Smart phones have offered us as cabbies new technology which if used correctly would connect cabbies to customers to the mutual and long term advantage of both by reducing costs and improving service levels however I am convinced this new tech is being perverted and used to build a new way for London cabbies to be made dependant on corporate entities like never before.
It is no accident so many corporates are identifying the London taxi trade as being ripe for disruption but is this interest good for the working driver in the long term? As we all know London is quite unique from many other world cities in that it’s licensed taxi service is made up of 24,000 sole traders which up until now has made it impervious to major corporate attention because there is no income stream to be had nor is there any possibility of corporates owning licenses or dictating the terms under which taxi drivers in London can go to work however all of that may now be about to change.
Our radio circuits came into being to offer the public a way of hailing a taxi by telephone to augment a drivers income but now appear to be in a self made, blue chip account, rut, in which quality cash work offered to the public with the prospect of no above meter charges and linked to drivers paying by way of “per job” micro payments is of seemingly no interest to them?
The Corporate Disruptors
Some very savvy people have noted this opportunity and set about using new tech to exploit what might prove to be a very profitable venture for them. Drivers hungry to access natural taxi riders that no longer use us because existing circuit run-ins, booking fees and 12.5% card fees not charged by their second choice private hire provider, which linked to a customer reluctance to venture onto increasingly lawless streets in search of a taxi has lost us a whole swathe of taxi customers who want a taxi but cannot get one at a reasonable price, leaving drivers disgruntled with existing circuits and their narrow blue chip account mindset but nevertheless drivers are eager to service the cash and credit card market and are signing up to new tech in the form of smart phone taxi booking applications.
The best funded of these appear to be GetTaxi, Hailo and soon to be launched MyTaxi (all risking several million pounds each of either their own money or venture capital loans) and are launching under the banner “WIN THE WORK BACK!”
Beware of Greeks Baring Gifts.
It cannot be denied customers are coming back to taxi usage with the help of these corporate booking apps and that is to be applauded but what long term implications are there and is anyone asking or considering what these same corporates might want to impose should they win a significant market share, one clearly has an exit strategy which once activated leaves who as owner once floated or sold to persons as yet unknown? Under the rules of business their new owners (private or public) would demand profits are maximised and if the only revenue stream is drivers that’s you!
These new entities are offering incentives to drivers to sign up new or not so new taxi customers in an attempt to lock customer and driver into using any chosen app. They know they can’t own your taxi or your license but if they own your customers they hold the aces and the more customers they own the more aces they hold. Inevitably this ensures maximum leverage on per job pricing as their customer base grows, they secure a larger and larger customer base maybe even consigning the street hail outside of W1 & EC2 to history and as they build driver dependance upon the work they offer their power over your working practices grows commensurately.
What becomes of the inevitable road kill arising from taxi app wars. Will the losing combatant wipe its mouth, swallow its loses and walk away?
More likely the venture capital backing will look to recoup as much of its investment as possible and move on, if that means selling their tech and customer base to the highest bidder you can be assured no sleep will be lost if that highest bidder is from the Private Hire side of the street.
So whilst they all seem to be reluctant to charge for a job right now please give a thought as to what they might be charging you for that same job in 5, 10 or even 15 years once the market is disrupted to the point it’s work from their app, at their price, or no work at all?
Declaration of interest.
I believe there is a better way and something that is truly for drivers by drivers and put into trust so no person can ever sell it off for personal gain. I won’t name it for fear of accusations of sour grapes. Dig around, it’s not hard to find the only app that has no paid employees or staff and wants to use new tech to benefit drivers rather than merely disrupt your trade and profit from you. If there are other groups of drivers who want or have their own not for profit micro circuit please get in touch we would love to form an alliance.
Thank you for reading.