatching system.
“A lot of the challenges in our (Calgary’s) taxi system right now are because of the dispatching service,” says FastCab founder and CEO Jeff Doepker.
“Many of the people I’ve talked to say they’re tired of being on hold for an hour for a cab, and when they finally get through, a cab shows up five minutes later.
“Many of the cab drivers that I have talked to say they’re not busy on any given night, and yet many customers have to wait forever for a cab,” he said in an interview.
Hailing a cab has become so challenging in Calgary that there were many reports around New Year’s Eve, warning that anyone trying to get a cab any time on that day would have to wait several hours.
FastCab is able to access any and all potential taxi service providers with a single tap of a customer’s finger, bypassing the cab companies’ dispatch systems.
Customers who download the app can even sweeten the deal by adding a gratuity in the form of an advance ‘tip’ to the cab request, to ‘encourage’ cab drivers to answer their request more quickly.
Anyone can download one of two versions of the FastCab app, one for the customers and one for the taxi cab drivers.
The two versions are designed to work together to form the direct relationship that FastCab’s founder and CEO sought to create between customer and driver.
“The only ones who don’t like what we’re doing are the brokers,” said Doepker.
“We’ve created such a stir because we’re a technology based company and we’re solving a problem that no one else has been able to solve, including the brokers,” Doepker said.
“So long as we can stay in line with the city’s regulations, we should be able to continue operating,” said Doepker.
Brokers in Calgary such as Checker Yellow Cab, Associated Cab, Mayfair Taxi and Delta Cab have their hands tied due to the city’s stranglehold on taxi regulation and improving their own system undoubtedly presents a daunting challenge amid a sea of municipal red tape.
Not so for privately held FastCab.
It appears the bureaucrats aren’t sure what to make of FastCab’s entry into the taxi service game in Calgary.
A gag order was recently issued by city hall’s Taxi and Limousine Advisory Committee (TLAC) until its monthly meeting on Feb. 22, when a legal opinion concerning FastCab will be considered.
“We’re just not sure where FastCab fits in the scheme of things presently,” said Marc Halat, a Livery Transport Services (LTS) officer.
Jonathon Campbell, chairman for TLAC, confirmed that the Feb. 22 TLAC meeting’s agenda, “will be largely about the FastCab.”
“The brokers are, of course, very against it (FastCab),” said Campbell.
“They (the brokers) have submitted their concerns to Marc at the LTS. But TLAC is in a gray area because we don’t know what side to stand on because ultimately, we don’t know what the legal end of all this will be.”
Campbell said that the brokers just want FastCab to follow the same rules and regulations that they have to as well as making sure that FastCab pays brokerage fees too.
Despite the looming Feb. 22 TLAC meeting, Doepker is optimistic about his company, and easily shrugs off any worries about the future.
“This is a win win win situation for everyone. It’s a win for the drivers ‘cause they’re able to take more control of their livelihood, it’s a win for the customers ‘cause they are now receiving a higher level of service, and it’s really a win for the city too because now we’ve alleviated some of the heat on them to fix something that’s really broken.”