You’re mine, taxi!

You're mine, taxi!

South Africans are accustomed to catching a taxi at the raise of a hand, but what if you could put the taxi in your hand?

 

Imagine the scenario: You’re travelling down a typical busy South African main road. At the roadside a minibus taxi, typically, has stopped. As you slam on brakes and swerve round him, you notice it’s not broken down, nor are passengers getting in or out – the driver is on his cellphone …

Is he SMSing? Checking e-mails? Nope, he’s finding his next fare. And they don’t have their fingers up in the air, either. It’s the digital, connected age: they’re using modern technology; they’re using an app.

Yip, it’s a reality; there really is an app for that (whoever coined that phrase wasn’t joking). MyTaxi is a German concept that was developed and launched in 2009 by two friends, Niclaus Mewes and Sven Külper, who found themselves in a foreign town. Not knowing where they were, what services were available or who to call, catching a taxi proved rather difficult. (Obviously, in Europe, standing at the side of the road and sticking your finger up in the air only yields some strange looks and not a minibus magically stopping right there for you.)

“If only there was an app for that …” And so myTaxi – an app that is revolutionising the European, and now American, taxi industry – was born. According to the company’s profile: “The idea was to develop an app that allowed users to order a taxi from anywhere in the world, directly, without any middlemen.” With taxi drivers indicating the desire to increase the frequency of their fares, this was a clear win-win idea.

And it works extremely simply. The company developed two apps, both available for Apple, Android and Windows mobile devices; one for the driver and one for the commuter.

The passenger app shows the location of the nearest available myTaxi vehicle and also allows instant, advance and multiple bookings, fare calculation and payment and the ability to monitor the taxi’s progress while you wait for it.

The driver, meanwhile, gets notified of the nearest booking, has the ability to contract regular customers and basically operates as a free agent with no contracts to adhere to or headquarters to report to.

Since 2010, the concept has been slowly rolling out across Europe. Its now available in over 30 German cities and as well as in Vienna, Graz and Salzburg in Austria; Warsaw in Poland; Zurich in Switzerland and Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. It’s even caught the eye of the American market, having been launched in Washington D.C. late last year.

Unsurprisingly, the concept has proven extremely popular. So far, the app has received 2,3 million downloads and there are 18 000 affiliated taxis – one in every five taxis in Germany is associated with myTaxi.

I think it’s an amazing concept and will most likely change the face of the taxi industry in the areas it’s available. It puts the power in the consumer’s hand (literally), bringing the source directly to them. It’s much like what music downloads have done to the global music industry, I suppose; why go to the record store and buy an album through a record label when you can simply and instantly buy a particular song on the Internet, or by using an app?

I hope the concept reaches South Africa, too. But it might be a good idea to keep it away from minibus taxi drivers …

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