Soon enough, New York City taxis will have a new alternative to the taximeters and credit card processors installed in their cars.
On Thursday, Redwood City, Calif.-based Flywheel said it has been granted a license by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to market its alternative to the devices they’ve been using for the last several years. Flywheel has developed software for taxi fleets that includes a smartphone app that acts as a taximeter and GPS navigator, and lets drivers process credit card payments with a car reader attached to the smartphone.
“For over a decade, this industry has been locked out of any innovation,” Flywheel president and COO Oneal Bhambani told Fortune in an interview.
Flywheel, founded in 2009 as Cabulous, has been hard at work on its new software, named TaxiOS, for about a year, and first put it to the test through the commission’s recent pilot program for new technologies. According to Bhambani, the pilot helped Flywheel fine-tune its software, and now that it has a Taxicab Passenger Enhancement Program (TPEP) license, it will begin to market it broadly to taxi fleet companies.
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Until now, the taximeter market in New York had been monopolized by Verifone and Creative Mobile Technologies, or CMT. According to Bhambani, the lack of competition resulted in little improvement to taximeters over the last decade. Meanwhile, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, whose mobile apps let both passengers and drivers book, complete, and handle payments, have burst onto the scene and quickly charmed their customers.
“We gotta figure out a way to partner with them and give them a weapon to fight back,” Bhambani said of New York City’s taxis and their competition with ride-hailing services.
Uber and Lyft have raised billions in funding from investors in the last few years, while avoiding much of the regulation imposed on the taxi industry in the U.S. Their effect on the taxi industry’s business has even driven one taxi company in San Francisco to rebrand its cars with Flywheel’s logo in hopes it can help it remain relevant and competitive.
In cities where it already operates, like San Francisco, Flywheel is best known for its smartphone app that provides passengers and drivers many of these same convenient features such as hailing a car and paying via the app. However, TaxiOS is taking things a step further in New York City, as Flywheel seeks to replace the traditional taximeter.
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Flywheel plans to charge a variety of fees for TaxiOS, including credit card processing fees, a monthly fee for its dispatch software, and fees for using its mobile app to book rides. One thing it won’t charge for, however, is the Motorola Android smartphones it provides each driver, which comes preloaded with the TaxiOS app. The company has partnered with Verizon to provide Internet data service to drivers, though it charges a monthly fee of $12, according to its fee schedule. PayPal is handling payments for its system, added Bhambani.
In the future, Flywheel also plans to offer tablets to replace the screens currently attached on the back of seats, said Bhambani. Ideally, Flywheel’s alternative will provide passengers with online services they use while taking a ride, or even connect to an Internet hotspot if they need Wi-Fi.
Flywheel’s goals for TaxiOS are ambitious. By the end of 2016, Bhambani said it will have its software in at least 1,000 of New York City’s roughly 14,000 taxis.