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Pittsburgh cab company evolves to compete with ride-share firms

PtrzTrip01062916
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Felicia Davis, of the North Side and 6 year veteran at Yellow Cab, drives through West Park in the newly branded zTrip Taxi, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. In an effort to embrace new technology and compete with companies like Uber and Lyft, Yellow Cab is rebranding and recreating itself as zTrip Taxi.
PtrzTrip03062916
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Felicia Davis, of the North Side shows off the newly branded zTrip Taxi in West Park, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. In an effort to embrace new technology and compete with companies like Uber and Lyft, Yellow Cab is rebranding and recreating itself as zTrip Taxi.
PtrzTrip02062916
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Felicia Davis, of the North Side and 6 year veteran at Yellow Cab, drives through West Park in the newly branded zTrip Taxi, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. In an effort to embrace new technology and compete with companies like Uber and Lyft, Yellow Cab is rebranding and recreating itself as zTrip Taxi.

Yellow Cab of Pittsburgh is ditching its old name and old way of doing business as part of a multimillion dollar effort to remake itself as zTrip Taxi.

The change means all but about 10 of the century-old company’s yellow cars will be replaced this summer by new silver-painted vehicles sporting the zTrip logo.

But the change goes beyond appearance, Pittsburgh Transportation Group President Jamie Campolongo said. Customers will benefit from new technology and vehicles, better customer service and many of the qualities that differentiated traditional cab companies from ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.

“We’ve done a lot besides changing the color of a car, because we know that if you just change the color of a car and don’t change anything else, you’ve just put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “We’re not going to do that.”

Uber and Lyft brought new competition and pressure to traditional Pittsburgh transportation groups when they started operating in the city about two years ago.

Campolongo said Yellow Cab found itself “at a fork in the road” as those companies and the technology they embrace changed the cab industry nationwide. He admitted it was a major decision to rebrand and change the 103-year-old Yellow Cab company, a project he said cost $4 million to $4.5 million. But he added he looked back to companies such as Blockbuster and Borders while he considered the rebranding decision.

“Both of those companies are out of business,” he said. “They’re out of business because they refused to embrace technology, and they refused to change their business model.”

zTrip Taxi will share its name with the zTrip app, which Yellow Cab has used to connect riders and drivers in Pittsburgh since March.

The app allows customers to hail taxis in real time or in advance of trips, schedule a luxury ride with black car pickup, or use the company’s driver-based service called Yellow Z.

Roughly 6,000 people have downloaded the app since it launched, Campolongo said Tuesday.

The zTrip rebranding goes beyond the app to overhaul other aspects of Yellow Cab’s operations, from making the company’s vehicles more fuel efficient to stressing a new focus on customer-driver relations. zTrip also won’t surge prices during busy times and won’t forbid customers from paying in cash. Campolongo said zTrip drivers will be trained, will undergo thorough background checks — the company will soon start fingerprinting drivers — and will need to have their vehicles inspected by mechanics.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who said he drove a Yellow Cab for four years, applauded Campolongo and his drivers for embracing new technology.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Yellow Cab’s 103-year-old history is intertwined with Pittsburgh’s history, and the company’s willingness to change will position it to grow with the city as institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University advance transportation technology.

“Today starts a new day,” he said.

Yellow Cab employs 450 part-time and full-time drivers. The company operates about 325 cars and works with another 125 YellowZ operators who drive their own cars.

Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5627.

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