In fact, the smartphone age has brought no shortage of alternatives, but the jury is out on whether any of them represent actual improvements.
Depending where you are, it’s now possible to hail a cab using an app on your phone, simply by sending your current location to the driver. You can then track the taxi’s progress in real time as it wends its way to you, and if you like, pay securely by credit card, via your phone.
Several apps operate with a closed network of cabbies working for a central, automated dispatching system. The best known of these is Uber, which launched in Leeds last autumn, after controversial rollouts in London and elsewhere. Uber is big business, operating in well over 200 cities worldwide, with backing from heavyweight investors like Google and Goldman Sachs.
It sets fares based on its own formula, and the price includes a tip. However, like package holidays, the rates are apt to rise when demand is high: during bad weather or rush hours, for instance. This is a practice known in the industry as surge pricing. Cab-sharing is allowed, though, and you can split the fare with your fellow travellers, using the app to work it out.
Uber is deeply unpopular with regular cabbies, who took to the streets of London last year in a protest which halted traffic. In Brussels, the service was banned outright until recently.
But its commercial model has had others drooling, and it hasn’t taken long for rival apps like Lyft and Hailo to emerge. So instead of battling for space on the taxi rank outside the Odeon, rival cabbies are now competing for a slot on the screen of your phone.
GetTaxi, which has also just launched in Leeds, offers a slightly different experience, using licensed black cabs instead of its own fleet, and promising no minimum fees or cancellation charges, and no surge pricing. It claims to have vetted all its drivers and allows you to rate your cabbie after each ride. There’s also a loyalty scheme and credit if you recommend the service to someone else.