On-demand cab service at your fingertips

Tech March 25, 2014 00:00

By Asina Pornwasin
The Nation

8,833 Viewed

Use of GrabTaxi automated booking, dispatch app spreads in Bangkok after proving successful elsewhere in Asean

GrabTaxi, an automated smart-phone taxi booking and dispatch platform start-up by ex-Harvard Business School students in the US, made its service debut in Thailand last October. 
From having won the first runner-up prize in Harvard’s “Business Plan” competition in 2011, GrabTaxi has now been turned into a real service available in five Asean countries: Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. 
There have to date been around one million downloads throughout these countries, with the goal being to reach 2 million by the end of this year.
Juthasree Kuvinihckul, a co-founder and director of GrabTaxi in Thailand, said the service gave people on-demand taxi transportation at their fingertips throughout Southeast Asia via a regional app based on the cloud.
“Currently, we are the largest taxi-booking app and one of the fastest growing for-profit social start-up companies in Southeast Asia,” she said. 
She added that her passion is to solve real problems in society, and she wants to make GrabTaxi a success in order to help improve the taxi landscape in Thailand.
“Taxis are an important part of the local transportation in each country. We would like to improve the taxi industry in Thailand by helping drivers have better revenue and happiness, while helping passengers to be more comfortable, safer and faster when taking a taxi,” said Juthasree.
The service utilises mobile-based technology in both the supply (dispatch companies) and demand (passengers) side of the distribution chain in order to improve the efficiency, safety and quality of service. 
The company has set up a cloud, on one side to store all databases of taxis, and on the other to allow users to create their profile, she explained. 
To use the service, cab drivers have to register with GrabTaxi, and several thousand have already done so in the Kingdom. Drivers need to carry with them an Android smart phone with the GrabTaxi installed on the device. 
On the customer side, passengers must download the end-user version of the same app to register and create their profile. This version of the application supports iOS, Android and WindowsPhone environments. 
Both sides of the registration process are stored in the cloud.
Then, once a registered person wants to take a taxi, they just open the app and the system will automatically show all available taxis within a specified range on an online map. 
They can then book a cab by giving the destination, and wait for booking confirmation within one minute. The system will identify the user’s current location and assign the job to a specific registered taxi. 
In fact, cab drivers effectively have to “bid” for each job, with the one who is nearest and has the highest rating in the system landing the fare. 
“Once a passenger makes a booking, the system will pair a taxi for them. We have two main criteria for pairing: the closest distance and the highest rating score. This is to facilitate that a passenger gets a taxi instantly, while also motivating drivers to provide the best service – as passengers will rate them,” said the director.
She added that the app would also roughly calculate the fair for each passenger. 
With the app, passengers can also track their taxi’s real-time location via GPS. This adds to their peace of mind and feeling of safety, as they can access their driver’s name, phone number, photograph and vehicle number plate in the system. 
They can also “share” their ride with friends and family, and let them track their taxi in real time.
Lower costs, higher income
“Our system cares about the ecosystem in the taxi industry – the taxi owner, the driver and the passenger. It helps taxis [owners and drivers] reduce costs and increase overall revenue, because they do not need to drive around, or towards a traffic jam, to find a fare. Importantly, they have a choice to pick up the nearest passengers,” said Juthasree.
She has found that since the launch of the GrabTaxi service, taxi owners and drivers have improved their operations and costs, and have generated revenue that is 30-300 per cent higher than before.
Moreover, the service allows passengers to book a taxi up to seven days in advance, which is safer and more convenient for them than having to wait on the street for a taxi late at night or in the early hours of the morning. 
Juthasree said there were currently more than 2 million daily taxi journeys in greater Bangkok, with people taking a cab three to five times a week. 
Her company’s goal is to have around 30 per cent of the 100,000 taxis in Bangkok registered in GrabTaxi’s system to serve the 12 million people living in the capital and its suburbs. 
“Regionally, for instance in Malaysia and the Philippines, one in every three taxi drivers is a GrabTaxi driver. The target is to have one in every two active drivers in Malaysia and the Philippines as a GrabTaxi driver by the end of the year,” she said.
The mobile app has not as yet been monetised in Thailand, and is free of charge for both cab drivers and passenger. Passengers may, however, at some point in the future have to pay a charge of Bt25 on top of the fare, in the same way that radio-taxi service users do. 
“In the future, once we have a large-enough ecosystem, we might share the revenue from taxis – and also look for other new sources of revenue. We also have a 24-hour call centre to support both drivers and passengers,” she added.