New app offers cab firms response to Uber, GrabTaxi

By working with taxi companies, New York-based Karhoo hopes to avoid the regulatory pitfalls faced by groups such as Uber, says app founder Daniel Ishag.
By working with taxi companies, New York-based Karhoo hopes to avoid the regulatory pitfalls faced by groups such as Uber, says app founder Daniel Ishag.ST FILE PHOTO

Karhoo in talks with operators here; aggregates services for commuters

Another ride-booking app is coming to town. But instead of going head-on with taxi companies, London- and New York-based Karhoo wants to work with cab operators "to level the playing field".

Started by British entrepreneur Daniel Ishag, 41, Karhoo has been in talks with most of the taxi companies here to create a journey aggregator commuters can tap into.

"We are really excited about launching in Singapore in the first quarter of next year," he told The Straits Times via e-mail.

  • 3 in 5 polled don't use 3rd-party apps

  • Three in five people here do not use third-party taxi apps, a public opinion survey company found.

    According to YouGov's recent online poll of 1,929 respondents, 1,122 were non-users.

    Nearly half said this was because they are not sure how they they are charged for the trip, with a quarter citing concerns over payment security as credit card details are stored in the apps. Some cited the higher fares of rides provided by these apps, while others said they simply did not trust the app providers.

    The poll found that app users tended to be single, younger, better educated and bigger earners.

    Experts said the poll could have a sampling bias as it was done entirely online. The poll also found that 73 per cent of taxi rides made last month were via street hails.

Karhoo's app is supposed to allow commuters to pick a cab or a private-hire car across companies, based on criteria such as cost, time of arrival and type of vehicle.

SIM University's adjunct associate professor, Dr Park Byung Joon, said Karhoo may not be very unique technologically, but the fact that it is tying up with taxi companies might give it an edge.

"The others like Uber and GrabTaxi sign up individual drivers. But in Karhoo's case, if a taxi company agrees, it has the entire fleet on board," Dr Park said.

ComfortDelGro Corp, the largest taxi operator with nearly 60 per cent of the 28,500 cab here, told The Straits Times yesterday that it was "in talks with Karhoo for a possible tie-up", but added that discussions were still "in early stages".

Trans-Cab, the second-largest taxi firm here, said it was also exploring joining hands with Karhoo.

Its general manager, Ms Jasmine Tan, said: "It is something extra to help our own despatch system. If passengers can accept it, we can give it a try."

Prime Taxi, the smallest player here, is in talks with Karhoo, too.

But Premier Taxi managing director Lim Chong Boo said Karhoo has to do more to convince players to go on board. "I don't think we need another app per se. Unless they come up with a novel plan, it's just going to be another Grab or Uber," he said.

SMRT, however, is not in talks with Karhoo, having tied up with London-based app provider Hailo last year.

Karhoo says it has already signed up 200,000 vehicles in London, New York and Singapore.

Mr Ishag, the man behind British water-treatment company Bluewater Bio, had told the Financial Times that by working with taxi companies, Karhoo will avoid the regulatory pitfalls faced by groups such as Uber.

"We're able to work in markets where the peer-to-peer networks aren't allowed to work simply because we empowered the incumbents," he said.

In Singapore, which has not adopted a protectionist stance against taxi apps, Karhoo may have a harder time.

Tech consultant Richard Ho, 55, said: "I've never had a problem getting a taxi with GrabTaxi. So this company has to be much more than an aggregator for it to make people switch."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'New app offers cab firms response to Uber, GrabTaxi'. Print Edition | Subscribe