Is cab-hailing app Hailo worth the cost?
To the despair of every fan of Uber, a proposed city regulation that would force private car services to charge a pre-determined rate is threatening to put the company’s black cars out of commission, at least in their current business model of meter-calculated fares. What auspicious timing for Hailo, a popular London-based cab-hailing app, to enter the Chicago market. I hopped in the back of a cab with Hailo founder Russell Hall, a ruddy-cheeked Englishman, to learn more about the company.
The idea for Hailo was born in 2009 after a London taxi driver began griping to Hall and his business partner about the money lost when searching for a fare. The app launched a year ago in London and has 400,000 downloads, with users hailing cabs every 10–15 seconds.
How it works: On an iPhone or Android, download the free app. Open it and lightning-quick GPS technology will pin you on a map and find the nearest taxi that uses Hailo, notifying you about how many minutes it would be until you're picked up. Hall says Hailo is willing to partner with any licensed Chicago cab driver with a smartphone that will download the driver app, and that already more than 700 Chicago drivers are on board.
If you decide you want the cab, hit "pick me up here"—a large yellow button at the bottom of your screen—and the closest driver will receive an alert. If the driver already has a fare, he’ll skip your request and the alert will go to the next taxi, until someone agrees to pick you up, upon which you’re notified of the taxi number that’s coming and the ETA. This sounds like a lot, but it all happens in seconds. You get an alert when your taxi is there, and have five minutes to get to it.
Hailo adds a $1.50 flat fee, which spikes to $2.75 during rush hour. The company pockets this, but, according to Hall, takes no portion of the normal fare (charged on a pre-stored credit card) or optional tip. Uber’s taxi arm has no finder’s fee but charges a mandatory 20% tip—and the company has been hit with a lawsuit by local cab companies for taking half of that while allegedly misleading customers that the driver is getting it all.
Use the Hailo app to rate your driver, but remember that your driver can rate you—so it's perhaps not advisable to use Hailo if you’ve had one too many. However, if you are a drunken mess and you leave something important in the cab, like Uber, Hailo operates a handy lost-and-found system. An automatically e-mailed receipt gives you the driver’s number so you can call and arrange to retrieve the lost item. London cabs are returning about 13 items a week, Hall says.
Hall estimates a two-minute response time in the Loop and seven- to nine-minute waits in farther-out neighborhoods. I’ve had the app downloaded on my phone for about a week and that’s been about accurate. Granted, I haven’t strayed far: mostly Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and the West Loop. A pal has complained that Hailo's system gets clogged right after 6pm, when the rush hour premium is dropped. I’m sure I'll be testing the app more in the coming months, especially as my tolerance for waving down cabs declines in direct proportion with dropping temperatures, but the consensus now is that Hailo is worth it if you’re not near a major street (or, of course, useful CTA route), but not if you can walk a block or two and hail a cab the old-fashioned way.