The Curb App Lets You Flag a Cab With the Ease of a Ride-Hailing Trip

The Curb app allows you to summon a cab like an Uber or Lyft.
The Curb app allows you to summon a cab like an Uber or Lyft.

The rising popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft in recent years has not only been linked to a reduction in transit ridership and an increase in traffic congestion. It has also sharply reduced business for the taxi industry, which used to be a fairly reliable source of income for immigrants and others willing to put in the work to make a living wage. At the same time, Chicagoans of color have long reported problems with discrimination by cab drivers who pass them over when they try to flag a ride on the street, or refuse to take them to certain neighborhoods. The Curb app for taxis has the potential to address both issues.

Curb vice president Jason Gross says that by adopting the new technology, cab drivers can level the playing field in their competition with ride-hailing. “I would say that the stories of the taxi industry’s eventual demise are a bit overstated,” he says. “There’s certainly been an impact with the arrival of the ride-sharing apps. I think what we’ve seen, overall, is that actually just increased the utilization of transportation services. And the arrival of Curb as an option to make taxis more competitive has been welcomed by the industry, and it definitely serves a valuable purpose for the riding public.”

Gross says his company was the first to install credit card readers in cabs in New York City years ago. “It’s always been part of our DNA to lead the industry forward and provide the service that the riding public wants,” he says. “And we do that in an efficient way that helps put more money in the pockets of taxi drivers, helping support an industry that really is part of the fabric of public transportation.”

On the face of it, the Curb app is relatively simple, giving riders the ability to book and pay for a cab ride in advance. Curb was a result of a merger between two other transportation systems, Taxi Magic and Way2Ride, which date back to 2008. “There are a few different things we do with the app that serve different segments of the community, and different needs,” Gross says. “One of those is the traditional hailing of a cab on demand, or reserving it in advance and having it easily trackable on the app. It comes to pick you up, and it’s always a licensed, professional, insured driver.”

Curb has also added the option to select a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. “That’s certainly helped mobility for the community of people who use wheelchairs,” Gross says. Thirdly, the app allows customers to pay for their ride in the app, add a tip, and get their receipt sent to them digitally, just like using Uber or Lyft. “Even for people in Chicago who are used to just flagging a cab down on the street, they still have that almost magical experience of being able to hop in and when the ride’s over, just hop out,” Gross says. “Everything should be taken care of.”

Another advantage of Curb app is that interactions with your taxi driver are documented electronically, which helps discourage racial or geographic discrimination against customers. This also makes it easier to report any issues that do arise to the driver’s company and/or the app.

Streetsblog reader Kevin Monahan is a Curb enthusiast. Although Monahan says he only takes cabs about twice a month, he tends to use the Curb app when he does. “I had been reading in papers about ride-sharing influencing the taxi industry,” he says. “I had also read about this Curb app being developed as an alternative for taxi cabs to provide the same level of service. I personally prefer hiring professional, fully-insured vehicles and drivers who are being paid a living wage.”

In spite of Chicago’s recently passed surcharge on ride-hailing trips to fund CTA infrastructure, local Uber and Lyft trips, subsidized by venture capital, are still cheaper than taxi trips. A recent MIT study found that drivers using the apps make a median income of less than $4 an hour, although the companies have disputed that finding.

Monahan’s partner Justyna Bicz is also fan of the Curb app. “Whenever I’ve used it, it works fine,” she says. “It’s more convenient than having to call a taxi dispatcher… I take cabs once or twice a month, most often if the weather is bad, or if I have to be at the train station or airport really early carrying a large object. Occasionally I’ll take one when I’m traveling with with friends.”

Bicz adds that she is philosophically opposed to the Uber model. “It’s supposed to be a flexible way to make money, but it’s not providing full-time work to people. There’s not a lot of security in the job.”

Gross argues ride-share fans should switch to Curb not just because they care about the wellbeing of their driver, but because taxis offer a superior product to ride-hailing. “[We’re able to] provide the value, not just in convenience and ease of use, but also in terms of safety, security, and accountability.”

Representatives of Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment.

  • Chicago60609

    This really takes the cake..an advertisement for taxis masquerading as a news story.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Sorry, we forgot forgot to mention that James reached out to Uber and Lyft for their take on the issue of people opting to use the Curb app as an alternative to their services, but didn’t hear back from them. I’ve edited the article accordingly.

    “An advertisement for taxis” — or, y’know, a look at a potentially useful option for our many car-free and car-light readers who may not be aware that it’s possible to summon a cab like a ride-hailing service, aka “news you can use.”

