Any new taxi app will be confronted by a pretty crowded space – the likes of MyTaxi and TaxiPal are already well-established names. But there is a whiff of revolution in the air, with BetterTaxi promising to transform how we take cabs.
The main idea behind BetterTaxi is ride-sharing, with users identifying starting and finishing points and a time in the hope of finding someone with similar requirements to split the fare with. BetterTaxi co-founder Fredrik Forstbach believes they can encourage a whole new group of customers to start using taxis – and in a more ecologically sound way.
The app, which will launch in April with the ride-sharing features to be enabled in the summer, will initially focus on what Fredrik calls ‘points of interest’; places where plenty of people are wanting to take cabs to and from. These include things like airports, train stations and trade fairs.
Users input where they are and where they are going and the system will match them up with someone heading to the same area. They then jump into a taxi together at a specified meeting point, and once the ride is over, confirm in the app that they have left the cab and the payment will be made automatically.
Fredrik said: “You might say, ‘I want to leave between 2 and 3 pm, I want to go from Schoenefeld airport to Rosenthaler Platz.’ We are going to match you with people going in the same direction. It doesn’t necessarily have to be people who want to go to Rosenthaler Platz; it might be people who want to go a bit further.”
So how far away exactly will it be?
“We’re still working on that. It’s one of the most difficult issues with the app, matching the rides that are going in the same direction without having too big of a detour.”
And if a ride share fails to materialise, BetterTaxi reverts to a more traditional taxi app. “If nobody shows up, you can still ride with us and pay the taxi by smartphone,” Fredrik added.
Berlin-based BetterTaxi is looking to partner up with existing dispatch centres which already have the infrastructure in terms of knowing where cabs are, where they’re going and whether they’re available. The app will best be used as a pre-booked service – the more in advance you book, the more chance you’ll find a ride-share. BetterTaxi will make its money from a fee charged to the customers (rather than the taxi drivers).
But why would taxis want to take part in a ride-sharing scheme if it means cutting down on the overall number of cab fares?
According to Fredrik, there are two main reasons. Firstly, the app guarantees drivers ‘decent’ fares – to and from the airport, for example. “There are two ways for taxis to pick up people from the airport: One is to pre-book; they can just go up to the airport and pick the ride up, they don’t have to wait in this huge line. The other way is to drive into this queue, and stand around for two hours. That’s not very attractive for them. They wait because the rides are so good, €20-30. Sometimes they do two or three of those rides and they’re done for the day. But we can give the taxi drivers pretty interesting rides, and they don’t have to wait.”
Yet a more important reason is overall growth in the market. The BetterTaxi team want to encourage people to use taxis who would not usually consider taking one. Fredrik added: “A lot of people who use taxis do so because their company is paying; there are a lot of business clients. So the people that this is more interesting for are the private customers who want to save costs. It’s basically just a numbers game – saving money by sharing a ride.”
Dynamic Ride Sharing
Fredrik also believes that both companies and their employees can benefit – firms who don’t want the costs of endless cab rides can now allow workers to use taxis where they can share the cost. Before any of that happens, however, the user base needs to be built up: “For a service like this to work you need a critical mass. So trade fairs, airports, train stations, big events, concerts, team up with venues, then we’ll see. If we have enough users we can then roll out more dynamic ride sharing.”
Fredrik is one of three co-founders alongside Marius Schatke and Dr. Niels Beisinghoff. It was Niels who came up with the idea for BetterTaxi, appropriately enough in the oil-rich environs of the UAE, where he was working as a management consultant. Everyday he would take a taxi from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and would look around him at colleagues in their own cabs. Nobody cared because they weren’t paying for it themselves. Fredrik explained: “He thought, that’s not the smartest way to travel. When he stopped working for this company, I think he looked back at this idea that mobility might be something that you could improve, just from an ecological point of view.”
BetterTaxi has already been recognised as having an environmental impact in the form of funding won from Climate-KIC, an organisation helping innovators shape Europe’s climate change agenda.
But despite all the promise, Fredrik realises that the whole project is a bit of a step into the unknown.
“In other countries it’s a regular thing to share a cab. But in Germany it’s very different. Everyone loves the idea but up till now it’s just talk. Ultimately, it’s a new way of transportation.”