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6/18/2012
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Taxis, Hotels Do Your Bidding Via New Mobile Apps

Need taxi service or a hotel room at the last minute? Uber and HotelTonight are the latest smart phone apps to make it easy to travel by the seat of your pants.

Two travel apps that have really saved me lately are Uber and HotelTonight.

When I was in Los Angeles, traffic was really horrible--not surprising to anyone who has ever visited that town. A taxi had already screwed me over by making me 30 minutes late to a lunch meeting after taking me to the wrong hotel.

That night, my friends and I were going to dinner with tech entrepreneurs, including the LA community manager for Uber. Ironically, a regular taxi cab wouldn't take our credit card, so we decided to get a personal driver via Uber.

The one downside of Uber is that it costs more than a regular taxi cab. However, I think its advantages outweigh the extra cost of the trip.

Once you download the Uber app, and put in your credit card information, you just tap the screen to notify the nearest driver that you want to be picked up. When you get dropped off at your designation, a receipt is emailed to you.

In our mobile, electronically-driven world, that is how the taxi experience should be--not taxi drivers begging for you to pay them in cash and then pretending the credit card readers don't work.

Ryan McKillen, a software engineer at Uber, said low-cost location-aware smart phones are what makes Uber possible.

"We can dispatch cars and match clients and drivers with just a touch to a screen. Clients can watch cars drive to them in real time. As time goes on, challenges of software engineering that were once difficult and expensive become easier and cheaper. Delivering the Uber experience before smart phones just wasn't possible," McKillen said.

Although Uber hasn't released any specific enterprise products, McKillen said Uber does see companies using it in several different ways: as work-related transportation for employees, who are reimbursed for their expenses; as an employee benefit; and as rides to and from special events.

Uber's rate plan lowers or raises the cost of rides depending on current demand. This left some New Year's Eve customers really upset when the cost in an Uber ride spiked.

But McKillen said that overall it works "wonderfully. Since surge pricing allows us to put more supply on the road and maintain its availability, for the first time in the history of urban transportation, we've been able to reliably provide rides during the periods of overwhelming demand."

HotelTonight COO Jared Simon. "As merchants, mobile means that we finally have the ability to fulfill all kinds of consumer demand on the fly, no matter where the consumer is. Apps like HotelTonight have proven to consumers that they can finally demand and receive instant gratification, and commerce will never be the same again."

HotelTonight launched in January 2011, and has already raised $35 million in funding. It has been downloaded 2 million times and works in 40 cities in the United States, Toronto, and Vancouver.

"However, sometimes booking online at a touch of a button makes it too easy to buy things. HotelTonight uses a trace-the-bed feature, so that [someone doesn't] accidentally purchase the room," Simon said.

While I was in Los Angeles, I booked a room at The Standard downtown using the HotelTonight app. It was a pretty easy process, a good app for a very last-minute hotel room, after our original plans fell through.

As more of these apps are made specifically for mobile phones, it will be easier than ever to just leave your computer at home and use your smartphone to help you get where you're going.

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