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cab:app letter to the taxi trade

27/05/2014

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The future of our trade is at stake

We can all see that the threat to the long-term future of the Hackney trade is growing on several fronts. Given what is going on currently with regulators, illegal private hire operators and taxi apps switching sides, it’s now more apparent than ever that we need to do something to help ourselves. We have therefore decided to announce the future strategy for cab:app 6 months earlier than planned, in order to allay fears and show the trade what cab:app is doing to help fight the threat.

As independent drivers we will always survive as we work hard, provide an essential service and customers love us, the reasons we’re consistently voted the best in the world. However, survival alone is not good enough and I didn’t do the Knowledge 13 years ago to keep losing work to private hire (PH). We need to unite as black cab drivers across the country and fight this head on using our superior knowledge, professionalism and iconic reputation to provide a national Hackney only service.

It is vital that the wider trade continues to work together to fight the legal challenges facing us. The battle we must also win to compete with PH is innovation in technology coupled with a sustained promotional campaign to remind passengers every day that black cabs are and always will be the best in the world.

The marketing power of drivers working together

The motivation for inventing cab:app was to unite independent Hackney drivers across the country through technology by giving them the tools to help earn more money and take on PH. Together with my co-founders Jane Van Aken and Derek Stewart, and the amazing support from passionate Hackney drivers up and down the country, we have spent our own time and our own money working every day for the last 3 years to realise this ambition – while remaining an active driver.

Today cab:app is used by Hackney drivers in over 90 towns and cities across the UK and Ireland. We have over 4,000 registered drivers, mainly through word of mouth. Our free credit card facility has spearheaded operations, paying out almost £2 million to drivers and benefiting over 57,000 members of the public. 19,300 passengers have downloaded the app organically with no marketing to date and some passengers are already using cab:app as a ‘one stop shop’ to book and pay for black cabs from a single app as they travel across different cities.

If that’s what can be achieved by a few people using mobile technology, just imagine the power we have as a trade if we joined forces and marketed our services directly to black cab users. If 10,000 drivers promoted the benefits of a Hackney only app across the UK and Ireland to 100 passengers every week, we would reach over 50 million passengers in the first year alone. This is the collective marketing power we have as an industry, so it doesn’t need huge sums of money from outside investors. Once you add the viral effect of social media and PR, as more customers tell their friends to download the app and use black cabs, you can see that the majority of the population will quickly become aware of the benefits of using a Hackney over PH.

A business model where everyone wins

We’ve looked closely at the different taxi business models over the last few years, including other apps and the major radio circuits. You may be aware that cab:app has already put forward a plan to help transform DAC but our offer has still not been presented by the Board to DAC Members despite their unanimous vote in January to see all offers on the table – select the link to read the full DAC article: https://cabtradenews.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/cabapp-open-letter-and-presentation-to-dial-a-cab-members/

There are flaws in many of these models, they don’t always deliver what’s promised and ultimately this affects drivers. On the app side these include a distinct lack of understanding of the industry dynamics, repeated attempts to control drivers, selling out to PH, and too much venture capital money leading to loss of control. The radio circuits’ decline can be attributed to their management’s lack of vision, outdated technology and no clear marketing strategy to win new accounts in the face of growing competition.

Somewhere along the way the single most important factor for success has been forgotten – you need motivated drivers to cover the work, as without them the business model will fail.

cab:app’s model is very simple, WE work FOR independent drivers and aim to keep costs to a minimum while still making enough money to fund and re-invest in growing the business. The foundation and principles that underpin cab:app are based on the experience of a working driver who has done the Knowledge and understands driver needs. This is enhanced by the experience of the cab:app partners in business, marketing, technology and customer service.

To date we have funded the business out of our own pockets (taking no money out) and have been actively involved in every stage of development. This has taken a huge commitment of our time and effort but was essential to ensure we had the right business model in place for the long term. We have resisted the temptation to take in external funding from the wrong type of investors, as their motivations are not always the same as ours – and we’ve just seen how that one plays out!

To complete the next major phase of technology development (which is underway) we have just raised some funding from a few strategic partners (they are also friends) who believe in cab:app’s vision of building a nationwide black cab service and are motivated to help us achieve this. Among those partners are Sponge PR/marketing to help get the message out, Pocket App web/app developers who are enhancing our existing technology platform and the founder of a national rail business with a large customer base that use taxis as part of their overall journey. It’s important to note that after this new funding, the three founders of cab:app retain a controlling stake in the business so we can continue to do what’s right by the Hackney trade without external influence.

