Hailo: It’s Like Uber, but Less Upscale-o

The taxi-hailing app works in 11 cities, promising hassle-free trips for riders and easy-to-find fares for drivers.

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There’s something approachably tongue-in-cheek about a company that sticks a Travis Bickle Taxi Driver reference in a promo video for a taxi-hailing app. Indeed Hailo, launched in the United Kingdom in 2011 and only recently available in New York, reliably makes life easier by taking foresight out of our morning equation. Which is to say, it virtually hails a yellow taxi at your command so that you won’t have to fight scores of other commuters also on their way to work.

Hailo may seem all too similar to the ubiquitous Uber app—a similar app that operates primarily with black car limousine services. Although both apps allow you to plug your address into the app and request a car, Uber is primarily an upscale service, while Hailo works exclusively with city taxis and works almost symbiotically with the city in question. In New York, for example, Hailo operates only with licensed yellow cabs, making it easier not only for passengers to travel, but for cab drivers to find a fare. In fact, Hailo works with taxi drivers in order to help them make the most of the app. Hailo fits in so seamlessly with the way New Yorkers use cabs that it’s hard to imagine we’ve only recently been able to sync our iPhones to our transportation. What will be next—a MetroCard app?

Some of Hailo’s stats even sound frighteningly efficient—in two and a half years, Hailo has picked up 2.5 million passengers; every five seconds someone hails a cab using the app. Although Hailo is still in a year-long beta pilot program run by the city to monitor taxi-related apps, nearly 20% of taxi drivers in New York use it.

Just like any relatively new app, Hailo is not without its problems—the option of paying through your phone is still some time away, and the arrival times can be a bit off. However, the app has perhaps had the unforeseen side effect of literally and figuratively bridging all of New York by making it five times easier for citizens in outer boroughs to find a taxi.

Perhaps the great irony of taxis is that while there are tens of thousands on the streets, the number seems to magically plummet the moment you actually need to find one.  That may no longer be a concern, and so you’re left to wonder only whether Robert De Niro will be on the other end of your virtual hail.