New ride service in Everett to help taxis compete with upstarts

EVERETT — Need a ride in Everett?

If you do, Michael Zang hopes you open the Saytaxi app on your smartphone to hail a traditional taxicab.

The app allows taxi drivers to compete with upstart rideshare companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, he said.

The Everett resident launched Saytaxi Washington last month, and users can hail a cab in Everett, Lynnwood and, occasionally, in Seattle.

“It’s available, just not as widely as I’d like,” he said.

So far, individual drivers have registered with the company, and Zang said he is close to finalizing an agreement with a major taxi company in Snohomish County.

An Estonia-based company, Multi Brain, designed the app and provides support for independent, local partners, such as Zang, 39.

“The Saytaxi app helps the taxicab industry, which is why I care about it,” he said.

Other companies have launched similar apps in other cities.

The heavily regulated industry has seen the upstart companies take away business by allowing riders to request a car via a smartphone.

Zang wants to reverse that trend.

“When I launch in Seattle, I want to take away a lot of rides that Uber and the rest have stolen from the taxicab industry,” he said.

He isn’t sure when that will be, but he has no doubts about the goal.

Right now, he’s focused on Everett and Lynnwood.

“Sooner or later, Uber may want to expand to Snohomish County. I want to prepare taxi drivers and taxi companies here for that,” he said.

Uber is available in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Vancouver, according to a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based company.

“Currently, riders can only get dropped off in Everett. We are excited about the Everett market and look forward to exploring opportunities in the future,” she said in an email.

Lyft and Sidecar could not immediately be reached for comment.

Those companies effectively act as dispatchers for independent drivers, connecting them with riders.

Some cities have questioned the legality of the companies. The number of taxicab licenses are typically tightly controlled by local governments. Earlier this year, the Seattle City Council approved tight caps on the number of drivers for Uber, Lyft and Sidecar who could be operating at any given time. However, last month the council reversed itself, removing the cap and agreeing to issue 200 more taxicab licenses.

Because Uber and similar companies are not traditional taxicab companies, they avoid many regulations and expenses.

Those regulations promise riders reliability and consistency, which Saytaxi can deliver with a few taps on a smartphone, Zang said.

Cab fares don’t fluctuate the way they can with those competitors, he said.

Saytaxi gets a cut of each fare picked up through its program.

Drivers who register with Saytaxi Washington have to agree to keep a clean cab and have a polite, professional demeanor, he said.

A union representing several hundred Seattle-area cabbies recently offered customer service training to members in response to the new competitors, according to a news report.

Zang right now is a one-man force and plans to use social media to spread Saytaxi’s brand in the region. He has experience in graphic and Web design and has been a small- business owner.

With an agreement with a local cab company almost a reality, Zang is confident about the future.

“I’m sure that one success will be built upon another and pretty soon, it’ll be an avalanche,” he said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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