Last month, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance to launch a taxi-hailing app in order to level the playing field between cabs and ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Chicago was the first major city to officially announce plans for a universal app, and it plans to require all cabs in the city to participate.
It’s a move that could shake up the ridesharing landscape in Chicago, forcing Uber and others to battle against a fleet of cabs that are all equipped with in-app payment, Uber’s most convenient feature. But there’s another fight looming after the recent city council ordinance: the battle to be Chicago’s universal taxi app.
Enter Curb, a DC-based taxi-hailing app that’s been in Chicago since 2009 (before Uber) and works with more than 5,000 cabs in the city. It’s a similar service to Uber–on-demand hailing and in-app payment–but with standard taxi fares and without the surge pricing.
Curb’s VP of Marketing Matt Carrington said the details of the city’s app are still largely unclear–there’s yet to be an official RFP–but assuming it’s a good fit for Curb, the company plans to make a bid. And with a six-year track record of hailing cabs in Chicago, Curb believes it’s the frontrunner to be the city’s app, Carrington said.
“Obviously, this is our business. We understand that if there’s going to be an app, we know a lot about an app,” he said. “If you’re going for someone who doesn’t have traction and might not even have an app, that’s a risky proposition.
“We’ve spent 10s of millions of dollars to get to the point where we are, and even then there’s still a lot of work to do. You’re emphasizing the risk of the bet if you’re putting it in a novice’s hands.”
Curb launched in 2009 as Taxi Magic but rebranded last year and brought on a new CEO. Even though it’s in more than 60 cities and has raised $35 million, it has flown under the radar as the popularity of on-demand car hailing has skyrocketed, which is due in large part to data privacy controversies at Uber and the general regulatory battle between ridesharing apps and the cities they operate in. Curb, meanwhile, has focused on playing within the rules and quietly growing its user base, Carrington explained.
“We’ve always operated within the letter of the law,” he said. “But one thing Uber has shown us is that controversy does sell pretty well for them.”
While the negative press had little impact on Uber’s bottom line, the controversies did help rival Lyft, which saw record usage during Uber’s rough week in November. Similarly, Curb saw a spike in app downloads and riders during the same time, but Carrington declined to give exact numbers.
“We feel like there’s a right way to do things and an Uber way to do things,” he said. “And we’ll take our way.”
But Uber and its $40 billion valuation remains a powerful competitor even if Curb were to be in every taxi cab in Chicago. Chicago is Uber’s cheapest market and its prices consistently undercut those of traditional cabs, outside of surge pricing. But Curb believes that by providing a reliable service combined with professional drivers who know the city, it can compete against Ubers and Lyfts of the world.
“I think a misconception of the space is that there’s a really defined pie and we’re all going after the pie,” he said. “As we have more competition and people trust they can get a ride on-demand, it’s a pie grower…It’s easier than ever to get a ride. We’ve seen that people have taken more taxi rides in the past 5 years than in the last 10. We want to be that go-to app to help you figure out how to get around.”