From the Straits Times archives

From The Straits Times archives: How third-party taxi apps work

A longer version of this story was first published on April 30, 2014, in Digital Life.

In just half a year since its launch here, GrabTaxi already claims that it has enough drivers using its service to be the "second largest cab fleet" here. Digital Life understands that Easy Taxi has amassed 7,000 cabbies under its wing and they have made more than 100,000 rides using the smartphone app since it started in December.

Yet, neither company owns a single taxi.

Fed up with long taxi queues and tired of long waits when calling to book a cab, commuters are turning to mobile transport booking apps that do away with many of the problems associated with conventional ways of booking a taxi.

These companies behind the third-party booking apps offer real-time location tracking and link drivers with passengers directly.

Before GPS-enabled smartphones became so widely used, only cab companies, with their satellite systems, could easily track taxis and relay booking information. Now, smartphones with GPS functions enable third parties to match drivers and passengers.

The apps are especially popular with cabbies from the smaller companies as their smaller fleet size means they get significantly less calls than market leader Comfort Delgro.

Here's a look at how two popular apps work:


Originally established in 2011 as MyTeksi in Malaysia, GrabTaxi was founded by Harvard Business School graduates Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling, who wanted to provide safer passenger rides for those living in Kuala Lumpur.

The app, which launched here last October, is also available in the Philippines and Thailand. It is available on Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry smartphones.

How it works
Once you open the app, it shows how many GrabTaxi drivers are in your vicinity.

Passengers key in a destination, select their cab type and tap the "Book Now" button for a taxi. Like Easy Taxi and, more recently, the Comfort and CityCab apps, the destination field is mandatory so drivers can plan their routes.

GrabTaxi provides estimated travelling time and fare rate as the booking request is sent out to drivers within a certain radius of a location.

The estimated fare rate does not include booking fees or ERP charges.

Drivers have to bid for the job. Those who bid within 30 seconds and are closest to the passenger's location will get the job.

Unlike Easy Taxi, which broadcasts a request for a maximum of three minutes, GrabTaxi broadcasts a request for a maximum of about 30 seconds, after which a user is informed if a booking has been successfully made.

Once a booking is accepted, the driver's licence plate number and his estimated time of arrival will appear on the app.

There is an option to call the driver and the passenger also sees a taxi's location in real-time.

Users can use the app to forward the status of their rides to their contacts via Facebook or WhatsApp.

Easy Taxi

Founded in Brazil in 2011, Easy Taxi launched here last December. The company, which has received US$50 million (S$63 million) from e-commerce venture capital Rocket Internet, now operates in more than 80 places, including Ecuador, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The app is available on Android, iOS and Windows Phone. Bookings can also be made through the web.

How it works
When passengers request for a taxi, they can choose from four-seaters, seven-seaters or limos. They have to key in their current location and destination.

The request is then sent out to drivers within a certain radius of the location. The area widens if no driver accepts the booking within a given timeframe. This radius and timeframe vary throughout the day, depending on time and other factors.

Unlike GrabTaxi, which tells users within 30 seconds if their bookings are unsuccessful, Easy Taxi tries for a match for three minutes before giving up.

Using the driver version of the app, a cabby can see if the passenger is nearby and choose to accept the booking. The driver who is nearby and accepts the booking first gets the job.

Once a booking is accepted, the user will see the driver's name, mobile phone number, car model and licence plate number, as well as his current real-time location and estimated time of arrival on the map.

The driver, in turn, can see the passenger's name and phone number.

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