"Applications for cell phones or other smart information systems are becoming commonplace in the daily life of citizens"
"MyTaxi or By-Taxi: Two apps at citizen service that make the work easier for taxi drivers"
The taxi business and new technologies are currently engaged in a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, cell phone apps bring forward an alternative and complementary way to search for clients; on the other hand, stands public enemy number one for taxi drivers: Uber.
Public services involving mobility in the city have joined the technological wave, and outcomes are extremely satisfactory in general. Applications for cell phones or other smart user information systems -such as systems that inform about real arrival and departure times for the underground, buses, trains, etc- are already a part of daily life and they are very efficient. Taxi drivers are also trying to benefit from the new mobile applications, which could even take the place of booking head offices. The free German app MyTaxi is reaching a significant amount of users: already established in more than 40 cities (with Barcelona, Madrid, Berlín and Washington DC among them) it is now the most widely used app for these services, thanks to several advantages such as cardless payment, real-time maps of close-by taxis, estimation of fees and even the possibility to choose your favourite taxi or taxi driver. Easy, but only in appearance. The introduction of My Taxi, at least in Spain, was not immediately successful among taxi drivers, an organized group with very effective and straightforward booking head office services and radio communication. “Why should we bother with that?” many professionals in the sector asked themselves before the first positive results appeared. And word-of-mouth between taxi drivers, as you may imagine, works extremely well.
Today, applications such as MyTaxi are becoming commonplace in the daily life of citizens. Among Spanish apps, By-Taxi is highly successful among users in the cities where it is present: 80 Spanish cities and Bogotá, Miami and Kuala Lumpur. Working in a similar way to MyTaxi, it intends to be easy to use and provide fast responses (less than 90 seconds). Apart from the application being free of charge, it makes it possible to spare the radio-taxi, as the taximeter is turned on when the passenger gets in the taxi; besides, the taxi driver may be traced in case the passenger leaves any object behind in the taxi. To sum up, these are two examples of applications at the service of citizens that make work easier for taxi drivers. A Barcelona taxi driver, whom we talked to while we were preparing this report, told us that these applications were “a breath of fresh air in the relationship between taxi drivers and clients. At first, we were all wary of them, but right now about half the taxi drivers use MyTaxi as a daily tool in their work”.
Uber, an app against taxi drivers
We had a deeper conversation with the aforementioned Barcelona taxi driver -who wished to remain anonymous- about the “Uber case”. Uber is an app that makes it possible for users to travel at lower prices by putting them in contact with drivers other than taxi drivers using the web or a Smartphone. “What Uber is doing is downright unfair competition! It is not fair for us to be requested to pay a taxi license, pay self-employment taxes (autónomos), have an insurance for the passenger in case of an accident and sit an exam about how much we know about the city where we are doing our job, while others are allowed to do it without any official certification”. Everyone in the taxi world holds the same opinion. For that reason, a strike was called, and it seems that more taxi driver strikes will take place, at least in Spain.
What is Uber? The application is defined on its website as a means to “make cities more accessible, which provides more opportunities to passengers and more business for drivers”. Already present in around one hundred cities all over the world, Uber was founded in San Francisco (USA) back in 2010 by Travis Kalanick, the creator of the first P2P search engine in the world. Fees? According to estimates, travelling with Uber is cheaper, but the difference is so small (around 10%) that cost is not what taxi drivers complain the most about, but the conditions required to become a driver for the company. Only two conditions are required: being a natural person who holds a personal extensive insurance cover and being the owner of a four-door mid-size car in excellent condition. That, along with the position taken by the Spanish government on the subject, was what made taxi drivers angry. Last June, the Minister of Economy, Luis De Guindos, invited taxi drivers to “adapt to the new technologies available”. The Spanish Minister was the first representative of an European government to make a statement about the “Uber case”, maintaining that the Spanish government will “foster competition, but under equal conditions”. Today, while Uber drivers are about to be legalized in Colombia, they will be legally pursued in Spain and specially in Barcelona, where the City Council has set fines up to 4000 euros. In the meantime, Uber keeps getting more and more users and clients all over the world.