The latest chapter in the rideshare-taxi war has San Francisco's oldest cab company, DeSoto, letting go of its entire brand and image in favor of aligning itself with the Flywheel taxi-hailing app. As the AP reports, despite having an 82-year-old brand identity in SF, DeSoto sees the writing on the wall and company president Hansu Kim says, "We need to recast ourselves as being technologically innovative."
With that in mind, the company is having its entire fleet of 220 cars repainted and re-detailed this week, all turning red with the white Flywheel logo pasted across the sides.
Flywheel, the six-year-old, Redwood City-based startup, currently operates in L.A., San Diego, and Seattle in addition to SF, and DeSoto has been partnered with them for a while, as have other cab companies throughout the city. And even though DeSoto's fleet will now be Flywheel-branded, when you use the app there will be no preference given as to which company's cab shows up that will still be based on which ever car is closest, just like Uber and Lyft.
But Flywheel is banking on the fact that traditional taxi regulation will win out in the end, as Uber and Lyft are facing plenty of legal trouble and regulatory gray area when it comes to their safety, insurance, and the independent contractor status of their drivers.
The newly spiffed up Flywheel/DeSoto fleet will all still adhere to traditional taxi regulations, and currently pay about $4 million annual for their medallions. Rides cost customers $1 on top of the normal fare, which goes to Flywheel. One bonus: If you see one of these bright red cabs you can hail it, just like you would any other taxi, off the street, and not pay the surcharge. Another bonus: You can rate your driver, just like with Uber or Lyft. The biggest added bonus: no surge pricing.
Kim tells the Chronicle, "Taxis have gotten their ass kicked. This is a counterpunch to Uber and Lyft."
Kim's decision to become the first Flywheel fleet in the country comes just eight months after he made some pretty pessimistic statements to the press about the death of the taxi industry at the hands of ride-share companies. As of last spring, it was estimated that 20 to 25 percent of all local cabs were not even being driven because drivers couldn't make the numbers work anymore.
One could still argue that this took too long, and the cab companies have already ceded too much market share. But, should Uber and Lyft start becoming more and more like regular cabs, cash tips and higher prices and all, maybe the playing field will be leveled.
See ABC 7's coverage of the repainting job below.
Previously: DeSoto Cab Head Says S.F. Cab Industry Could Collapse In 18 Months
Now Uber Drivers Want You To Tip
Will Uber And Lyft Be Forced To Treat Drivers As Employees?
Angry Cabbies Now Sporting Anti-Uber Bumper Stickers