NYC Taxi App ZabKab Allegedly Dodges TLC’s Calls, Launches Without Commission’s Permission

Can it corner the yellow cab market?

(Photo: ZabKab)

It’s 3 a.m. and you’re on a dark, deserted Manhattan street with no yellow cabs to be seen. Instead of limping on high heels to a busy avenue, drunk with fatigue (or just drunk), you can now hail a cab electronically using ZabKab.

The new app was unveiled today at the August Restaurant in Lower Manhattan, and enables consumers to hail a yellow cab using GPS technology.

At the click of a button, passengers appear on a map as an icon. The apps is free for passengers, while drivers can expect to pay between $9.95 and $14.95 per month.

“We have passengers that have become conditioned to looking for cabs,” said Martin Heikel, co-founder of Flatiron Apps LLC. “The way to giving them power in getting a cab is to give them visibility. We’re giving cabs a bird’s eye view of the area. It’s a one-way communication. We want to give them a tool for the first time to see a passenger that could be around the corner.“

The immediate problem with ZabKab is that it still needs to be approved by the Taxi & Limousine Commission–and that whole issue seems a bit dicey.

TLC’s spokesman Allan Fromberg told Betabeat that he has been trying to reach ZabKab for over a week, but all in vain.

“We tried to attend the press conference today and were turned away,” he lamented.

Betabeat inquired if any other companies have launched an app before seeking approval from the TLC. “Not to my knowledge,” said Mr. Fromberg.

Mr. Heikel, on the other hand, completely denied any knowledge of phone calls and emails from the TLC.

“I haven’t heard from them,” said Mr. Heikel. One reporter, raising a quizzical eyebrow, asked why ZabKab didn’t contact the TLC themselves. “We wanted the first people to hear about it to be the consumers. We didn’t want word to get out to competitors.”

On average, taxi drivers spend 25 percent of their working hours searching for clients. Over a thousand drivers have downloaded ZabKab already, even though the app was released only a few days ago. But for such an app to function well for consumers, it needs to be used by a considerable number of cabs.

“A couple of thousand [drivers] using it very quickly” would make the app effective, according to Mr. Heikel. “We’d like to see 100,000 passengers using the app.”

Matt Carrington, director of marketing and communications at Taxi Magic, the U.S. market leader in mobile taxi booking technology, shared his doubts over the need for such an app in New York City. Taxi Magic has been active since January 2009, but does not offer mobile booking in New York.

“New York City is such a highly efficient taxi market with a strong street hail culture,” Mr. Carrington told us. “Our concern in entering the market is that by the time a taxi hailed via smartphone travels 3 blocks to the user, 2-3 empty taxis will drive by. Likewise, taxi drivers are not conditioned to ignoring street hails right in front of them to pick up mobile requests several blocks away.”

As taxi driver Roland Sainristil, one of the first drivers to download ZabKab, admitted: “I am under no obligation to pick up the passenger.” We asked how far he would drive to pick up a passenger. “I would drive five or ten minutes away.”

ZabKab is more appealing to drivers than passengers. For the 80 percent of New Yorkers who live in the boroughs, this app doesn’t appear to provide a solution to a very real problem. With no certainty that a cab is on its way, and given that many cabs refuse to take passengers back to Brooklyn anyway, it seems unlikely that ZabKab will be the first port of call.

Plus, it looks like ZabCab might have some explaining to do to the TLC.

NYC Taxi App ZabKab Allegedly Dodges TLC’s Calls, Launches Without Commission’s Permission