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UberCab Simplifies Urban Transit, But Will It Lead To Anarchy?

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UberCab app

UberCab app

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If you live in a major U.S. city, you've probably taken your share of cabs. When it's raining, or when the nearest subway stop is a tad too far, cabs are a great resource. But even better than the cab is the car service -- elegant and clean and not much more expensive than a run-of-the-mill taxi. Only problem is, you usually need to set an appointment for car service in advance. That's where UberCab comes in.

UberCab allows users to call for a car service in just a matter of seconds by cracking open an app on their iPhone or by sending a text message. Users can specify their location or let the iPhone's built-in GPS find it for them on a map. Even better is the fact that UberCab is totally cashless (except for the tip, of course): when users set up a UberCab account, they provide billing info. Then, when they use the service, the fare is automatically charged to their credit card -- no muss, no fuss.

Perhaps more interesting -- or more alarming -- is that UberCab works in a similar way for car service drivers. UberCab doesn't run through radio dispatch or other systems operated by individual livery companies; instead, UberCab sends notices of waiting fares directly to drivers' phones. As TechCrunch's Michael Arrington points out with glee, that could crack open the closed-circuit world of taxi drivers -- a thought that Arrington loves. But if you've ever ridden in a gypsy cab, you're probably not so convinced.

Here's the thing: livery companies are heavily regulated. Their cars are subject to a plethora of inspections, and their drivers need to carry special licenses, updated every year. If UberCab were to open things up, to bypass the regulatory agencies...well, certainly more drivers would get to participate, but at what cost to consumers?

Part of the attraction to car services and even yellow taxis is the consistent user experience -- before you open the door, you know what you're going to get. Some folks might be less likely to hop in if that certainty gets watered down. (Put another way, which would you rather fly: Southwest or JetBlue?) At the very least, UberCab opens up a number of legal issues similar to those raised by the car-sharing legislation recently debated in California.

Thankfully, UberCab is only registering car service companies at the moment, not individual drivers. The service is currently in beta in San Francisco, with trials in New York and Los Angeles rumored to be coming soon. If you're curious to see how it works, here's a clip that ought to explain things:

 

[Mashable, Ubercab, via John]

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