A few years ago, the only way to get a taxi was to hail one on the street or call a phone number with sometimes-uncertain results. Now there are a wealth of smartphone-based options like Uber’s UberTaxi, myTaxi, and Taxi Magic. Have you used them?


Left to right: Taxi Magic, Uber, and myTaxi renderings on iPhones.
Images from the app manufacturers.



UberTaxi

I’ve recently been trying out Uber’s new UberTaxi service, which calls regular taxis rather than black car sedans. You can see how far away the nearest taxis are from the app, and easily request one.

The best elements of Uber’s service are that the cabs are in very good shape, compared to many DC cabs, and when you get to your destination, you just step out without worrying about money at all. Uber emails a ride receipt with a map of your trip so you can be sure you weren’t swindled.

I’ve used it 3 times, from home to a destination downtown, then back from downtown, and another late night from an area near downtown. Even though I could have often walked a few blocks to find a cab, using Uber the cab came right to me; only one time did the cab have any trouble, when I was at the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue) and he had to call to figure out which side of the building I was on. But he was easily able to call, so the Uber system clearly makes it simple to work out these kinds of confusions.

Uber charges an automatic 20% tip, though one driver I spoke to said Uber keeps all of that as their fee. Update: Erik Weber (now working for Uber) says this is incorrect, and 100% of the tip goes to the driver (though the driver does pay Uber an undisclosed amount).

UberTaxi is only available inside DC right now, while its original black cars can pick people up in the suburbs. There seems to be little reason not to pick the taxi mode over the sedan mode, unless you really want extra luxury or there aren’t taxis around. (For example, on a recent trip to Uber’s home of San Francisco, coming back to the hotel from the ballpark neighborhood, there were sedans but no taxis.)

Taxi Magic

When I need a taxi to National Airport, I’ve been using Taxi Magic, which lets you request a DC Yellow Cab, Arlington Red Top, Montgomery Barwood, or Alexandria Yellow Cab. You can also pay by credit card, though you take the step of paying from the cab (or pay the driver directly).

My experiences with DC Yellow Cabs via Taxi Magic were not so great, so I’ve been calling Red Tops instead, which work fine. Taxi Magic lets you request a cab for a time in the future, which is good for airport rides. The one thing that could be better is that when the taxi arrives ahead of time, as it often does (that’s a good thing), the system calls you and you can press a key to tell the cab you’re on your way out. But if the cab is 15 minutes early, it’ll just keep calling every couple minutes.

myTaxi

myTaxi launched late last year; it is affiliated with car2go and has been doing cross-promotions for people to use both services.

I started to download the app but am uncomfortable with the fact that on Android, it wants access to all of my contacts. Android has dealt with security by making apps disclose which permissions they need, and you can choose to download the app or not. Unfortunately, a lot of apps need some fairly intrusive-seeming permissions for minor features of the app that you might never use.

There’s no way to decline just one permission (and if you could, it might crash the apps unless developers always accounted for that possibility) and app developers don’t have much incentive to provide a core app with few permissions and then separate add-ons you can download.

Have you tried myTaxi? What about Uber, Taxi Magic, or something else? How has the experience worked for you?

Tagged: taxis, technology

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.