TIME Autos

GM Will Make Cars With Motion Sensors to Keep Your Eyes on the Road

Detroit Exteriors And Landmarks
A general view of the Cadillac showroom in the General Motors Renaissance Center on August 14, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Paul Marotta—Getty Images

Eye and head tracking sensors will make it harder to text while driving

General Motors is reportedly installing sensors in its next generation of cars that will detect drivers’ eye and head motions and alert drivers to prolonged moments of distraction.

The Financial Times, citing unnamed sources, reports that GM’s safety parts supplier, Takata, has signed a deal with Seeing Machines to purchase upwards of 500,000 tracking devices that use cameras to detect subtle signs of distraction, such as the rotation of the head or frequency of blinks.

GM declined to comment on the deal, but people with knowledge of the plan confirmed to the Financial Times that the devices would be used to keep drivers’ attention on the road.

[FT]

MONEY Odd Spending

Meet the Drivers Making Toll Booth Lines Even Longer This Weekend

Line of cars waiting up at a toll
Bay Bridge Joshua McKerrow—AP

For some drivers, the fear of scams, overcharging, and government surveillance still outweighs the benefits of E-ZPass. They pay cash because they like talking to toll takers, too.

“Why would anyone NOT have E-ZPass?”

That question was posted at a Yelp forum … in 2007. The puzzled, frustrated individual asking the question pointed out that E-ZPass is “free and it saves so much time. It also reduces traffic for everyone. Someone, please please please tell me why everyone doesn’t have it?”

And yet, here we are, seven years later, with one of the year’s busiest road trip weekends upon us, and there will still be drivers backed up in gigantic lines at toll booths to pay cash—clogging up traffic in general while they’re at it—because they don’t have E-ZPass accounts. If anything, it’s even more difficult now to get around by car without an E-ZPass or another toll-paying transponder from a corresponding program, what with the expansion of cashless toll roads across the country. So what gives?

The Boston Globe recently reached out and talked with some “conscientious objectors” who refused to get on board with E-ZPass. Their reasons for sticking with cash and enduring longer-than-necessary waits at toll booths include:

They are concerned about government surveillance. They are apprehensive about erroneous fees charged automatically to their credit cards. They disapprove of eliminating good jobs held by toll takers for decades. And they would miss the small social exchanges with toll takers, the face-to-face contact, as they pass over their fare.

Is there validity to these concerns? Well, sure, there’s some. One of the big reasons states are pushing for cashless tolls is because doing so allows them to cut costs by getting rid of toll taker salaries. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to take a stance to help protect these workers and human contact in general in an increasingly cold, impersonal, automated world.

As for privacy and mistakes that could cost account holders money, there’s some evidence that they too are of legitimate concern. Occasionally, credit card errors or payment mix-ups result in huge bills for account holders. In one notorious case in the Seattle area, a couple with a Good to Go pass—a program that’s similar to E-ZPass—got hit with a bill for $8,346.82 because when their bank merged, the pass account was never updated, and tolls went unpaid for months. (The fines for nonpayment far surpassed the actual tolls themselves.)

By far, though, the biggest thing motivating E-ZPass refuseniks is the privacy issue. Bloggers have raised alarm bells by spreading word that the police and other authorities track E-ZPass travels all over metropolitan areas, not just at spots where tolls are paid. This summer, states such as Pennsylvania warned that phishing scammers somehow got hold of the email addresses of E-ZPass holders and were trying to get more personal information via fraudulent messages. The FTC later issued a national warning about phishing scams related to E-ZPass.

“Do I really want the government to keep a paper record on my comings and goings? No,” one E-ZPass-refusing driver told the Boston Globe. “It’s a slippery slope. Where does it end? I don’t like the trend.”

Still, considering the recent history of NSA surveillance programs and the news that a billion passwords were stolen by Russian hackers, it’s not like dumping your E-ZPass account is suddenly going to protect you from all forms of identity theft and other scams. In fact, privacy and Internet security experts generally say that everyday transactions like credit card payments and logging into email and other online accounts should be of far higher concern than using an E-ZPass.

None of this negates the need to be vigilant about protecting one’s personal information, of course. All in all, most people understand the individual’s fear of hackers and discomfort with government surveillance. Most people respect the individual’s right to make a stand about protecting privacy and workers’ jobs. It’s just that the vast majority of drivers would prefer that people wouldn’t be making this stand during Labor Day Weekend, when doing so makes already crowded roads and annoying tolls even more of a pain.

