Boston Taxis Hope to Fend off Extinction with New Apps

It may be a waste of time without regulatory reform.

Boston cabs via AP

Boston cabs via AP

Boston area taxis will soon be accessible via apps that are similar to Uber and Lyft, the popular ride hailing services that have gradually cut into the Boston transportation market.

Way2Ride and Arro are eyeing Boston as fertile ground for expansion as on-demand transportation services grow in popularity. WBUR reported on Friday that Way2Ride is set to connect their app with roughly 500 taxis in the city and possibly expand up to 1,000. If Way2Ride does reach their goal of 1,000 taxis, their service will be available in a majority of the city’s 1,825 licensed taxis.

Way2Ride works like a typical ride hailing app but users can tip their driver and have to pay a $1.99 “hailing fee” to use the service. The makers of the app, Verifone, already have a foothold in the backseats of many Boston cabs so users will be able to pay for rides they hail off the street with Way2Ride instead of swiping their credit cards or handing over cash.

Arro, a product of Creative Mobile Technologies, already has a relationship with the Boston Policy Hackney Unit and is also looking to make waves in the Boston market.

Apple users of the apps give Arro and Way2Ride three and four stars, respectively. A brief review of the apps by Boston found them to be crisp and easy to use but it may be all for nothing.

The ride hailing for these two companies will not be smooth in Boston; the taxi industry here is governed by draconian regulations that birthed the cab cartels that created the conditions for Uber and Lyft to take off. To become a licensed cab driver in Boston is an expensive and laborious process clearly designed to benefit those already past the barrier to entry, not actually protect consumers. Plus, once you’re licensed you can only work within the city limits of Boston if you’re following the letter of the law.

The municipal cab fiefdoms that exist by geographic happenstance are one of, if not the biggest, obstacle to the success of these apps. What good is an app that works on some Boston cabs but none in Cambridge or Brookline when I am trying to catch a ride from Somerville to Quincy?

In order for any these apps to help the struggling taxi industry they need to be adopted uniformly but the existing patchwork of municipal tax authorities and companies will make this very difficult. Without an overhaul of the municipal hackney regulatory structure all of this seems like a colossal waste of time.

Going by their recent legislative maneuvers on Beacon Hill, cab cartels medallion owners appear more focused on handcuffing Uber and Lyft with the same crippling regulations instead of reforming their outdated industry for the benefit of shift drivers and passengers. Why the think they can win this fight is anyone’s guess but if we have learned anything during this debate, it is that the cab cartels hate change and are slow to adapt.