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Taxi-hailing app Curb to relaunch with a new attack plan against Uber

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Formerly known as Taxi Magic

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Curb, the app formerly known as Taxi Magic, is getting a fresh coat of paint and some unique features. The relaunch comes under its new owner, Verifone Systems, a public company based in San Jose that operates the entertainment and payment systems in about half of New York City's yellow and green taxis. When it goes live next month, Curb will allow users to hail and pay for a metered taxi ride, as well as —€” for the first time ever —€” book a yellow cab in advance. The app is re-launching in New York City, but is already available in Chicago and Boston. Verifone says it hopes to eventually bring Curb to all 60 cities in which the company operates across the US.

"It's raising the level of service that yellow and green cabs can provide."

Verifone's app Way2Ride, which debuted in September 2015, will be folded into Curb and eventually phased out, said Jason Gross, head of product and marketing for the company. There will be a $1.95 fee every time you use the app to book a taxi. Riders can rate their drivers, just like with Uber. And drivers will get notices about possible trips through the systems already installed in their taxis.

Starting out, Curb will only be compatible with the 14,000 yellow and green cabs that use Verifone's credit card machines and in-taxi entertainment systems, but Gross said that by summer, the app should work in every yellow and green cab in the city under an agreement with Creative Mobile Technologies (CMT), the city's other taxi technology company.

"If you've got that 8AM flight tomorrow morning and you need a cab at 6, it's going to be there waiting for you," Gross said of Curb's pre-arrangement feature. "It's raising the level of service that yellow and green cabs can provide."

Since Uber came on the scene, the traditional taxi industry has struggled to keep up with the San Francisco-based company's user friendly technology, cheap fares, and the promise of quality driven by customer ratings. Taxi owners argued that Uber flouts regulations, but have watched helplessly as riders, and drivers, flock to the platform. Medallion prices in New York and elsewhere plummeted and lenders who made a living by financing the taxi industry went out of business. Meanwhile, the taxi industry has tried its hand at a few apps: Flywheel, Sidecar, GetTaxi, Hailo, and Taxi Magic are some of the apps that tried, and mostly failed, to match Uber's model. (Lyft and Gett use for-hire vehicles rather than taxis.)

"Cabs can't get their act together."

Taxi Magic, which was funded by expense and travel company Concur, rebranded itself in 2014 as Curb and got itself a new CEO. Since then, the app has languished in obscurity. It only has one star in Apple's App Store and its reviews are mostly negative. ("Cabs can't get their act together" reads one from March 18th.) Gross said since acquiring it last October, Verifone's engineers have been working to integrate Curb into its platform.

Verifone's Way2Ride app came out last year, a few weeks after CMT's Arro, both of which promised an Uber-esque experience with yellow taxis, but with professional drivers in a highly regulated environment. Gross said Way2Ride has been successful, with over 300,000 downloads and a four-star rating in the app store. And with Uber under pressure from drivers due to recently slashed fares, Gross said more and more drivers are coming back to yellow and green cabs.

"You can have a professional, licensed, insured vehicle, and get it through an app," he said. "It's not an either-or."