Go Fast Cab brings text message taxi requests to Chicago

Go Fast Cab, a company that hopes to change the way you hail a taxi, is now offering service in Chicago. Rather than standing out on the street in the cold or rain, waiting impatiently for the sight of a taxi with an illuminated “available” light, all you have to do is text and a cab will arrive at your door.

Here’s how it works. You text your address to 777222 (777CAB) and the request is dispatched from Go Fast Cab to a local taxi company, who sends the next available car off to your location. Of course, that’s where the system has the potential to break down. At high volume times, you could be waiting a while (though you can text with the word STATUS for an update). You might wait just as long outside on the street-corner, but then at least you get to feel like you are doing something. You’ll also have the chance to flag down a cab from another company, whereas with Go Fast Cab, you’re pinning all your hopes on one dispatcher.

Still, on bad-weather days or for trips to the airport when I’m laden with bags, the idea of a cab showing up at my house, without me having to call and deal with cranky operators or endless holds, does sound nice. If you’re not in Chicago, you can still use the service too. The company, which started with San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County, has plans to expand Go Fast Cab to San Jose, Phoenix, Nashville and Charlotte.

Product review – Knowledge Generation Bureau (KGB)

If you have watched any TV in recent weeks, you’ll have probably seen a commercial for a new service called KGB.

The concept is simple – you send them a text message with your question, and a real person gets you an answer.

Nothing in life is free, so you’ll pay 50 cents for the luxury of having a personal assistant answer your query. Since many of us travel, and often run into a situation that requires a quick answer, I decided to take the KGB for a spin, to see if they have what it takes to help me out when I’m stuck and in need of instant answers.

The advantage of using text messages for the question is that virtually any mobile phone can use it, you don’t need a data plan, and you don’t have to rely on a slow and unreliable browser. Of course, people with an advanced (3G) smartphone may find it easier to use their Internet browser, but I’ve found that the KGB service is sometimes able to get an answer back to me quicker than I could using the Internet on the road.

Getting in touch with the KGB is simple – you create a new text message, enter your question, and send it to KGBKGB (542542).

So, how well did they perform on the questions I asked?


Question number 1: “I am at o’hare terminal 2, what gate does United 110 depart from tonight?”

Answer: “United 110 scheduled departure 8:50 PM Terminal 1 Concourse C Gate C26”

I tried to trick them by giving the wrong terminal number, but they were kind enough to include the correct terminal in their answer. Despite having just 160 characters to work with, they provided me with all the information I needed. It took them 5 minutes to get back to me, which is fairly reasonable.


Question number 2: “What is the best way to fly from Brisbane to Detroit on Skyteam. Can it be done in 2 legs or less?”

Answer: “Yes flights from Brisbane Australia to Detroit, MI can be done without stops. Check out expedia.com”

WOW. I would never have thought to check Expedia. Thanks KGB! Of course, the answer is fairly useless, and incorrect, as there are no non stop flights from Brisbane to Detroit. Despite the poor answer, it took them 6 minutes to respond to me this time.


Question number 3: “What’s the least expensive way to get to Godthab, Greenland from the East coast in April?”

Answer: “We were able to find a 1-way flight from New York to Godthab in Apr. for $2694.04. Care for more info?”

Not bad, of course I had not specifically told them I wanted a round trip, but one way tickets are pretty rare so I’m not sure why they decided to look it up like that. Their “more?” question allows you to get some more information when their answer does not fit in the message.

Answer: “The Godthab flight departs NYC at 5:40pm & arrives at 11:20am. Two stops enroute.

By now it would have been nice if they had provided an airline and some flight numbers, so I asked for even more info (and spend another 50 cents for it).

Answer: “SAS flight 910, transferring to flight 781 in Copenhagen and finally flight 551 in Kangerlussauq.”

This one was bound to be a tricky question, and it is not entirely fair to judge them too harshly on the information they provide. It is rather silly to waste 3 questions to get the answer that could have been in the first response.

The “more” feature is pretty handy, as it allows you to bypass the silly 160 character limit of text messaging. I sent the initial question at 8:54pm, the response to this took 20 minutes, the second response took 6 minutes, and the third response with the flight numbers took just 3 minutes.

Still, the question was very tough, and it isn’t exactly the kind of answer you can easily find on Expedia, so kudos to them for delivering the correct answer.


Question number 4: “Help, I’m at Macy’s in downtown San Francisco and need a nearby hotel for the night. Has to be under $55!”

Answer: I never got an answer to this question. The service kept sending me a message telling me that each answer costs $0.30-$0.99, which is rather weird since the initial message told me that answers cost $0.50.

This is exactly the kind of question I could see myself using the service for – it involves them looking up where I am, which hotels are in my area, what their rates are, and whether they are available for the night. It’s the kind of thing that could take 20 minutes to figure out if you are stranded somewhere.


Question number 5: “I’m flying flight AA86 tomorrow in business class, will my seat have a laptop power outlet, and if so, what kind of plug do I need?”

Answer: “A Cigarette lighter style power outlet is available at each seat in business and first”

Perfect answer – short, and with the correct information. There isn’t much more they could have added. This answer took them 8 minutes to research.


Question number 6: “Fastest way from Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi?”

Answer: “Taking a flight would be the fastest. From Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe is 45 min by air.”

Once again, no flight numbers, no airline name and no price. Of course, I did not specifically ask for this, but a little more effort would not have taken up too much of their time. From question to answer took just 5 minutes.


Final thoughts

I did what I could to make things challenging for the human agents at KGB, but they are not easily scared. Whether the service is worth $0.50 is up to you – I don’t see myself using it on a daily basis, but I’ll certainly keep their number stored in my phone.

The 160 character limitation is annoying, but is a shortcoming of text messages, not the KGB service.

The most annoying issue though is the lack of information in some of their answers. I’m sure a lot of people send silly questions that don’t really require a very detailed answer, but when it comes to travel questions I would have preferred a little more effort. Their answers seem to be the kind of answer you’d give in a game of Trivial Pursuit, not the way you help someone with a legitimate query.

Still, having instant access to someone who can look stuff up could occasionally be handy.

New state laws that affect travelers in 2009

There are slew of new state laws that have gone into effect with the change to 2009. Here are some of the ones that I’ve culled from this CBS News/AP article that could impact travelers depending upon which state you head to for a vacation this year.

In California, do not read-or-write text messages while you drive. It’s now illegal. Heavens! Can you imagine someone texting on a freeway in L.A.?

If you are in Illinois and are having a heart attack at an outdoor fitness facility, look for a defibrillator. All such facilities are now required to have one.

Don’t even think about urinating or defecating in public in New Hampshire. If you decide to let go, it could cost you a $1,000 fine. Did people in New Hampshire have a problem holding it until they found a toilet? That was my initial thinking. Turns out, the law is to prevent people who pee in public from being labeled as sex offenders.

For smokers in Oklahoma, only fire-safe cigarettes are being sold. If you’re a smoker in Oregon, don’t light up in a bar. Smoking is now banned in bars. Trans-fat is also banned in Oregon. From the finest restaurants to fast food, not a speck of trans fat is to be used.

Top 10 stupidest laws you could encounter abroad