Philadelphia Cabs Debut New Uber-Like Payment App

Your smart phone can now talk to your taxi using sound waves. Yes, sound waves!

The first cab driver I asked about the new Way2Ride payment app for Philadelphia taxicabs had no idea what I was talking about. The second held up his ancient flip phone, saying, “I don’t have no apps.” The third literally laughed at me.

After his good, hearty, mocking laugh, he continued a conversation he had been having on his handsfree. It was in some foreign language that I didn’t recognize, other than the word “app” thrown in every 20 words or so, followed by more laughter. He just kept shaking his head and laughing, and I got out of his cab.

Eventually, of the ten cabs I entered on Thursday, only one seemed to be ready to accept payment via Way2Ride, and the other nine had no knowledge of it, even though a spokesman for the Philadelphia Parking Authority told me Thursday that the program was live.

Last week, Verifone, the company that already handles credit card payments for Philadelphia cabs, sent out a press release announcing that passengers could use Way2Ride in 1,400 of the city’s 1,600 cabs.

Way2Ride works like this:

You download Verifone’s free Way2Ride app to your smartphone and register for the service using your email address, phone number and credit card number, just like Uber.

But unlike Uber, you don’t summon a ride using Way2Ride (at least not yet — Verifone suggests that a dispatch service may be available via the app in the future). You just hail a cab as you’ve been doing for decades.

Once you are in a cab that accepts Way2Ride, find the “Check In” button on the cab’s backseat TV screen and press it. Then, pull up your Way2Ride app, and click on “I’m In a Taxi” on your phone.

Then comes the, um, magic. You turn your phone to face the TV’s speaker and wait until the speaker buzzes. Yes, buzzes. The phone and cab then talk to each other with this buzzing, letting Way2Ride know which cab you are in so that it knows what to charge you at the end of the ride.

The one time that I did succeed in billing my trip to Way2Ride, it took me about three tries to actually get it all to work properly. There seems to be another option to link your phone to the cab by entering a unique code, but that didn’t work for me.

But eventually, my phone and the cab started communicating with buzzes, and at the end of my ride, I was able to adjust the tip amount on my phone and hop out of the cab. A receipt is sent via email.

Of course, I’m already used to paying for the many cab rides I take with a credit card, just by swiping it on the card reader, and that seems a whole lot simpler than all this Way2Ride hassle. But when and if they debut a feature that allows me to actually request a cab using the app, I’ll give it a try again — but I’ll still probably wind up reverting to Uber.