Amid Fight Over Regulations, Checker Cab Rebrands In Jacksonville

Sep 13, 2016

Credit Yellow Cab Boulder

Checker Cab of Jacksonville may be taking the advice of City Councilman Matt Schellenberg and updating its fleet to compete with app-based transportation companies like Uber and Lyft.

No longer will the cabs sport their classic yellow color. Instead the newly rebranded “zTrip” cars are painted gray.

But zTrip President Bill George told WJCT that those changes go deeper than the paint job.

“We went to a company out of Australia called MTData, and they have a predictive dispatching system that does everything we need to do from a taxi cab standpoint, but it also helps us plan and position cars where they’re going to be needed based on predictive behavior,” George said.

All of that data is fed through the zTrip app, which works like the Uber and Lyft smarthphone apps, allowing riders to hail cars and pay on the spot and to know who’s picking them up. George said zTrip even takes the Uber model a step further by also giving riders the ability to book in advance.

zTrip is rolling out 80 new cars with plans for a total of 300 in Northeast Florida in the near future.Between the technology upgrades and new vehicles, the rebranding is costing close to $3 million – a significant investment for a company that says it’s taken a hit in recent years with the advent of so-called disruptive technologies more popular with younger users.

Still, George said rebranding in other cities have been resounding successes.

“Boulder (Colorado), with a large university there and a very tech-savvy city, even though there’s competition from the other services there, we’ve doubled our fleet because there’s been so much demand for it,” he said.

In addition to extolling zTrip’s new and improved model, George repeated often cited arguments against so-called transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. He said drivers just don’t stay behind the wheel long enough because pay and benefits are so low, while cabbies stick around longer, are more thoroughly vetted and better compensated.

Add the higher per-driver compensation rates to the stricter regulations and George said you have an unlevel playing field.

“What we promote everywhere and all the cities we operate in is common sense regulation and there’s a happy medium between what has traditionally been the taxi regulation versus the other players that in essence don’t want any regulation,” he said.

Although Jacksonville City Council’s special committee on vehicles for hire never really reached consensus on broad-based reform, the committee members did agree in their report that taxi companies are overregulated.

Committee Chairman Matt Schellenberg deferred pending legislation reforming ride-for-hire regulations, while the council attempts to implement recommendations from the committee’s final report, including making quarterly vehicle inspections yearly and relaxing insurance requirements for drivers who aren’t carrying passengers.

No word on whether the temporary committee will reconvene.

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Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk