Independent apps drive up taxi booking success

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 23, 2013

AMID growing commuter frustrations with taxi shortages and confusing charges, three mobile apps have been rolled out recently to ease the angst.

These independent apps are not set up by taxi operators, allowing them to consolidate bookings across cab firms and enhance success rates.

It accounts for their popularity. Said 24-year-old user Gordon Ng, an undergraduate: "It's more convenient because you can find more drivers in one go."

GrabTaxi, launched in mid-October, detects passengers' locations and scans the vicinity for drivers, using inbuilt maps on smartphones.

It is the top booking app in Malaysia and is also available in Thailand and the Philippines.

Unlike the hotlines and mobile apps of taxi operators, GrabTaxi does not collect a booking fee from passengers during its current trial, which ends next month. It works on a reward-based system, allowing passengers to pay drivers an extra sum at their discretion.

A spokesman for the firm declined to reveal the take-up rate but said there was more than a sixfold increase in successful job allocations last month.

The Straits Times successfully booked a cab twice, out of four occasions, when it tried the app.

Another free app, MoobiTaxi, consolidates booking services by the different taxi firms. It also allows passengers to "check in" to nearby locations and find drivers.

Since its September launch, more than 10,000 users have signed up. There are plans to add a limousine-booking service for premium customers soon, said a spokesman for the company.

A third app, Cab-Pare, helps to calculate and compare taxi fares, which founder Wong Ling Jun, 30, said can vary by as much as $20 for the same route. The app, which costs US$0.99 (S$1.25), was launched two weeks ago.

"We created this product in response to the confusion of cab fares in Singapore," he said.

The Land Transport Authority said in a media statement that it does not regulate third-party taxi apps, but is reviewing their impact.

"In using such apps, taxi drivers are not allowed to overcharge their passengers by collecting fares that are not set or exceed those set by their companies," the LTA reminded.

Taxi operators, however, have had mixed responses.

A spokesman for ComfortDelGro, which owns more than half of the 28,000 taxis here, said that the company would "definitely consider" external apps that bring in more jobs for its drivers.

But Prime Taxi's deputy general manager Neo Chee Yong, whose drivers have been approached by GrabTaxi, noted that such apps may "adversely affect" the company's booking hotline.

"We acknowledge that such apps are innovative and useful but we have concerns about how it affects our quality-of-service results, since LTA regulates call centre service standards," he said.

Prime cab driver Cheng Fook Seng, 60, started using the app this month and said it has helped him earn more than $100 in four days. He picks up at least two customers a day using GrabTaxi.

"I will use it as long as I can get customers... there is no need to drive around aimlessly," he said.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 23, 2013

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