Yellow Cab Readies Its Own App for Pittsburgh Ride Shares

The Yellow Z app will be modeled after ride-share companies Lyft and Uber, using the time-tested strategy of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

by Kim Lyons, McClatchy News Service / July 23, 2014

The name has been changed from X to Z, but whatever it’s called, Yellow Cab is hoping its forthcoming ride-sharing app spells success in its battle against Lyft and Uber in Pittsburgh.

Rather than continuing to try to fight the well-funded San Francisco-based ride-share companies, James Campolongo, president of Yellow Cab, said his company is putting the final touches on a ride-sharing app of its own, in the time-tested strategy of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

“A lot of my contemporaries don’t agree with what we are doing,” Mr. Campolongo said. “But we’re just a little cab company. We knew we couldn’t take on Lyft and Uber. So, we decided to disrupt the disruptors.”

Despite the fact that Mr. Campolongo’s Pittsburgh Transportation Group is owned by multinational company Veolia Transportation, its decentralized business model means the parent company is not going to fund a battle with ride shares on Yellow Cab’s behalf, he added. “Veolia isn’t going to give us $1 million to fight them,” he said.

Yellow Z is modeled after ride-share companies Lyft and Uber, which connect drivers in their own cars with passengers via smartphone apps. The Z in the name came from Veolia’s zTrip app, which is available in Denver, the Kansas City area, Phoenix, and Tampa and Orlando in Florida. But the version of the app in those cities is more akin to a limousine service.

Mr. Campolongo said he went to the PUC with the idea for an app two years ago, because ride-share companies were beginning to emerge as competitors in other markets. “We knew Uber and Lyft were in other cities, and it was only a matter of time before they came to Pittsburgh.”

A PUC spokeswoman said there are several items Yellow Cab has to file before the agency signs off on the app, including a description of its driver training program and insurance certification. Yellow Cab’s application to begin experimental service was approved by the PUC without protest, but similar applications from Lyft and Uber are still pending.

Both ride-share companies have applications to begin emergency service in Allegheny County, which the PUC board is likely to consider at its meeting Thursday. Also likely on Thursday‘s agenda, the July 1 cease-and-desist orders against both companies.

Mr. Campolongo acknowledges that Yellow Cab has an image of being unreliable, but argues that all the work done over the past few years to try to improve the company’s image was “destroyed” when Lyft and Uber came to town. But stories of Yellow Cab arriving late or not at all pre-date the ride-sharing companies’ arrival to Pittsburgh; Yellow Cab‘s reviews on crowdsourcing review site show a pattern that goes back at least as far as 2009.

Once Yellow Z launches, which Mr. Campolongo expects will be in mid-August, drivers who have been vetted by Yellow Cab, and their vehicles inspected, will log on to the system when they want to work. Yellow Cab’s insurance will go into effect as soon as a driver logs in, Mr. Campolongo said, which has been a point of contention for the ride-sharing companies.

And when Yellow Cab has an overflow of calls, such as on a Friday or Saturday night, Yellow Z cars will be able to pick up the slack, Mr. Campolongo said.

The response from drivers has been positive so far, Mr. Campolongo said, adding that three Lyft drivers who were among those cited by a PUC enforcement officer have helped beta-test the app. Their vehicles did not pass Yellow Cab’s initial inspection, he noted, but the drivers have since made the necessary repairs.

Whatever the outcome of the Lyft and Uber regulatory battle, Mr. Campolongo said Yellow Cab will survive. “If they come and get the right licenses and insurance, I’ll go out and have a beer with the Lyft and Uber people,” he said. “If they do a better job, they‘ll get the business. But they have to be legal. Otherwise this could turn into the Wild West.”

©2014 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette