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All Hail the App



Ben Millspaugh

Greenwich resident Ben Millspaugh works as a chief technology officer in one of those off-the-beaten-taxi-path Manhattan neighborhoods. So for him, hailing one of the city’s approximately 13,000 yellow cabs was never as easy as stepping into a street and raising a hand for attention. Actually, when is that ever really easy?

Millspaugh started to ruminate on the phantom taxi dilemma while riding another commuter vessel—the Metro-North train. While traveling from Cos Cob, he sketched ideas for technological applications on napkins.

And that’s how Millspaugh conceived ZabKab, a patent-pending smartphone app that allows passengers to summon a cab with a virtual hail. The novel app was introduced to New York City cabbies and passengers late this summer.

“The idea is so elegantly simple that the reaction we get a lot is why anyone didn’t think of this sooner,” says Millspaugh’s business partner, Martin Heikel, a Mt. Kisco resident and seasoned telecommunications executive who together with Millspaugh launched Flatiron Apps last year to bring ZabKab to market.

ZabKab allows cabbies to see—via their smartphone screens—where potential passengers who’ve sent signals are waiting for rides. (Simulated icons of passengers actually pop up on a GPS-style map.) “It’s a bird’s-eye view for the cabbie around those street corners and side streets they can’t normally see,” says Heikel.

The conceptual brilliance—beyond its practical applications—is that the app complies with the regulations of the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, which forbids summoning a medallion cab with anything but an old-fashioned street hail. Since ZabKab doesn’t enable any prearranged booking, it doesn’t break any TLC rules.

Downloads of the app are free for passengers and at press time 20,000  have availed themselves of the technology. Cabbies pay a monthly fee of between $9.95 and $14.95 (depending on subscription duration) after a free ninety-day trial.

Of course, even inspired technologies have their kinks: ZabKab only works for cabbies who own smartphones and less than half of the city’s 30,000 taxi drivers actually do. But the approximately 2,000 drivers who’ve signed on so far are “jazzed about it,” says Heikel, who says statistics show that the typical taxi driver spends about 25 percent of their day “just driving looking for fares.” With ZabKab, “they’ll know that just a few blocks away they can snag another passenger.” Which means less wondering and less waiting for all.

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