Just two years ago, your options for getting a ride in Pittsburgh were pretty much limited to public transportation, taxis, or for those in higher income brackets, executive car services and limousines.
But when ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft rode into town in with their slick mobile apps, quick response times and, in the case of Lyft, their hot pink mustaches, a sea change that had already taken hold in cities such as San Francisco and New York began closing in on the Steel City.
“I think our industry as a whole was a little sluggish to respond to Uber and Lyft,” said Jamie Campolongo, president of Pittsburgh Transportation Group, which provides taxis, shuttles and other forms of transportation. “We were all kind of stuck in a very traditional taxi cab model. Uber and Lyft came in and definitely had an impact on our business short term.”
Now, traditional taxi companies are getting into the app-based game, and according to Campolongo, they’re doing it better.
PTG is set to launch its Z-trip and Yellow Z services on Wednesday. Campolongo said there will be no surge pricing at busy times, a practice that has drawn wide criticism. Customers will also be able to hail a cab immediately or schedule a ride for later and pay with either cash or a credit card.
Campolongo said there is one other key advantage to the PTG services.
“Are the drivers safe, are the vehicles safe, are they vetted? These drivers are vetted the same way any other cab driver would be vetted: criminal background checks, pre-employment drug testing, FBI finger print, child welfare,” Campolongo said.
Z-trip is the name of the app that users can download to hail traditional taxi cabs, black cars, or Yellow Z drivers. Yellow Z is similar to Uber and Lyft, in that contract employees use their own personal vehicles to provide rides to customers.
Campolongo said at first, some drivers left his company in favor of the new-fangled ride-sharing services.
“Drivers would work Monday-Friday here, traditional and on the weekends they would go over and try Uber and Lyft,” Campolongo said. “That created a bit of a problem for us because we were already under scrutiny for service issues at Yellow, and that made those service issues a little worse.”
But he said now, the flow of drivers is going the other way, and atop a bookshelf in his office sits a pink mustache given to him by a former Lyft driver who now works for PTG.
Campolongo said the new services will be deployed on a limited basis, with 90 of the company’s 300 Yellow Cab drivers participating. All 16 black car drivers will be included, however. Additionally, 40 Yellow Z drivers have been hired on contract basis.
Campolongo said he thinks in five years, phone call-based cab service will be obsolete.
“We’re buying no more phone switches, putting no more investment in that kind of technology,” Campolongo said. “Our investment is in Internet-based and app-based technology. I want to be the first guy to rip the phone number off the side of the car.”
PTG is celebrating the launch of the new services with a party at Wigle Whiskey Wednesday evening.
Neither Uber nor Lyft had offered comment for this report at the time of publication.