The City of Chicago is providing local taxi drivers with the technology to take on popular ridesharing options like Uber and Lyft with the launch of a new city-sponsored taxi dispatch program.
The City quietly announced the launch of CHICABS last week, which will give Chicagoans a way to hail and pay for a cab via their smartphone, and will give taxi drivers a more level playing field in the fight against ridesharing. Chicago selected two apps–Curb and Arro–as official options for passengers to electronically hail a cab.
Officials have talked about launching a universal taxi app since October 2014, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection officially launched a selection process in May to select an app to be the taxi industry’s answer to Uber.
At the time, Chicago was eyeing to be the first city with a universal taxi hailing app. But last fall Arro and Way2Ride launched in New York City to give the city’s 20,000 yellow and green taxis a way to connect with riders electronically, making it the first city with such a program.
On the CHICABS website it directs people to download the Curb app from the Apple App Store or Google Play, so it doesn’t appear that there will be a separate city-branded app for requesting cabs. Emails to city officials were not immediately returned Monday. Arro is planning to launch in Chicago later this month, according to the website.
The city says that all taxi drivers must enroll and participate in one or both of the selected apps by Jan. 31. There will be a registration fair for drivers at the Public Vehicle Operations at 2350 W. Ogden from Jan. 6-8.
The launch of city-wide taxi apps comes as ridesharing companies are flourishing in Chicago. Uber’s David Plouffe said in November that there are now more than 35,000 Uber drivers in Chicago, which is more than three times the number of cabs. Lyft said that while it doesn’t disclose specific driver numbers, riders and drivers have nearly doubled in the last 6 months in Chicago.
Uber and Lyft were also recently granted access to pickups at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, which were seen as the last remaining advantage for Chicago taxi drivers.
Chicago Inno caught up with DC-based Curb back in July when the startup was vying to be one of the selected apps, and President Sanders Partee said that the app’s strong presence in Chicago would likely give it a leg up over the competition.
“I think that the reason on why I’m so bullish (on why Curb will win the bid) is that over half of the taxis in Chicago already are addressed by our system,” Partee said at the time. “And another third we’re in discussions with and have the technology to connect to them and their dispatch systems.”