Hailing a cab in Hong Kong is about to get a whole lot easier for those who don't speak Cantonese with the launch this month of a new smartphone app called Taxiwise.
The app translates destinations into Cantonese before matching the customer with cabs who want to accept the fare.
The app is the brainchild of two American IT professionals, French-born Jean-Marc Ly, 27, and Truong Lam, 28, who teamed up with local IT entrepreneur Lawrence Tse to develop the product.
The idea was born out of frustration after Ly and Lam were rejected nine times by cab drivers near Lan Kwai Fong after a night of partying in July last year.
"We ended up walking in the rain for 45 minutes because we couldn't get a taxi," said Ly, who has a background in marketing.
"Most of the time we got rejected because of the language," said Lam, who has previously worked for Apple, "but some were also asking for a premium price. And the further we walked, the harder it rained."
Ly and Lam were initially in Hong Kong for a three-month intensive course on building mobile products and the taxi idea gave them a reason to extend their stay.
After months of testing, market research and an 18-month app-building programme at the Science Park in Sha Tin, the service will be available for download later this month. Bookings can be made in real time or in advance, with the city divided into four areas - Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territories and the airport.
Taxiwise is aiming to have 1,000 drivers on board within the first six months.
The Hong Kong market already has several successful taxi-booking apps, most of them in Chinese, but the co-founders say this one is different. "We are targeting expats, business travellers, people like us who don't speak Chinese," said Ly.
"We're also giving local drivers access to a new market."
They hope to turn a profit by getting corporate partners, such as hotels, to pay a fee for each booking. General users get a one-month trial before a HK$10 booking fee per fare kicks in.
Ly said the app could work well on the mainland where there is a growing expatriate community in major cities. "They speak less English there, so the need is greater," he added.
The team has signed a deal with Touch Media, which runs the advertising screens on the back of taxi headrests. "There are a million taxi rides every day in Hong Kong and we just want a small fraction of that," Ly said.