Apr 30, 2015 · 2 minutes

Flywheel, a ride-hailing startup that partners with existing taxi companies in San Francisco and other cities on the West Coast, has introduced a new feature that allows consumers to pay for a ride through its app, even if it wasn't booked through it.

This feature works by matching someone's location --which is only tracked when the consumer gives Flywheel permission to do so -- with a partnered taxi. Once that is determined, the ride is paid as if it were summoned via the service.

"From a consumer standpoint, it's the best of the real world and the digital world," says Flywheel chief executive Rakesh Mathur. "And from the driver's perspective, he gets paid more than he would if you swiped a credit card in the device in the back of the car." (Flywheel encourages a minimum tip amount.)

The new feature might not seem all that convenient. It's not like swiping a credit card is particularly strenuous, and every taxi I've taken in the last few years has encouraged a minimum tip amount, just like the Flywheel app.

But if you've ever been the asshole who forgot he wasn't riding an Uber and exited a taxi without paying, or had to deal with the frustration of a driver who claims not to accept credit cards, it's not hard to see how this might be useful.

Besides, it's nice to have the option of paying for a taxi without staring at a smartphone wondering when a car is going to come pick you up. (Let's not pretend nobody plays the "Why the hell is my Uber driving that way?" game while they wait for a summoned car to arrive.) Just wave your arm around.

There are other benefits to a service that partners with existing taxi drivers instead of convincing people that it's better to work for a company that allows them to be "hailed" from a smartphone. As Pando's Paul Carr explained:

Most of us who live in San Francisco agree that that cabs in the city are pretty awful. We all have stories about having to explain to a driver where Market street is, or of abusive drivers, or of being taken to completely the wrong side of town due to a misheard address. There’s a reason services like Uber have taken off, and it’s not just because of a shiny app.

But, for all their faults, taxis remain a vital public good: A service for the huge number of San Francisco residents who can’t afford a smartphone, let alone surge pricing — but who need to get to work at odd times or away from useful Muni or BART routes. Those people (and the rest of us) take for granted that, if for some reason they need to get somewhere in a hurry, they’ll always be able to hail a cab without first having to enter a credit card number. That’s just how cities work. Flywheel is currently available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and Seattle. Along with this feature, the company is announcing today that its broader service will also be available in Portland, an expansion that led Mathur to say that the service is now available in most major cities on the West Coast.