We’ve read with interest the discussions on social media on forming a co-operative with a not for profit drivers app, which is a good idea in principle. However from our experience over the last few years we know how difficult this will be to translate the idea into reality, as it requires a considerable amount of time, money, effort and knowledge of mobile technology, media and banking to compete against the immediate threat of the large PH firms spending vast sums of money to grab market share.

We’ve done the groundwork and laid the foundation by launching a ‘driver friendly app’ that is being used by Hackney drivers in over 90 cities, so we can already offer passengers a nationwide service from just one app. Over the last year we’ve been working on some exciting ideas and enhancements for the driver app, passenger app and new website which will be released within 6 months. These new developments, combined with our other planned marketing initiatives should help enhance cab:app’s offering as we aim to generate more work for drivers across the country to supplement existing street hails and rank work.

We would welcome more involvement and participation from the trade to ensure cab:app remains in safe hands for the long term. There are a number of innovative new features to come in the next release of the app, which includes the introduction of a driver ‘cashback’ scheme. This will result in cab:app redistributing a percentage of ongoing profits back to drivers that actively promote the app to customers, rewarding them for their extra effort. If there is sufficient interest from drivers we can also offer them the choice of re-investing their cashback to own shares in cab:app, giving them a vested long term interest in the success, direction and stability of the business.

What cab:app offers now and what’s coming soon

We’ve been through two major phases of development already and the next phase is underway with lots of improvements and new features within the apps and website – see attached screenshots of the new driver and passenger app designs. We’ve also set out in the table the current functionality of cab:app together with some of the features coming soon, including a corporate account booking system for a black cab only service.

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However, you will appreciate we cannot reveal all the ideas we’re developing in advance as we don’t want to give our competitors a heads up!

Functionality in current apps

Additional features coming soon

Driver app

  • Free credit card facility (pays Mon, Wed, Fri)
  • Choice of Hail Now or Pre-book Jobs
  • Pick up and drop off address shown in advance
  • No waiting time – meter goes on when you arrive
  • Pay as you go – 1 credit per job up to 8 miles (e.g. 75p in London) and 2 credits over 8 miles (e.g. £1.50 in London)
  • Keep 100% of tips
  • Job history
  • Contact passenger – phone or in-app message
  • Email receipts
  • Contact support

Passenger app

  • Hail Now
  • Pre-book
  • Pre-register credit cards
  • Track driver
  • In-app messaging
  • Auto email receipt
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Number of seats
  • Notes to driver
  • My bookings

Driver app

  • New designs with larger fonts
  • Going home and coming in jobs
  • Distance to pick up and drop off
  • Free cashback (ongoing profit share)
  • Mobile chip and pin device (we’re taking orders now)
  • Fare calculator
  • Taxi related discounts and offers
  • Auto top up for credits
  • Job history including credit card transactions
  • In-app tutorial
  • Email or SMS receipts

Passenger app

  • New designs and user experience
  • Loyalty scheme
  • Favourite pick up and drop off addresses
  • Corporate accounts
  • Hearing impaired button
  • Alternative mobile payments
  • In-app tutorial

What drivers can do to help

We recognise this is a difficult period for the Hackney industry but we believe there is a bright future ahead if we all work together to implement a strategic long-term plan, as we are much stronger when united as a trade.

cab:app will do everything in its power to help and strongly believes that embracing the latest mobile technology and launching a sustained, targeted PR and marketing campaign are essential if we are to fight the threat of PH. Getting the weight of the trade behind a single, national app which allows passengers to hail and pay for black cabs in any town or city will offer something truly unique before PH has the opportunity to steal a march.

We’ve built a solid Hackney foundation in 90 cities and will continue to focus on growing driver numbers over the next 6 months so we have sufficient driver coverage in place for a national launch of our new passenger app and web booking platform later this year.

We have a busy few months ahead, so while waiting for work to pick up we would encourage drivers to take advantage of the free credit card facility and we can also send a free driver pack with credit card stickers and receipt pads to help build awareness among the public.

cab:app has been created by a driver for drivers to help promote and preserve the iconic black cab industry. Strength comes in numbers so we would appreciate your support by registering for ‘cab:app for drivers’ so we can unite through technology across the country and fight for a trade we are all passionate about.

Regards

Peter Schive (badge no. 63768)

Jane Van Aken

Derek Stewart

Contact us with any questions at support@cabapp.net

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