New Taxi Service for Smartphone Users Launches in City

New Taxi Service for Smartphone Users Launches in City

Published: October 17, 2012 (Issue # 1731)

A new service that allows city residents to order a taxi using a smartphone application was launched in St. Petersburg on Thursday.

First launched in Israel, GetTaxi aims to simplify the process of ordering a taxi, and is also represented in the U.S. and U.K. In March 2012, the service began operating in Moscow.

“The GetTaxi app automatically detects your location and shows all the cabs available in the area,” said Shahar Waiser, founder and CEO of the company.

“When you place an order, you know exactly who will pick you up, because the driver’s name, photo, phone number and car information appear on your screen right away,” he said.

The city’s taxi industry has plenty of potential for growth, market analysts say. According to the St. Petersburg Association of Taxi Transport, the size of the market is hard to measure, because of the large shadow sector — in busy locations, around 80 to 90 percent of journeys are made using illegal taxi drivers or so-called “gypsy cabs.”

“Illegal drivers exist because people need them — they arrive faster and their prices are cheaper,” said Waiser.

The main idea of his service is to make traveling by taxi fast, cheap and safe at the same time.

GetTaxi unites registered drivers into one network accessible to everyone who has the app installed on their phone.

“GetTaxi doesn’t compete with existing taxi parks and transport companies,” said Waiser.

The company installs special devices in cabs that help the drivers to receive orders directly from customers, which they can respond to during periods when they have no orders for their own companies.

The cost of a GetTaxi trip is 310 rubles ($10) for the first 20 minutes, and subsequently 10 rubles ($0.32) per minute. At night and on public holidays, prices are higher — 350 ($11.30) then 13 rubles ($0.42) respectively. There are only three fixed prices — 450 rubles ($14.50) to and from any train station at any time, 700 rubles ($22.50) to the airport, and 900 ($29) from the airport.

It is not clear whether these tariffs represent good value, because traffic jams and road works add to journey times, but the fixed prices are commensurate with the tariffs charged by most other taxi companies.

Commenting on the service’s viability, Yury Veikov, vice president of the Russian Association of Taxi Transport, believes that in order to survive, GetTaxi will have to adapt to the current state of the city’s taxi industry.

“Our taxi market has developed on the principle that one usually knows the cost of the journey in advance. GetTaxi uses another, less convenient system,” said Veikov.

One of the biggest complications is that St. Petersburg is the only Russian city with a population of more than a million without its own local law on taxis.

“The service needs improvement and adaptation to Russian legislation, because there is a difference between the terms ‘information mediator’ [such as companies like GetTaxi] and ‘carrier.’ What the city needs is the latter,” said Veikov.

Another expert on transport, civil activist Alexander Kholodov, took a skeptical view toward the new taxi service.

“The drivers working for GetTaxi will abuse the system — instead of taking you directly to the place you have named, they will drive around to get more minutes on the meter, especially with customers unfamiliar with the city,” he said.

Other potential users expressed faith in the project and said that they plan to use it. Blogger Alexei Goncharenko tested the service in Moscow.

“We had a misunderstanding with the driver over the address, and that made him very angry, which just shows that not everyone is cut out to work as a taxi driver, but on the positive side, we paid 700 rubles ($22.50) for a journey that would cost 1,500 rubles ($48.40) with other companies,” he wrote.

Attempts to test the service in St. Petersburg have so far proved difficult. On Saturday night in the Central district (one of the two districts covered by the service so far) there were only three cabs registered with the service working, and all of them were busy for a long time, making it impossible to place an order.

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