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Apps, booking platforms and street hails

To App or not to App, that is the question

Technology can be helpful

Over the past few days there has been a lot of discussion among the hackney carriage trade over what it means for taxis to join ride hailing apps. As someone who has worked in the trade since before the days of apps, and from both sides of the regulatory divide, I’m often confused by some of the comments I see floating around on this topic. I’ve jotted down a few, quick thoughts on what I’ve learned over more than 15 years in the trade and why, often, its good to take a step back and remember what’s important.

Firstly, what is a hackney carriage? Well, it’s a vehicle permitted to ply for hire in a certain area. That is, it is a business that, providing the driver and vehicle are correctly licensed, is entirely self-contained. It provides the ability for an individual to leave the house and go out and make money using their tools and their wits.

Of course, many would say that a booking app is just another tool and I can see that argument. The questions is, is it a necessary tool?

I see some comments from hackney drivers along the lines of ‘there is nothing easier for a customer than sticking their hand out to hire a cab’. Well, that is true, providing a cab happens to be driving past you at precisely the right moment in time. In actual fact, for many people, using a smartphone to book a cab is much easier. If you disagree with that statement then that is, of course, your right, but I respectfully say the proliferation of booking apps would seem to undermine your argument somewhat.

The plain facts are that many customers like using technology to make their bookings. It is quick, it is easy, and it can be done from anywhere (not just the side of the road in the pouring rain).

It’s all about getting customers to your business

The question should not be ‘should I use technology to get bookings?’, but rather, ‘of all the choices available, what is the best way for me to use technology to promote and build my business?’. This is the important part.

I spend my time training and helping new drivers. A few years back there was much talk of the imminent arrival of robot taxis. We talked about it at training a bit. Sometimes I still do, but not so much.  Why is this suddenly relevant to my point? Well, at that time, it was suggested that the rise of the robot taxi would mean that drivers would become obsolete. Costs would plummet. A new utopia (unless you want your shopping carried to the front door?). Maybe robot taxis will take over. I’m doubtful it will happen anytime soon. Until they do, drivers should remember one very important fact – you are the one providing the service and doing the work.

Without you, there is no trade. Without you, there is no operator. Without you, there is no app.

The power is in your hands to make the best use of the available options.

Keep costs as low as possible

Whatever you decide to do, and whatever system you join to advertise and build YOUR business, make sure you are getting the best deal. The beauty of a hackney carriage licence is it allows you to ply for hire in your area AND take private bookings more or less anywhere*. If you can use technology to reach customers directly, and you can keep those customers through brilliant service, why should you be paying any commission on those journeys?

Of course, online business platforms require some funding in order to operate. A reasonable subscription perhaps? That is no different from any marketplace, from the largest stock exchanges down to the smallest local town market charging a fee for a pitch. However, above this essential cost, what you earn should be yours. So, by all means use technology. Use these new amazing tools. There is a lot of choice out there. Beware choosing any option that impacts your ability to choose your work according to your needs, limits your ability to set your prices (according to the meter rules, naturally), and takes more of the fare from you than is reasonable.

*some restriction can apply to certain licences.

Unified Transport Systems

Unified Transport Systems work to connect public and private sector service providers to create the transport systems of the future. A truly Unified network will create opportunity, ensure well-being and allow everyone to travel easily, safely and at a fair price.

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