A new, nationwide transit app could finally help Canada’s taxi drivers challenge Uber in the ease-of-use department.

Developed by Toronto-based CellWand Communications, the company behind the popular mobile #TAXI service, and released on Dec. 14 on both the App and Google Play stores, The Ride connects urban users with more than 6,000 taxis, 15,000 buses, 500 streetcars, 290 subways, and car sharing services including Car2go and Zipcar across the country.

Like Uber, The Ride allows users to hail the closest driver, estimates their travel time, and invites them to rate their experience, for a $2 convenience fee. It also lists carshare locations and local public transit options, and will compare the estimated cost and travel time for each.

More importantly, at least for the cab drivers who protested Uber in Toronto last week and have successfully pushed for municipal bylaws that officially barred the company from operating in Vancouver and Calgary (though it’s maintained a social media presence in both cities), The Ride is endorsed by the taxi industry.

“That was a big mountain for us to climb, because there are multiple dispatch systems that behave in different ways, and we wanted them to act in a consistent way for users,” CellWand CEO and co-founder Nick Quain told ITBusiness.ca.

But he’s certain the end result, which allows users to avoid surge charges, does not give preference to any one taxi company, and covers all “major” Canadian markets including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax, will convince more than a few Canadians to think twice before calling Uber.

“These are established, licenced drivers with proper insurance and proper background checks,” Quain said, adding that Uber’s problems with both have been welldocumented.

The Ride was developed over a period of two years, with Quain noting that it could have been released earlier, but the team wanted to make sure it would work nationwide, a feature essential for the business community in particular.

“One of the challenges for larger organizations that have people that travel all over the place is being able to have one type of app that can allow them to get from A to B, wherever they’re going,” Quain said. “So for us, having the advantage of a service that works in every city is obviously pretty powerful.”

Nor was it easy to design, he said: While most public transit services use open APIs, each cab company utilized its own, and in addition to creating an app that could access every company’s dispatch system, CellWand’s programmers had to blend them together in a user-friendly way.

But Quain is proud of the final product, and it sounds like Canada’s cab companies might be too.

“The Ride is a great example of innovation within the regulated transportation industry and the Canadian Taxi Association is excited to see its launch,” Jim Bell, the Canadian Taxi Association’s executive director, said in a statement. “I think this is the type of app our politicians and regulators need to look at as an example of the right way of innovating within our industry.”

For those who live outside of Canada’s major cities, The Ride connects users to the dispatch networks of an additional 25,000 taxis in more than 700 towns and cities across Canada, for a convenience fee of $1.

Quain also said the current version of The Ride app is just a foundation, with the company planning to integrate additional features including in-app payment, bikeshare options, and what he called the “black car” service, which will be tailored for businesses, over the next year.

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  • gisabun

    I’m sure like many people, I say who cares. The taxi industry has had their virtual monopoly for years. Now they have competition. I haven’t stepped in a taxi for 20+ years. I find that when I did, they were arrogant.
    Something needs to be done about “professional” drivers such as taxi and truck drivers. too many illegal moves [making a U-turn in a busy street, zig-zagging between lanes with no signals]. They should be fined more heavily than the typical drivers as they are making a living driving people [for taxis] and are putting their clients’ life in danger.