Hailing a cab used to be like going out on a blind date with someone you met on the internet who didn’t have a face pic. You never knew who’d show up. It could be a guy with an old beat-up stinky compact cab who smoked through the whole ride with trash music blaring through the speakers behind your seat. Or it could be a decent and courteous driver in a clean and spacious air-conditioned vehicle who actually used the polite, and not the familiar, form of address.
Actually it was worse than a blind date, because you couldn’t really get out of it. It usually took such a long time to find a cab that you couldn’t afford to be picky about the drivers. Many Athenians will remember the pre-crisis days when we were thankful for any ride, when hailing a cab meant bending down in a busy street to shout your destination to a driver as he slowed down to see if your destination fit with those of the passengers already in the car. In those days, passengers didn’t hail cabs; drivers hailed passengers.
It was the perfect example of a perversely distorted market. Consumers had little or no information on the quality of the service before making their purchase. They couldn’t “punish” bad service-I mean, what were you going to do, threaten to go somewhere else the next time you needed a ride?–and there was no sense in rewarding good service.
Although five years of recession and deep cuts in pay and pensions have reduced passenger volume, it can still be hard to find a cab in the suburbs, especially at night. But even if you’re in the city, you still have the blind-date problem.
But things are changing. Taxibeat is an innovative smartphone application, currently available for iPhones and Android phones, that makes it easy not only to find a cab through its network of freelance drivers who have signed on to the service but also to know in advance something about the driver and car you’re getting into. Actually, it’s even better. You get to choose what driver you want to pick you up.
Here’s how it works.
Your phone broadcasts your location to the application (though you can change this if it’s not where you want to be picked up from. The app displays a real-time map with your the location of drivers in your area, as well as such information as the driver’s name (and picture), the model and license plate of the car and, importantly, the ratings the driver has received from other passengers. It even has info on what languages the driver speaks, if there’s a charger for your mobile and whether credit cards (or pets!) are accepted. You select the cab you want and once hailed, the app shows you the vehicle’s approach on the map. Once in the cap, you can click a “boarding” button that will then record your ride (which you can post to Facebook I assume). Like a good social network citizen, of course, you rate the driver and ride when you finish. Future plans include the ability to pre-arrange a ride.
Taxibeat is the quintessential disruptive technology, one that’s changing the rules of the market by putting control in the hands of the passengers. Its feedback mechanisms create an ever growing reservoir of crowd intelligence that obliges drivers to improve the quality of their services.
Taxibeat was founded in early 2011 by Nick Drandakis and Nikos Damilakis. It received initial funding from Openfund, an Athens-based investment fund that provides business advice and seed funding to start-ups. In addition to Athens, the company has already launched its application in Rio de Janeiro and plans soon to expand operations in southern European cities with similar taxi markets to the one in Athens.
For more on the Taxibeat business model, see the interview with founder Nick Drandakis on the eu-startus.com site.