MONEY Gas

Labor Day Gas Prices Are Cheapest in Years

friends consulting a map while sitting on the back of a car
Cavan Images—Getty Images

Gas prices usually drop in the fall. This year, prices at the pump began falling in early summer and kept on heading down, resulting in the cheapest holiday weekend for gas since 2010.

Earlier this month, an Edmunds survey indicated that as many as three-fourths of all Americans were likely to take a road trip before Labor Day weekend marked the unofficial end of summer. According to AAA, nearly 35 million Americans will be heading at least 50 miles away from home over the holiday weekend, and 86% of travelers will be embarking on their journey by car.

This means that roads are likely to be jammed over Labor Day. There is some good news for those stuck in traffic, however. It’s been years since gas has been this cheap over Labor Day weekend. “AAA expects gas prices to have little impact on the number of people traveling for Labor Day, though lower prices could help make travel more affordable,” a statement from automobile association explained.

Gas prices dropped steadily throughout July, with the national average hitting $3.52 at the end of the month. As of Thursday, a gallon of regular gasoline was averaging $3.43 around the country. That’s about 13¢ cheaper than prices were a year ago at this time. In fact, the last time that gas was priced this low leading into Labor Day weekend, it was 2010. Gas prices spiked to around $3.75 for Labor Day 2012, for instance.

Even though gas prices are cheaper, that doesn’t really mean they’re truly cheap. As recently as the fall of 2008, the national average stood at around $2 per gallon, thanks to a falloff in demand due to the economic crisis. In any event, drivers should always be taking advantage of easy ways to save on gas. Two no-hassle strategies to consider: credit cards with 5% cash back on gas purchases, and Walmart’s Rollbacks on Gas program. The latter involves using various Walmart-branded cards (prepaid debit, gift cards, plain old credit cards) to pay for gas, with savings ranging from a flat $25 off to 15¢ off per gallon. These options can save you money at the pump this weekend, but the clock is ticking on both. Walmart’s gas savings program ends September 8, and most credit cards only pay 5% cash back on gas through the end of September.

TIME Autos

Volvo Is Banking on This Car to Crack the Top End of the World’s Biggest Auto Market

Front detail of Volvo's new XC90 Volvo Car Group

But will affluent Chinese consumers like the XC90?

Volvo unveils its first car under Chinese ownership on Tuesday. It’s a high-stakes moment for the Swedish carmaker —and a time of reckoning for the Chinese auto industry’s global ambitions.

“If Volvo is successful, it will have a great significance on Chinese automakers,” Bin Zhu, China forecast-team manager at consultancy LMC Automotive, tells TIME. “It could boost their confidence and set an example for the whole industry.”

More cars are being produced and sold in China than anywhere else in the world, yet the country’s domestic brands have failed to have international impact. In fact, they’re even struggling at home. More Chinese drive a Ford, Volkswagen or Nissan than a Chery, Dongfeng or Great Wall. And as buyers become more affluent, domestic marques are shunned even more.

Consultancy firm McKinsey forecasts that China’s premium car market will be the largest in the world by 2020. However, consumers they talk to doubt that any local carmaker will have come up with a model prestigious enough for them by then. Currently, the three top brands — Audi, BMW and Mercedes — dominate 75% of the premium sector and keep growing at the expense of local rivals. The new Volvo XC90 could buck that trend.

“It’s a car that hits right in the heart of the market,” James Chao, director of the IHS consultancy’s automotive unit, tells TIME. “It’s a little larger SUV, premium but not fully luxury. It’s retained a lot of Volvo’s European flair, while many people surely would feel proud to drive a Chinese vehicle of this caliber. If it’s priced competitively and realistically, it could be a hit.”

Success isn’t guaranteed. There was widespread skepticism when Geely first purchased Volvo in 2010. Other acquisitions, such as state-owned SAIC’s deal with Korean Ssangyong or SAIC’s subsidiary Nanjing Auto’s purchase of MG Rover, failed to bring the sought-for synergies.

“Sometimes the Chinese companies have taken a lot of time to absorb the knowledge, or the knowledge has been out of date,” says Bin. But, he adds, Volvo and Geely could be different. “Volvo needed a lot of investment to develop new technology, while Geely had money but no strong development team. It was a win-win situation.”

