Taxi booking apps warm up Ha Noi

Friday, Aug 15, 2014 22:37

Driver Do Van Son receives a taxi book of a customer at Ly Thuong Kiet Street in Ha Noi through Grab Taxi application. - VNS Photos Truong Vi

by Lan Dung

Busy work requires Hanoian officer Hoang Mien to move a lot, and the high price of petrol and downtown parking lot fees make her worry about using her car.

However, newly-released mobile taxi booking applications Easy Taxi and GrabTaxi have proved to be so reliable and affordable that catching a taxi has never been so easy for her till now.

Launched in Viet Nam in February, the two apps are now widely used in the two big cities providing a novel and pleasant experience to their users.

Available for download on popular mobile platforms such as Android, iOS and Windows operating systems, the apps allow users to book and track the nearest available taxi for any trip and interact directly with the drivers. All trip records and drivers' data are saved in the apps, and this could be helpful in case passengers need to retrieve belongings that they may have left behind in the taxi.

Taxi a click away

Launched in Brazil in 2012 and backed by Internet incubator Rocket Internet, Easy Taxi is currently available in more than 32 countries and 165 cities worldwide. It has attracted more than five million downloads and is linked to a network of more than 100,000 registered taxi drivers worldwide. In July, Easy Taxi Vietnam was adjudged Country of the Month by its mother company for achieving the fastest growth.

"Of the 32 countries with the app, ours has been the fastest-growing country so far. This means we are the first country to reach the number of rides that we did in such a short time," said Alexander Le, Easy Taxi Vietnam's Managing Director. He said that Viet Nam has a huge potential for further developing the service in anticipation of the expected conversion of half the population to smartphones by 2015.

A map shows the ride growth of Easy Taxi in Ha Noi since its launch in June. - Photos courtesy of Easy Taxi
At the moment, the app is being used by more than 10,000 Vietnamese drivers from taxi companies such as Mai Linh, Taxi Group and My Dinh. The number of users in Viet Nam has reached more than 50,000, with thousands of pick-ups made every day. Its makers aim to involve 40 per cent of drivers and corner an estimated customer base of 100,000 by the end of this year.

When it was first introduced into the Ha Noi market, the app offered numerous promotions for users, including a VND70,000 (US$3.33) discount for the first three trips of each newcomer. According to Le, promotions aimed at attracting more customers to the convenient taxi travel experience have been offered non-stop ever since.

"Promotions will be reduced when we reached the target number of users, drivers and app usage frequency that we desire," he said.

"Being a technology company, we understand that it will take a long time for our initial investment to yield results. In the future, when people are more familiar with the service and understand that our app is beneficial to all, a small fee might be charged."

Meanwhile, GrabTaxi, an idea that attracted attention when it won an award at the Harvard Business School's 2011 Business Plan Contest, is available in six Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Thach Hai Quynh Trang, Assistant Marketing Manager of GrabTaxi, said the Malaysian app has now topped iOS App Store and Google Play in the Travel category. She added that the number of users and taxi drivers has doubled every month.

"GrabTaxi Vietnam has been growing the fastest in Southeast Asia. Viet Nam is actually a potential market based on our initial evaluation, and we will continue to invest more in it to quickly gain market share," she added.

When asked about apparent competition between Easy Taxi and GrabTaxi, Trang denied there was any.

Easy Taxi employees instruct taxi drivers how to use its app on their smartphones.
"The only competition that we are facing is against ourselves. We are striving to avoid complacency over initial successes and aim to pass on the confidence and passion that we feel for our app to users and drivers. This is our current competition," she said.

According to Trang, her company's co-operation with enterprises like Viettel, Viet Nam's largest mobile operator, has fuelled the app's fast growth and sterling reputation.

"GrabTaxi Vietnam has not yet earned much profit from its operations. We have no plans to charge taxi drivers a fee until the end of 2014. However, in the future, if we do so, it will be at a price that is quite affordable for the Vietnamese market."

Great benefits for drivers and passengers

Mien began installing GrabTaxi in her iPhone three weeks ago after a colleague endorsed it, and she admitted that she has gotten used to it.

At that time, the Malaysian app offered a discount of VND30,000 ($1.42) for the first three rides. Upon hearing about Easy Taxi, she installed the app and has since been using both. On an average, she has been flagging down eight taxis a week, and the two apps' discount programmes have helped her save hundreds of thousands of dong.

A mobile screen of a passenger booking a taxi through Grab Taxi app. the apps allow users to book and track the nearest available taxi for any trip and interact directly with the drivers. 
"The apps are more convenient and reassuring to passengers. Taxis booked through GrabTaxi are mostly from small companies such as Ba Sao and Phu Dong while those booked through Easy Taxi are of better quality. (But) their services are both good," she said.

"I use GrabTaxi more often because Easy Taxi only grants discounts for the first three rides worth VND70,000 ($3.33) each. GrabTaxi grants discounts for the first eight, worth VND20,000 ($0.95) each."

Mien said she would continue using both apps even after the promotions expire.

Bui Van Bon of Phu Dong Taxi Company registered for the Easy Taxi network in mid-July after being introduced to it by a friend, also a taxi driver. All he had to do was to provide an ID card, driver's license and license plate number. After a month, he found that the app had helped him to increase the number of passengers and income, but he refused to reveal the exact figures.

"When passengers book through phone to central offices, they either experience numerous taxis competing with other to pick them up, or they get tired of the long wait and catch another taxi. But when they book through the app, there is only one taxi coming, and I don't need to compete with others," he said.

Bon, who has been driving a taxi for five years, has installed GrabTaxi in his smartphone and has been using it ever since. Asked about the number of passengers booking his taxi via the app and the office, he said it varied.

"On some days, most of my passengers book at the office and on others, as much as six or seven book using the app," he said. However, he found out that more passengers booked using GrabTaxi than Easy Taxi.

"If the apps charge me a fee, I'll still use them," he said.

Recently, Easy Taxi received $40 million in new funding from Russian Phenomen Ventures and Tengelmann Ventures, an investment company of Germany's Tengelmann Group, to expand its business in Asia.

Le said the investment would be used for operations, technology upgrade, human resources and promotions for users and drivers.

"We would like to expand our operation to major cities where taxis are available, including Da Nang and Hai Phong," he added.

Meantime, GrabTaxi has received investments from large companies such as Temasek Holdings-owned Vertex Venture Holdings of Singapore and GGV Capital, a leading venture capital company focused on the US and Chinese markets. Trang said GrabTaxi would soon be available in all big cities of Viet Nam.

These apps have gradually changed the behaviour of users. As the number of smartphone users continues to grow, the future remains bright for them. In contrast, Vietnamese apps like PingTaxi and Taxi Navi, will be facing numerous challenges. - VNS

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