Taxi app drags dinosaur industry into the new, digital age

With competition from the likes of Uber, it’s commonsense that Hong Kong’s cabbies – notorious for their bad attitude – join the smartphone revolution 

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 11:15pm

The saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them” may be tantamount to admitting defeat. But it was always going to prevail in the street battle between new car-hire apps and the traditional taxi industry, despite arrests and prosecutions of the upstart operators, because customers continued to prefer their services. The city’s taxi industry has been forced to come up with its own app geared to the needs of passengers. This represents a victory for consumer power and commonsense.

The new app is not only aimed at countering new rivals such as Uber that have cut into the old, outdated business model, but the industry body says it will address customer concerns about taxi drivers’ attitudes and misconduct, and improve their image.

Hong Kong taxi industry pins hopes on new in-house booking app

The chairman of the newly formed Hong Kong Taxi Council, Dr Hung Wing-tat, has tried to set the new app apart from competitors by saying it has been developed with “insiders’ information” about what will be good for the taxi trade. If this includes some honest self-reflection on shortcomings highlighted by competitors – instead of calling for them to be more strictly regulated – that could be good for customers.

Image overdrive: how Hong Kong cabbies are taking on Uber with their own taxi-hailing app

When call centres pass any request for a taxi placed through the app to registered drivers, the app will show cabs within 200 metres of the pick-up point. The app will also enable customers to select the services of endorsed drivers, who have to sign performance pledges to ensure service quality. Out of more than 18,000 taxis on the road, the council expects 1,500 endorsed drivers and 3,500 independent drivers to be registered by the end of the month. The app also introduces a grading system for passengers to rate drivers’ attitude, cleanliness, driving skill and punctuality, and a 48-hour follow-up pledge on complaints.

Those who get persistently bad ratings will be asked to undertake retraining or risk being struck off the app platform. This can only be good for Hong Kong and the industry, which was the subject of a record 10,000-plus complaints against drivers in 2014, according to the government’s transport complaints unit.