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Ride-sharing hits Malta ... and it’s not Uber

Estonian upstart Taxify has, for the past three years, slowly been building a solid foundation in 18 countries in Europe and Africa, including Malta, earlier this year

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks
23 August 2017, 8:30am
Booking a vehicle through the Taxify app is easy: Set the location and request a car, follow your driver in real-time as he approaches your pick-up point, then pay online or pay the driver at the end of the trip
Booking a vehicle through the Taxify app is easy: Set the location and request a car, follow your driver in real-time as he approaches your pick-up point, then pay online or pay the driver at the end of the trip
If one were to ask people at random to name a ride-sharing provider, chances are they would mention Uber, and rightly so; it was, after all, first on the market eight years ago and has since grown to staggering proportions.

But that is about to change, especially locally where Uber has no presence, as a small provider gathers momentum and following.

Estonian upstart Taxify has, for the past three years, slowly been building a solid foundation in 18 countries in Europe and Africa and is also set to take on the industry giant in one of its most profitable markets – London – in the coming months.

But this year, Taxify also came to Malta and introduced its model here.

Mike Pearson, Taxify Malta director of operations, told MaltaToday that the uptake had been extremely promising and that the company would soon be launching an extensive campaign to attract more drivers and customers.

Its basic business model is simple and identical to Uber’s – both hook up passengers with self-employed drivers. A passenger uses a mobile app to indicate how he needs a pickup. The app automatically marks his location and indicates how long the nearest available vehicle will take to reach the collection point.

The client can even follow the progress of the vehicle on the app in real-time. They can also pay the fare in advance via credit card or they could, alternatively, choose to pay the driver in cash at the end of the journey.

“There are currently around 1,000 taxis in Malta, but if you were to compare Malta to other countries and their population, there should actually be around 5,000 taxis in Malta,” Pearce said.

“If that were to happen, Malta would see a considerable easing of the traffic problem, besides commuters saving on transportation costs.”

Mike Pearce is confident Taxify will help bring about a change in Maltese people’s mentality
Mike Pearce is confident Taxify will help bring about a change in Maltese people’s mentality
He said that the service was already seeing considerable growth, being able to provide around 50 cars in the St Julian’s area on weekends.

What made Taxify attractive to drivers was the flat rate of 15% commission that the company took; low, when compared to other providers like Uber, which charged a 25% to 30% commission in other countries.

And as more drivers joined the system, more commuters would start to make use of the app as waiting times drop even further with more Taxify drivers on the road.

“Our first target is to have 500 Taxify vehicles on Malta’s roads, which would bring average waiting time to two to five minutes,” Pearce said. “We believe this is a realistic target and achievable in the short term.”

He said that once that number is reached and the number of commuters using Taxify increased accordingly, it would not be unrealistic to expect drivers to earn up to €300 or €400 in a day’s work.

Anyone with a private vehicle can join, whether they own a sedan, a minivan or luxury car. All they need is a taxi driver licence and to set up a Taxify account. Then, they can go online whenever they want, and be available to accept customers.

Besides self-employed drivers, many Maltese taxi companies are joining the system, recognising the advantages of using the app to generate more business, since only a handful have the resources to develop and maintain their own bespoke app and system.

Pearce explained that the system provides drivers a detailed and real-time accounting of their trips made, the fares received and their total earnings, transferred directly into their account.

He said that another major Taxify selling point is the rides’ rates, which are on average cheaper than competitors.

But he also acknowledges that there are still some hurdles to overcome.

“We need to address the Maltese mentality if we are to succeed,” he said. “Unfortunately, many Maltese still seem overly attached to their cars, and we need to make them see how a good alternate transport service like Taxify could make their lives simpler and more productive and still turn out cheaper than private transportation.”

Pearce said that not being used to roving taxis, able to stop anywhere to pick up a customer – as with the black London cabbies and other taxi services in most major cities around the world – the Maltese would be naturally wary of switching their mode of transport.

“But being able to book a vehicle in seconds through our app, knowing exactly how long it will take to get to where you are, and being able to continue working, or browsing social media if you want, while being ferried to your destination is what makes this service so palatable,” he said. “The fact that it could turn out cheaper than using and maintaining a private vehicle is also noticeable.”

Another selling point is that one can track a vehicle throughout the journey, so that if, for example, a parent books a vehicle for a child, they can track the vehicle in real-time to make sure the child gets to the correct destination on time. The app would also provide full details of the driver and vehicle booked, thus minimising security concerns for commuters.

All in all, Taxify is an ambitious project, and if the success it has already secured abroad can be replicated in Malta, the country would be much better-served than it currently is.

It is to be hoped that the Maltese embrace the system and that the authorities do not let anyone – including some who may have become used to a comfortable status quo – convince them to hinder the expansion of such a service.

Taxify has already been successful in many countries, it has managed to secure considerable financing from China’s largest competitor to Uber, and it is gearing up to take on the industry leader in England’s capital.

It could also be very successful in Malta. Whether that happens – and how long it would take – will not depend on the company or the app, but on the Maltese mentality and a willingness to change.

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks joined MaltaToday after having spent years working in newspapers with The Times...