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California approves Flywheel, the app that makes taxis work like Uber

The taxi wars are escalating

Flywheel, an app for booking regular taxis, got the green light from California regulators Tuesday to offer its "TaxiOS" technology to cab owners to replace the current, outdated jumble of meters, dispatch, advertising, navigation systems, and credit card readers. The new technology, which runs on a single, cloud-enabled smartphone, is being pitched as a way to help the traditional taxi industry regain market share lost to ride-hailing companies. Or, as Flywheel puts it, "California has finally set a level playing field for taxis in their war against Uber."

The decision by the Golden State's Division of Measurement Standards, which regulates commercial measuring devices like taxi meters, to allow taxi owners to use Flywheel's app comes after a successful pilot program in San Francisco. Now all California taxis have the option to use Flywheel, where the company has approval to operate throughout the state for one year pending full type certification.

"A smartphone in every car... "

Cab drivers have long complained that taxi owners' failure to innovate helped facilitate Uber's rise to prominence. In many ways, Flywheel's TaxiOS mimics Uber by removing the clutter from inside a for-hire vehicle and replacing it with a single smartphone mounted on the dashboard. It apes some other Uber features too, like fare splitting between passengers to enable carpooling and pickups closer to drivers' homes.

But whether it catches on will depend on Flywheel's ability to steal customers, and drivers, from Uber's platform, which mainly operates as a black car service but also allows regular taxi drivers to pick up fares under its uberT function.

"A smartphone in every car is the only way to advance the taxi industry, and we now have a mobile platform that can replace every expensive and outdated piece of taxi hardware, while making drivers and fleets more money than ever before."

In a statement provided by Flywheel, Kristin Macey, director of California's Division of Measurement Standards, praised the company's TaxiOS for meeting the agency's expectations. "We determined that the software provides the same level of accuracy as a taximeter and gives consumers a real-time display of current ride price, something they expect in a taxicab," she said. "The Flywheel system also complies with our existing regulations that taximeters must meet, to charge passengers by time or distance depending on the vehicle's speed, never both at the same time."

Flywheel is available as an e-hail service in a number of West Coast cities, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, Sacramento, and Portland. It recently submitted a bid to test its app in New York City, the country's largest taxi market, where two companies, Creative Mobile Technologies and Verifone, operate the systems in the city's 13,000-plus fleet. Both companies have introduced e-hail apps in recent months, so competition in the Big Apple is expected to be stiff.