The partnership got off to a shaky start. Managers from the two companies publicly contradicted each other on how Scandinavian the new cars would be, and the sometimes brash Chinese tastes collided with the sober aesthetic of safety-minded carmakers from Torslanda. However, communication slowly improved and the two sides seem to have found some equal ground. In an interview with the Financial Times, Volvo’s head of design Thomas Ingenlath said that Geely’s owner Li Shufu had “opened our eyes” to the importance of a backseat experience that included a champagne cooler and a humidor. Li, for his part, expressed his admiration for Volvo’s values, and said that he thinks they may stand for something the Chinese are craving right now.

“Particularly in China, I think a lot of people start to realize: O.K., what are the things that they truly should value,” Li told the Financial Times. “That’s something that fits perfectly well with what Volvo is offering.”

There’s no arguing about the importance of the new XC90 to both firms: it’s the first to be rid of Ford technology (the American automaker sold Volvo to Geely in 2010) and the product of an $11 billion development process that will lead to a completely renewed Volvo fleet by 2020. If the XC90 doesn’t become successful, Li told the Wall Street Journal, “it will be very painful.”

The partnership does have one competitive advantage. Since Geely owns Volvo, it doesn’t have to live by the restrictions for joint ventures and can be more aggressive when it comes to research, development and manufacturing facilities inside China.

“We’ll absolutely see more cross-pollination in the coming five years,” says Chao at IHS, who says the Volvo name should give Geely a boost. “[Chinese automaker] Hongqi sold about as many cars last year as Audi does on an average day,” he says. “Maybe the best idea isn’t to introduce your own branded car in China at this point.”

LMC’s Bin agrees. “I think we’ll see more localization and cars tailor-made for China,” he says. In the long term, he says there could be “an opportunity to challenge the German automakers.”

Whatever the outcome, there is no denying the crucial importance of the XC90’s launch for Volvo.

“It’s the biggest proof of what we’re all about,” Alain Visser, Volvo’s head of sales and marketing, tells TIME. “If this doesn’t work out, we have an issue.”

MONEY

Millennials Love This Old-Fashioned Company

The 2014 Ford Escape.
As millennials get older, they're more interested in SUVs and crossovers, like the 2014 Ford Escape. courtesy of Ford

You might think of Ford as the automaker your grandpa stubbornly stuck with for decades. Millennials think of Ford as something else—the auto brand they're most likely to buy right now.

It’s a common belief that millennials are indifferent to car ownership. They aren’t buying cars anywhere near the percentage rates of previous generations, and fewer young adults even bother to get drivers’ licenses. However, none of these factoids has stopped automakers from trying to win over the business of this huge demographic—which might not be flush with cash now but will surely represent a gigantic chunk of car buyers down the road.

A new study from Maritz Research shows that one automaker has been particularly successful over the past few years in appealing to millennials, and the name may come as a bit of a surprise: It’s Ford, the staid, century-old, all-American company from Michigan. According to Maritz surveys—which have been pumped up in a Ford press release—in 2008, Ford ranked fourth among millennials as the brand they’d most likely consider buying. (Honda and Toyota held the top two spots.) By 2012, however, Ford leapfrogged over the competition to grab the No. 1 ranking.

“The jump was really at the expense of the Asian-based manufacturers,” said Maritz Research vice president Chris Travell, who pointed out that General Motors has also improved in the eyes of would-be millennial car buyers. “The North American manufacturers are making better product than they ever have. You can’t say that they’re not reliable and aren’t good quality anymore.”

Millennials have taken notice. They also aren’t likely to have much memory of the auto world of decades ago, when the perception was that American cars were overpriced and would break down quicker and more often than many imports. “Millennials don’t remember the bad stuff,” said Travell. “They’re coming in as mostly clean slates. Ford is not considered the ‘old Ford’ to this generation.”

The automaker has been catching the eye of younger buyers with its focus on techie features (admittedly, not always successfully), and, most important, a lineup of vehicles and price points that appeal to their needs right now. From 2008 to 2013, more millennials became interested in crossovers and SUVs, and fewer wanted compacts and other small vehicles, which is the strength of Asian car manufacturers like Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. “The trend of millennials starting families comes at the same time Ford is updating or replacing nearly its entire product lineup,” Amy Marentic, Ford global car and crossover marketing manager, said via press release. “These fastest-growing segments—like small utilities—coincide with Ford’s product strengths.”

Ford has also actively targeted millennials and strategically pursued them as customers now and, ideally, in the future. “One thing we recognized is that millennials don’t want to be just fed information and trust it, necessarily,” said Lisa Schoder, Ford’s global small-car marketing manager, according to Forbes. “So how can we be part of their lives and inform them about our brands and products without overtly advertising to them? That has been our critical differentiator. They need to participate in experiences versus just being spoon-fed something.”

