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San Diego taxi drivers get a ride-hailing app

There are still taxi drivers in San Diego despite the storm of changes to the industry brought by ride-hailing companies. You can still call a dispatcher to get a ride from drivers with the United Taxi Workers of San Diego (UTWSD). But now those taxis also have an app, just like Uber and Lyft.

“So starting Saturday, you can go to your Apple App store, your Google Play store and just search for Ride United. You’ll see 'Ride United (Passengers)', and just click download like with any other app,” said UC San Diego communication professor Lilly Irani.

Irani, who said she used to work for Google, helped to design the app called Ride United. She got input from UTWSD drivers and partnered with the software company YAMSOL LLC on its design.


In fact, you don’t actually have to wait for Saturday. It’s already downloadable.

“It’ll autoload the address of where you are,” Irani said as she demonstrated Ride United on her phone “Just check that to make sure it’s correct. And you can drop in where you want to go.”

The taxi business in San Diego has gone through many changes and turmoil, and not just because of the competition from ride-hailing services. Prior to 2014, there was a cap on taxi permits, which created a black market where the permits, also called medallions, were trading for $160,000 each.

United Taxi Workers founder and director Mikaiil Hussein said their drivers today are self-employed and there’s no longer a cap on how many drivers can work in the industry.

“We are called independent contractors. So we are all like that. We are self-employed when we get the permit,” Hussein said. “It used to be $3,000. Now it’s … $1,600 to get a permit.”


Hussein said the app is a step in the direction of bringing innovation to the industry.

Irani says joining the ranks of companies that have ride-hailing apps simply reflects the way consumers get rides nowadays. People don’t expect to have to call a dispatcher on the phone.

“People have developed habits of getting rides, which is about pulling out your phone and getting a ride estimate. So that’s what we’re trying to provide,” Irani said.

San Diego taxi drivers face a lot of competition from the heavyweights of the ride-hailing business. They promote their product, saying their business is regulated locally, not statewide like Uber and Lyft, and there’s no surge pricing during rush hour.

Also, they say the vast majority of the fares a customer pays goes to the driver; 94%, according to Hussein.

“There is a 6% technology fee, approved by the city. And that is all we are charging drivers right now,” he said.

Taxi and rideshare revenue is complicated, depending on tips, fees and volume of rides. But Uber’s “take rate,” the percentage the company takes from each ride, is much higher: 29%, as seen in a quarterly report this year.

With regulation and insurance costs, there’s plenty to complain about in the taxi business. But driver Abebe Antallo said the control he has over his business, and his influence on the Ride United app, is what’s kept him driving a taxi.

“I grew up with this company. I am one of the guys who started this so that is my choice. Freedom. Self independence. Work for myself. That’s why I’m here,” said Ankallo.

The United Taxi Workers will host an event to talk about the ride united app at 1 p.m. on Saturday, at Colina del Sol park in City Heights.