Controversy over New Technology for Taxis

Image of PhoneTaxi drivers who have been working in the industry for a substantial period of time often believe that it is experience that makes a good taxi driver. In fact, taxi drivers based in London can spend years training in order to gain their ‘Knowledge’ badge, which means that they know practically every part of London and the quickest route to it like the back of their hand.

This is why some taxi drivers are not overly keen with the introduction of new technology to taxi cabs as it means that drivers technically no longer need to have ‘The Knowledge’, just a Sat-Nav system that tells them where to go. The problem is, relying on a Sat-Nav can get you into trouble, especially in London where roads are frequently closed without prior warning and traffic jams can last for hours. By having the Knowledge, you will automatically know a number of alternative routes, allowing you to get your fare to their destination within a reasonable amount of time.

Companies that are creating new types of technology for the taxi trade generally understand what they are up against, including the creators of the new Hailo App. The App allows users to ‘hail’ a cab just by pressing a button on their phone, and they can even pay their fare using credit card details which are stored on their App. However, Ron Zeghibe, the company’s chairman, says that he understands it may take taxi drivers a while to get used to the App.

He added: “We could have the best 21st-century technical solution in the world but, unlike a lot of tech startups, this is grafting technology on to a 400-year-old industry. If you think for a minute that you can walk in and slap this technology [on] and get [drivers] all to say ‘wonderful, you saved our lives’, you are smoking dope. You really do need to understand how that business operates, its mindset and how we can work best for [the drivers].”

In order to solve this issue, Hailo’s creators teamed up with three taxi drivers who have worked in the industry for a number of years. Zeghibe said: “We were the eighth app to launch in London. Addison Lee had [had] an app for two years. You had Kabbee and GetTaxi [among others]. All these guys had a headstart and should have been able to get the market share. The problem, I think, was that most of them looked at getting the customers. We flipped that on its head. With the help of these guys on the inside we realised that what it is really about is building the loyalty [of] the driver base.”

So far it looks as though Zeghibe’s plan has worked, as the Hailo App has made more than $90m (£55m) in three years, and has spread across three continents and a dozen cities. Zeghibe said: “The ambition from the start was a global network. The taxi booking business is the first step in building that network. We are not spending millions of dollars to build a social network. If you are going to have a platform and a network, you need a backbone to it.

“You want to be in London, New York, a number of other hub cities in the US, and you want to get to Asia and ultimately over time have a global network. We will be able to pick [smaller cities such as Manchester and Birmingham] off [later]. 2015 is the kind of time when we will be looking to expand into lots of cities. It is the kind of thing where we would be doubling or tripling in size.”

However, even though Zeghibe is confident that the Hailo App will succeed, it may take a while for taxi drivers to come around to the new technology. For example, comparing taxi insurance quotes online has only been around for a couple of years, and even though many taxi drivers now use dedicated websites such as QuoteSearcher, when they were first introduced some were wary of them. Now, taxi drivers can save hundreds of pounds on their taxi insurance policies thanks to specialist websites, which means that even though new technology may be frowned upon at first, in the long term it can help taxi drivers save money and improve their businesses.

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