App spells gain rather than pain for taxi users

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am


For those who shun taxis because of the cost and queues, help may be at hand in the form of an app designed by innovative students.

TaxiShare is an app - or 'application', for devices like smart phones - that helps people share cabs with strangers by matching those at location A who want to go to location B.

One of its creators, Sean Li Shing-him, a graduate law student at the University of Hong Kong, said: 'If you look at the long queues of people waiting for taxis, just think how many of them are probably heading to a similar destination.'

TaxiShare, which will be launched on Wednesday, uses a global positioning system to locate the user on Google Maps. The user can select one of around 1,600 destinations across the city predetermined by the app - taxi stands or other locations the app creators deem safe for getting into or out of a taxi. A second option will be to join a route created by another user.

Once the route is chosen, the user will enter a chat room with the others - five at most - who want to share the ride. They will discuss where to meet and how the others can identify them. The app detects other users within a range of 250 metres - ensuring that they can get together within five minutes.

For their safety, each user will have to provide the serial number of their smart phone.

'If something happens, users can report the crime back to us, and we can provide the serial number to the police,' Li said.

The app did not take advantage of drivers, Li said. 'The taxi driver is not affected in the whole process.'

But Taxi Operators Association chairman Leung Shiu-cheong warned that drivers could risk breaking the law, charging each passenger the full fare, if they were aware of the sharing arrangement. He was not optimistic about the app, saying: 'Many customers, especially women, won't like to travel with strangers.'

Low Shih-cheng of the Motor Transport Workers General Union said sharing would prolong trips. 'With several people boarding and dropping off, a taxi would turn into a minibus.'