Here in Boston — as in other cities around the world — taxi drivers have taken to the streets trying to put the brakes on technology that is changing the way we get around. And, cabbies say, flouting regulations. App-based services such as Uber allow you to tap your iPhone to hail a ride.
Within minutes, Jose Santiago pulls up in his own vehicle, a well used but well kept minivan. With his three daughters grown, he was about to sell the van when he learned about Uber and decided to give it a try.
"You have to submit your driver’s license, registration, insurance and then they do a background check on you," Santiago said.
Uber supplied Santiago with an iPhone, a set rate for each pick-up and a built-in 20 percent tip — all via credit card. And Santiago works where and when he wants.
"It’s part time, I’m doing this in the afternoon," he said.
Uber bills itself as a ride-sharing service, and Santiago works without a hackney license. That’s a point of contention for cabbies like Khalid Loffti, who is lined up at a taxi stand across the street.
"Business-wise, it took a lot of business of course," Loffti said.
And Uber is testing new waters, too. A large open boat approaches long wharf, part of Uber’s pilot project with water taxis earlier this month.
A beep on a smartphone alerts the nearest boat-taxi captain that a passenger is waiting on shore. Unlike on land, you need more than a license. The captains are all Coast Guard-certified, employed by Alison nolan, owner of Boston Harbor Cruises.
"We thought Uber would be a great fit," she said. "They have wonderful technology and great customer service."
Back on land, a large motorcoach pulls up and morning commuters file on. But with leather seats and wifi access, this clearly isn’t an MBTA bus — it’s Boston’s newly launched Bridj bus — that’s bridge with a “j”.
Now in testing, Bridj picks up in Coolidge Corner, promising a quicker commute downtown.
"In two weeks time, we’ve been able to reduce people’s commutes by up to an hour roundtrip," said Matt George the founder of Bridj. The 24-year-old graduated college a year ago with a degree in biology, and takes a scientific approach to his business. Bridj bus is fueled by data.
"We take that information from government data sources to social media to some proprietary data sources we have in house, we blend that all together into our proprietary heat map, and we can introduce routes on a day-by-day basis based on where people need to go," he said.
Bridj has yet to disclose its rates once it starts full operation. But one thing hasn’t changed: Sometimes, you just need your own set of wheels.
Pioneered in Cambridge by Zipcar, car-sharing has become an increasingly competitive business. Car rental giant Enterpise now offers a service called — what else? — CarShare.
Ryan Coulumbe of Enterprise presses what looks like a hotel key card up to a sensor on the dashboard. It activates a reservation that can be made online. The key is already in the car.
"If you need it for two hours, three hours, whatever you need, its just convenient," he said.
And maybe, making new rules of the road as well.
Watch the Greater Boston segment: