Now that Hailo has officially pulled out of the U.S., the city of Chicago wants to throw its hat into the taxi-hailing smartphone app ring. The Chicago Tribune reports that "the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection is preparing to solicit bids from companies to develop at least one universal app" that can be used to order taxis. Much like the Chicago Department of Transportation's deal with Alta Bicycle Share to create Divvy, the winner of the contract would operate the app with the backing of the city.
The proposed app would compete directly with app-based rideshare services operated by companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, some of which are used by licensed taxi drivers. Mayor Emanuel has always been supportive of the rideshare industry, though he did introduce a series of regulations designed to make the services safer while placing a limit of "surge pricing." The city's app would essentially become a central dispatcher for the nearly 7,000 licensed taxis in Chicago and would require all drivers to participate. Chicago Dispatch publisher George Lutfallah expressed concern about the app, arguing that drivers should be able to choose where they get their fares instead of being required to participate in a city-mandated program.
An official taxi app commissioned by the city does seem a bit superfluous. Users can already order taxis through Uber, an app that is also used to hire rideshare drivers and private cars. A city-specific app like the one that the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection is proposing would predominantly be useful to locals, but it's hard to imagine tourists taking the time to download it to hail a cab. Unless the city's app can make traveling by taxi cheaper or more convenient than using Uber, Lyft or Sidecar, it seems destined for failure.