Uber's Flywheel partnership adds taxis to its San Francisco fleet

The next time you call for an Uber, you might get a taxi cab instead. Starting November 10, the number of drivers that Uber can offer to the public in San Francisco has gone way up with the help of the taxi e-hail app, Flywheel. 

The plan aims to benefit Uber, Flywheel customers, the ride-sharing public, and taxi drivers. If it works in San Francisco, it may spread nationwide.

Uber and Flywheel, the taxi-hailing app now used by San Francisco cabbies, have formed a partnership. It's a one-year experiment approved by San Francisco's Metropolitan Transportation Agency; a program both Uber and Flywheel hope will go national.

Using the Uber app, when customers hail a ride, they may end up having a Flywheel commercial taxicab arrive. So why is Uber doing this? Well, since the pandemic, Uber has not been able to get enough drivers for a whole variety of reasons. And, Flywheel is getting involved because cab drivers, due to bad performance and high prices when they had a monopoly don't have enough rides. What do they do? They combine and get more rides at the same Uber price.  

Flywheel has put cab drivers into a much better competitive position. "I would say the the biggest winner of a partnership here is the public," said Flywheel President Hansu Kim. 

Before a Flywheel taxi is sent, the rider can chose to accept it or wait for an Uber car and driver. 

"And the ability to access that supply now to access that supply for Uber passengers means faster service. But the key here is to do it in a way that the customer feels that it is going to be the same experience or maybe, even better," said Kim. 

Uber Executive Sachin Kansal wrote: "We look forward to learning from rider and driver feedback about this pilot as we work towards our goal of getting every taxi on Uber by 2025.

Customers we met at Union Square commented on the new partnership. "I kind of like the Uber service where you have an individual driver that shows up in their own car and to come pick you up, it seems like it's a clean service that way," said Eli Himebuch of Portland. I asked him if he would take a cab if one arrived and he said, "I probably would."

Others out-and about like it. "I think it's a great idea. Uber has a great product. The prices are real cheap and it adds to the resources for the consumer to have more availability. I think in the long run it's a win-win," said Nelson Barr of Maryland. "If this is able to equalize and stabilize to maintain a little bit of everything for everyone in this city I think, you know, it's gonna be what's best," said Patrick Holmes of Sacramento. This could give Uber a big advantage over Lyft and, if it can last, continued dominance in ride-sharing nationwide.