TaxiMagic Builds an SMS Dispatch System Powered by Twilio

TaxiMagic was founded with the simple idea of making it easy to hail a cab. We’ve all been there: standing on a city street fluttering our arms like balky kites at passing taxis that refuse to stop. Or, equally frustrating, calling a cab company, being put on hold, waiting for a dispatcher and wondering if the cab will ever arrive.

TaxiMagic, headquartered in Alexandria, VA, figured technology could revolutionize the experience. In early 2009 they launched iPhone and Android apps. Several months later they launched an SMS service that worked on all mobile phones.

The TaxiMagic service solved a number of problems. First, ordering a cab happened as quickly as you could type your address into your smartphone or send an SMS. Second, TaxiMagic sent automatic updates so you didn’t have to wonder if your cabbie had gotten lost or if the dispatcher had gotten your address wrong. Additional features included the ability to track the arrival of your cab on a map and charge the ride to your credit card.

The apps caught on quickly, and TaxiMagic’s growth exploded. The service is now available in 40 U.S. cities, and the apps are featured on hundreds of devices, including Android, BlackBerry and Palm operating systems. International expansion plans are in the works.

But success came at a cost. Last year, TaxiMagic’s home-grown SMS system started to fail under the increasing volume. Message queues began to back up and overflow, causing parts of the system to spontaneously shut down. This meant some SMS messages got lost and, even worse, some taxis never arrived.

That was when the team turned to Twilio SMS. After looking around at multiple providers, the team decided that Twilio’s cloud communications platform appeared to be the most flexible, scalable and reliable. “You seemed to have new technology and your roadmap suggested that we would be able to do a lot of innovative things with you,” said Jay McClary, vice president of marketing. “The pricing was also right.”

Twilio’s volume discounts—and its practice of passing on lower negotiated rates to its customers—meant TaxiMagic’s communications costs would decrease as the popularity of its service increased.

TaxiMagic began moving taxi fleets over to Twilio in the fall of 2011. “Moving to Twilio was a seamless technical process,” McClary said. And the results were as good as TaxiMagic had hoped.

“We monitored throughput speed and uptime and found we were getting near flawless performance,” McClary said. Message throughput per minute was over 100 times better than the previous system. Uptime was 99+ percent.

“Twilio has really improved our visibility into our text services and the time required to manage and maintain them,” McClary said. “They provide really accurate data on whether messages are actually sent and received. It is really easy to monitor performance. And there’s no maintenance work for us since everything is in the cloud.”