Accordingly, Ford introduced Focus Doug, a “spokespuppet” (a sock puppet, actually) in a series of online videos, and used social media in a variety of other unorthodox, irreverent ways to put vehicles like the Focus, Fiesta, and Escape on the radar of millennials. The Wall Street Journal just reported on Ford’s recent efforts to win over female customers via programs like Live.Drive.Love, which invites women to take Ford cars on 24-hour test drives.

What does reaching out to women have to do with millennials? Well, overall among car buyers, less than 4 in 10 of purchases were made by women in 2013. But among millennials, 53% of buyers are female.

Young women who are starting families or just want more space for mountain bikes and other gear are likely to be intrigued with Ford models like the Escape and Explorer. And those with less need for space, or those with simply smaller budgets will be more likely to go with the subcompact route, via the Fiesta. As Ford crowed last summer, the Fiesta has been a big success in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, and the Ford brand overall increased retail share among millennials by 80% from 2009 to 2013.

MORE:
10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On
Check Out This Revolutionary Car-Buying Advice—Then Disregard It

MONEY Autos

Check Out This Revolutionary Car Buying Advice—Then Disregard It

steering wheel with clock in it
Valerie Loiseleux—Getty Images

Consumers have been told that everything car-buying experts have been advising about the best time to buy a new car is wrong. So what's the right approach now?

Earlier this summer, the car-buying research site TrueCar offered some stunning insights concerning car prices throughout the year. The takeaway from the numbers seemed to throw the conventional wisdom of when to buy a new automobile on its head. August, TrueCar data revealed, “has historically shown to have the lowest average transaction price of the year at $29,296.” After analyzing data from 2009 to 2013, the site concluded that consumers in August paid $716 less for a new car compared to all other months and declared that August may very well be “the best time of the year to buy a new car.”

What’s more, the numbers showed that Sunday is “typically the best day of the week to buy a new car,” with transaction prices that were $1,402 lower than the daily average, and that “the first two days of the month are the best time to shop for a new car,” because prices on those days represented an “average $390 in savings over the remaining days of the month.”

If you’ve ever read an article on the best time to buy a car, you’ll know that these tips basically spit in the face of the consumer expert consensus on the matter. For instance, a fairly boilerplate post from Kelley Blue Book offers this advice to shoppers who want to get the best prices on cars:

• Buy around the last day of the month — dealers have monthly sales quotas
• Buy at the end of the year — some dealers will clear out inventory for tax reasons

Meanwhile, analysts at Edmunds.com are regularly quoted saying things like, “December has become one of the best times of the year to buy a new car,” and virtually every article on car buying mentions advice along the lines of: “As you might guess, the end of the month is often a good time to buy a car, particularly if salespeople are trying to meet their quotas or qualify for a monthly bonus.”

What gives? Should we throw out the conventional wisdom on when to buy a car? Well, yes, says TrueCar CEO Scott Painter. “When you look at the real data, you see that you’re almost always better off doing the opposite of what conventional wisdom tells you to do,” Painter told CBS Moneywatch recently. “Unfortunately, much of the conventional wisdom is just wrong.”

The truth, however, is a lot more complicated than what Painter would have us believe. August may be a great time to buy certain kinds of cars, and the first couple of days of the month could be an opportune time to seal the deal. Then again, depending on the buyer and car model in question, those times might not be ideal to get the best price.

Here’s why, despite TrueCar’s seemingly groundbreaking analysis, the conventional wisdom on when to buy a car still holds up—even as TrueCar isn’t 100% wrong.

Let’s start with the business about the first couple days of the month. A representative for TrueCar replied to our inquiry about this issue by explaining via email, “the end of car sales month goes a few days into the next calendar month. Dealers are more eager to sell cars at the end of a ‘sales month’ to reach manufacturer incentive program sales targets for the month.”

In other words, car sales finalized on the first or second day of September generally count for August in terms of the purposes of the dealer’s and salesperson’s tally. So it’s somewhat of a matter of semantics: Yes, you still want to follow the conventional advice and buy at the end of the month—only be sure it’s the end of the dealership’s sales month, rather than the regular old calendar.

Now let’s move on to TrueCar’s data regarding average transaction prices, which are lowest in August ($29,296) and peak in December ($31,146), and what this actually means for buyers. On the one hand, sure, August tends to be a good time to buy because car dealerships are eager to get rid of leftovers from the previous model year and make space for the new, more in demand (and higher priced) models. On the other hand, it’s much too simple to state that the deepest discounts on leftover models take place in August and August alone. “The model-year changeover is another opportunity for a great time to buy,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Tim Fleming, “but this has generally taken place more in the September-October timeframe rather than August.”

