Years ago, Rashid Temuri studied computer science during a short stint in college. By the time he created the Twitter account @ChicagoCabbie in 2011, he'd been driving a Chicago taxi for a decade and a half.
He planned to tweet responses to people's complaints about Chicago taxi-riding, hoping to increase understanding between riders and drivers. But when locals learned he was an actual cab driver, they started putting him to work. “People would Tweet, 'Hey, it would be awesome if you could come meet me and give me a ride,'” recalls the Karachi-born Temuri, who's lived in the Chicago area for 20 years. "So I started picking people up."
A year later, @ChicagoCabbie has more than 4,100 followers. Temuri has been covered by dozens of local news outlets and a handful of tech and international websites. "This whole thing is growing so fast on its own and it's become something I never imagined," says the 36-year-old. His workload has increased to the point that he often passes excess ride requests on to a half dozen colleagues he trusts.
It's a vital service. As a Chicagoan, I can testify that most calls to a taxi service in this city go as follows: an interminable wait on hold, followed by a meandering conversation with a customer service rep that ends with her saying a car might be available in the next hour and that they'll call back.
If and when the cab does turn up, the vehicle is often old and unkempt. Though not the world's first Twitter cab service -- a similar business launched in London a few years ago -- Temuri's is the first to focus on correcting his colleagues' mistakes, and the most technologically advanced. "I feel bad for my cabbie community, and I blame them for the way they behave," says Temuri. “My goal is just to make the service better.”
And how. When Temuri gets behind the wheel every morning, he announces it with a tweet. From there, anyone can track his location with Google Latitude. He responds almost immediately to ride requests (via text msg, Foursquare, email, yfrog and Twitter), sends out an iCal invite to confirm the call and turns up when he says he will.
His Ford Escape Hybrid is immaculately clean and smells like it. Riders can hop onto the free WiFi, or start up a chat with their host, who is happy to swipe their credit card on his iPad at drop-off. (Stenciled on the car's side is Flash Cab, the dispatcher from which Temuri still takes the occasional rider. Though at first uncomfortable with Temuri's freelancing, his bosses at Flash have since come around, probably because of the free publicity.)
If @Chicagocabbie has changed the way many Chicagoans think of, and order, taxis, it has also upended Temuri's life. After years of seeing taxi driving as a tedious fall back job, he's used it to return to his first love: technology. "I'm absolutely loving it now," says Temuri, "to the point that I'm about to start working on a new app."
Unable to reveal any details due to a non-disclosure agreement, he says he's helping a European technology firm develop an app that will improve and organize the taxi experience, for both riders and drivers. That would put it in competition with the likes of Uber, the mobile livery car service, and Taxi Magic – both of which Temuri seems to have improved upon by eliminating the middle man to cut costs and speed delivery.
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