Hailing a black cab in London used to be simple: you stood on the soggy pavement, stuck out a forlorn hand, and waited. Now, smartphone apps which use GPS to find your nearest taxi have changed all this. Hailo, the largest of these companies in London, announced today there have now been three million journeys made through the capital using its service.
Firing up the app standing on Kensington High Street, five cartoon taxis float around a map. Clicking on “get a taxi”, my phone tells me that someone called Joseph will be arriving in three minutes. Less than a minute later a cab pulls up.
The driver, Joseph Vassallo, 62, is so evangelical about the London-based tech start-up that he has plastered the car’s interior with Hailo-branded air fresheners and other paraphernalia. “I was one of the first drivers to use it,” he boasts. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened on the mobile phone.”
Vassallo is one of more than 13,000 London cabbies now using Hailo, making up more than half the capital’s black taxis. Worldwide there are now 42,000 drivers in cities including New York, Osaka and Dublin, a number investor Sir Richard Branson predicts will double over the next year.
“Hailo has revitalised London’s taxi scene,” said Sir Richard. “A Londoner now gets into a Hailo taxi every seven seconds.”
That the company has won over veteran drivers like Mr Vassallo is a testament to its success.
He said: “It makes my day much easier and means I can finish earlier. Instead of spending three-quarters of an hour waiting for work in a taxi rank, I can be out working. Last week it was dead on the road. I picked up a Hailo and then went back to the rank at Victoria Coach station and all the same guys were still there waiting.”
He admits there are some days when it is less great for the driver. “Hailo takes 10 per cent [of the fare], which isn’t too bad if you get a decent job. But you don’t get paid for driving to pick someone up, so sometimes if it’s only a five quid journey and you’ve had to drive to pick them up it doesn’t work out so well.”
To reach the other half of London’s cab drivers may be more of a challenge, however, as not everyone is even willing to try the new technology.
Jimmy, a 47-year-old who has been driving a London taxi since the 1990s, said: “I just haven’t bothered with it to be honest. I’m not sure if it’s worth the hassle, but I might do it next year.” Many of the capital’s minicab drivers are also less than impressed with the wave of new technology.
Tariq Choudry, 42, manages the minicab firm AK Radio Cars in Neasden, north-west London. He says apps like Hailo have made it harder for his business to compete: “Technology means small companies are suffering and big companies are getting bigger and bigger. We have to pay a lot in marketing to compete.”
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