What’s more, the average vehicle transaction price in any month depends a lot on what vehicles people tend to be buying during that month. Fleming explained that December has the highest transaction prices because it’s an especially big month for sales of luxury cars and SUVs. It goes without saying that cars in these auto categories cost more than the average sedan, so when many of them are purchased, the average transaction price increases.

A closer look at the TrueCar data shows that the average incentive (a.k.a. dealership discount) is higher in months such as December ($2,686) and March ($2,746) than it is in August ($2,619), even as August has the lowest average transaction price. How could this be? It’s because the average sticker price of vehicles purchased in August tends to be lower than other months. To a large degree, cars cost less in August because people are buying cars that are cheaper to begin with. It’s not because cars are being discounted by a larger amount.

“Anyone generating an average of transaction prices would be remiss not to consider the mix of models being sold,” the car-buying experts at Edmunds.com said via statement, in response to an inquiry about TrueCar’s advice. “Edmunds.com’s data suggests that historically March has actually had some of the lowest average transaction prices over the past few years, and this is largely due to the types of vehicles that sold during the month.”

Finally, what about buying on Sunday? Let’s defer to some older insights from TrueCar on that matter. “Weekdays are better than weekends,” TrueCar advised car shoppers in 2010. “The fewer people on the lot, the more likely the dealer is willing to make a favorable deal.” TrueCar has also gone on record stating that one particular Sunday—Easter Sunday—is the absolute worst day of in the whole calendar year to get a good deal on a new car.

TIME technology

Taxi Drivers Are Using Apps to Disrupt the Disruptors

Essdras M Suarez—The Boston Globe/Getty Images; Justin Sullivan—Getty Images; Gamma Nine Photography/Uber

Taxis in San Francisco are fighting back through apps, with the city's blessing

Flywheel ScreenshotStanding on the corner of California and Polk in San Francisco, I took out my phone and ordered a ride from Flywheel, an app that’s competing with rival transportation services like Uber and Lyft by leveraging the thousands of taxis already on the road. Like with those services, once I order a Flywheel ride, a map pops up with a car icon, showing me where my ride is in relation to me and allowing me to monitor the driver as he or she gets closer.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

On this particular morning, as I watched multiple Lyfts go by (unmissable with their trademark giant pink mustaches attached to the cars’ grilles), and a couple Ubers (the black cars now identifiable by small logos that must be placed on their windows), my driver’s icon drifted away from me. After some minutes passed, I called the driver, who assured me he was on his way. When he continued to travel not towards me, I canceled the order and got a new Flywheel, which picked me up and promptly delivered me to the company’s San Francisco office, with my bill and a 20% tip paid automatically through the credit card I stored on the app.

Once at Flywheel, Chief Product Officer Sachin Kansal explained what had likely happened with my misguided driver. “He may have been ride-stacking,” Kansal explained, meaning that the driver accepted my order on the app and then took a street hail, thinking he could deliver the latter before I ever knew the difference. But the moment I canceled my ride, the driver’s plan was foiled. He would be blocked from the system until Flywheel investigated the case, and these did not appear to be circumstances that would yield quick forgiveness from administrators. Kansal made sure I knew how swiftly justice would be dealt, because this is not the kind of mistake companies can afford to treat lightly in the midst of the Great Ride App Wars.

San Francisco has been transformed into a city full of smartphone-wielding guinea pigs, willing beta testers who try out new services and shovel feedback to engineers. But while many transportation startups are busy dreaming up new and unfamiliar offerings, Flywheel and similar companies like Curb and Hailo are trying to breathe high-tech life into the old taxis that have been around for decades. That business model comes with limitations as well as certain advantages—the biggest of which may be that the city of San Francisco is proving a willing ally, and that could in turn prove a model for other metros. (Lyft did not respond to an interview request for this article, and Uber declined.)

San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency’s “position is that there is a public good to having a regulated taxi industry,” city spokesperson Kristen Holland said in an email. “We want to encourage the public to take San Francisco taxicabs by making them aware of the e-hail option and letting them know the benefits of taking a San Francisco taxicab.”

