ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Finally, in our tech segment this week, a new app designed to help New Yorkers get around town more easily and for less money. Reporter Kaomi Goetz explains.
KAOMI GOETZ: It's a Saturday night and Lydia Bell is on the sidewalk in the bustling Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan. She's balancing a slice of pizza in one hand, the other is tapping away on her iPhone.
LYDIA BELL: Oh, okay Weeels has a match. Ride together.
GOETZ: Bell is trying to get to Brooklyn but can't afford the $25 cab fare. So she's trying out the iPhone app Weeels. It finds other riders nearby who are going to the same place, so they can split the ride. The app is only a couple months old, and is so far growing by word of mouth. Bell signed up as an early tester. She isn't worried about sharing a backseat with a stranger.
BELL: I don't know. In general I don't find it too much different from, like, sitting next to some random person on the subway, you know?
GOETZ: After a match is found, Weeels gives Bell a meet-up address.
BELL: And then I have these buttons that say: car's not here, everyone's here, text partner or partner info. So we're now walking towards our partner. And I guess if we don't recognize her, we'll text her or see her texting on her iPhone.
Do you see a number anywhere? It doesn't seem like there's numbers on here. It says 246 10th Avenue.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN)
GOETZ: There are some glitches. The meet-up spot is a dozen blocks away. It's 11 at night and Bell is walking down a street that she admits is a little creepy. And her iPhone battery dies. Finally, they meet.
BELL: I'm so sorry.
GABRIELLA: That's okay.
BELL: I'm Lydia.
BELL: Gabriella? It's nice to meet you.
GABRIELLA: Nice to meet you.
DAVID MAHFOUDA: I think at heart, Weeels was initially conceived as a global project.
GOETZ: That's founder and CEO David Mahfouda.
A trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad a few years ago inspired the app. He liked the way strangers developed a sense of camaraderie while taking mass transit. Back home, he wanted to develop a way to move people more efficiently and focused on cabs.
MAHFOUDA: The trick is, like, how do you maximize the utility of these vehicles that are already functional, but that just basically aren't being used well?
GOETZ: Weeels works with a cab service to offer pre-negotiated rates for each trip. The request comes into Weeels, it gives riders the quote and the chance to ride-share.
Safety is still a main concern. But Mahfouda says user profiles let potential partners screen each other. And they can rate their experience afterward. Plans are in the works to show users how they're connected socially. Mahfouda says he thinks that will help people become a little braver.
For NPR News, I'm Kaomi Goetz in New York.