    I certainly don’t think this qualifies as an endorsement of the taxi industry: “Chicagoans of color have long reported problems with discrimination by cab drivers who pass them over when they try to flag a ride on the street, or refuse to take them to certain neighborhoods.”

  • Jeremy

    It seems like very few drivers use Curb. Whenever I open the app, it is either a 10 minute wait or no taxis are available. I think many drivers don’t want to commit to driving to pick someone up if they can pick up a person flagging them from the street.

  • Tooscrapps

    – What’s to stop the driver from screening the trips start or end point, effectively discriminating before the rider even gets in the cab?
    – How does this app increase the availability of cabs in undeserved areas?

    I think taxis are an important part of our transportation system, but there are reasons they were ripe for disruption:
    – CC machine was always “broken”, no e-receipts
    – Couldn’t hail on demand
    – Unclean interiors
    – Rude drivers
    – Unsafe drivers (the way many drive around town makes me question how “professional” they are)
    – Discrimination

    Aside from the first and second, I’m unsure how this app changes the equation. Though you certainly can run into these same problems Uber/Lyft, their rating system (fair or not) helped nip a lot of these in the bud. However, it is unfair that taxis are subject to regulations that ride-shares aren’t and the City needs to find a middle ground there.

  • Jeremy

    I have found Lyft/Uber drivers to be just as (if not more) unsafe as taxi drivers. Not only are they disobeying traffic laws, but they also don’t know where they are going, so they are constantly looking at their phones. The apps request destination address so a route can be provided to the driver. If you got in a Lyft/Uber and told the driver “take me to Ogilvie”, he would have no idea what he is supposed to do.

    And their cars aren’t necessarily cleaner than taxis. I once got into an Uber with a broken interior light and missing seat belt.

  • Matt

    Arro (https://www.ridearro.com/) is another app with the same functionality (in Chicago fashion they have multiple contracts for this service) and I’ve found a better interface.

    Fewer taxis are available via the hailing option. BUT if you’re jumping in a taxi and see the pairing code, whether it’s Curb or Arro, it works with Arro.

    It’s really nice to get in a taxi but then not have to worry about cash (or dirty looks if using a credit card. You get dirty looks sometimes with the app too but it’s already done)

  • Matt

    agreed, maybe when ridesharing first got going it was safer/cleaner, but the growth of it has driven down the quality. Plus it seems like Taxi companies have improved their own product in response.

  • Tooscrapps

    @Chicago_Jeremy:disqus Definitely agree the product has degraded. And both are a crap shoot when it comes to having a safe and patient driver. I don’t think depending on turn-by-turn directions makes them any less safe.

    However, calling cabbies who rip around the Loop, lay on their horns, etc “professional” is a stretch for me.

  • rohmen

    100% agree with this. I’ll admit, the only reason I ever switched to Lyft is because it can be cheaper, and they’ll pick me up and take me out to Oak Park without complaint.

    I’ve actually been pretty shocked with regards to: (1) how bad Lyft drivers can be at actual driving; and (2) how often clueless Lyft drivers are about the City and how to get around it.

    I find “unclean interiors” is also just as common now in a Lyft as it ever was in a cab (and I think the worry was largely overblown in cabs in the first place).

    To be honest, Curb is very often the cheaper option now if Lyft or Uber is surging. Glad it’s an option, and hope cabs are doing well with it.

  • j84ustin

    I downloaded Arro after Curb’s app repeatedly malfunctioned on my phone. I have yet to use Arro but hopefully it’s better than Curb.

  • Matt

    I have also historically had that problem with Curb (but not with Arro)

  • City of Chicago law requires that every taxi driver use the Arro or Curb apps. Some drivers use both.

  • Jeremy

    Like most laws in the city, it might as well not exist if it isn’t enforced.

  • Joshua Heffernan

    I think the law also states that taxi drivers can’t be on their phone while driving..

  • JEK

    I’m trying so hard to work up some sympathy for the taxi industry but I just can’t seem to do so…. Good luck with the app. Getting a last gasp late grasp on technology isn’t going to be as easy chopshoppin’ doors and hoods onto damaged cabs to hide crashes and sending them back out onto the streets.

  • Random_Jerk

    I refuse to use Uber and Lyft. Those are the worst, clueless drivers on the road. At least with the taxis you can get their number and report them to the city. I wish there was some kind of system of reporting bad Lyft and Uber drivers. Couple of times i considered waiting for people hailing them and ask them to give the driver one star. Especially after couple of them flipped me a bird after beeing told they are blocking the bike lane.

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