Earlier this summer, the city and Flywheel teamed up to get their pro-taxi message across by putting cheeky ads like this on the sides of city buses:

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 1.35.15 PM

And this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 1.35.05 PM

By getting its app adopted a whole fleet at a time, Flywheel now has its system in 80% of San Francisco’s approximately 1,800 cabs and is aiming for 100%. Both the city and companies like Flywheel have a financial interest in cabs doing well—Flywheel through the 10% cut it takes off the base fare and the city through its medallion system, which will yield an anticipated $10 million in fiscal year 2015. Holland says that the city also supports cabs because they’re a known quantity. The city regulates them and decides exactly how the drivers are trained. Questions about insurance and liability, which have plagued startups innovating new transportation systems, have long been answered when it comes to cabs.

Taxi drivers, many bitter that they have to deal with more onerous regulations than drivers for companies like Lyft, have taken to writing down license plate numbers of cars with pink mustaches and reporting them to insurance companies. While cabs are clearly commercial vehicles, Lyft drivers are often using their personal cars to make money, and some insurers have canceled Lyft drivers’ policies after finding out they had only forked out for non-commercial plans.

Using apps like Flywheel is a way for taxis to fight fire with fire instead of tattling, however justified it might seem. Flywheel’s Kansal says that drivers may double the amount of rides they get in a shift through the efficiency that the system provides, matching people who need rides with nearby drivers. “There are weaknesses that others have. There are regulations that they may be breaking,” he says. “But 90% of our energy is spent on making sure this experience always stays top notch. That the experience that you had this morning never happens again.”

While Flywheel can’t turn cabs into fancy black cars or Lyft Plus SUVs, customers who order a taxi never have to worry about surge pricing, premiums that other companies charge in times of high demand. And while Flywheel can’t innovate at the speed of the other companies, given the limitations of what a fleet cab can be, it did just roll out service to airports in San Francisco, Seattle and L.A—something less established fleets still can’t legally do in many cities due to long-standing airport regulations. The California commission regulating the new services like Uber and Lyft has threatened to shut them down if drivers keep showing up at arrival and departure areas without proper permits.

Kansal believes his company can outfit cabs in a way that allows them to disrupt the companies that disrupted cabs in the first place. The fleet model is “very scalable,” he says, though the app is now densely present only in San Francisco and available in just a handful of other cities, most on the West Coast. (Competitor Hailo is the leader among taxi apps on the East Coast and in Europe.)

But the equation isn’t so simple as making lists of pros and cons for new ride-providing companies and app-enabled taxis. After my interview with Kansal, I tried to hail a car through Curb, a rival app that just rebranded itself after previously operating as Taxi Magic. After failing to get a taxi assigned to me before five minutes passed by I went back to Flywheel. A taxi arrived, and I asked my driver Casey Callahan what he thought of using the platform.

“I have mixed feelings,” he says. “You get a lot of business you wouldn’t normally get, and it gives us an edge against Uber, but they take a kind of big cut.” Ten percent seemed too high to Callahan, and that’s the kind of resentment that can fester. UberX drivers protested angrily outside Uber’s HQ in San Francisco earlier this year when the company started taking a bigger cut of the fare, many drivers threatening to go work for someone else. Callahan said the Flywheel app can also have technical kinks, and it remains painful to pass up a willing street hail once he’s agreed to pick up a Flywheel customer, the temptation to which my driver succumbed.

Callahan described all the driver-luring and price-cutting companies are doing to one-up each other in the Bay Area as “cutthroat capitalism at it worst.” But he said that if cab drivers don’t use technology and whatever else they can to fight back, they’re going to go the way of the dodo and the stagecoach. “This is going to be one more thing that’s gone from the American way of life,” he says.

He says he chose driving for a cab company over the new services partly because he doesn’t own his own car and feels that buying one through a company, as some Lyft Plus drivers do, is the equivalent of being an “indentured servant.” Myriad factors could send a driver one way or the other. Long-time cabbies know how much they can make in a shift, while newer companies continue to play with prices and what cuts they take. There’s also the ethos of the job, like Lyft’s requirement that a driver fist-bump each passenger, while a cool distance in taxis is the norm and Uber black car drivers will open your door. There are hours, incentives, pride, rules about where certain companies can go and who they can pick up. And so on.

For those championing taxis, the question is whether cab drivers who long roamed without competition, facing no penalty if they ditched one fare for another, can give their industry the kind of customer-service makeover it takes to convince a San Franciscan to order a Flywheel instead of something from the long menu of other options.

MONEY Autos

WATCH: Car Thieves Really Love Hondas

Thieves in the U.S. stole more than 53,000 Honda Accords and 45,000 Honda Civics last year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,533 other followers