SA startup helps taxis take on Uber

Taxi. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Taxi. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Johannesburg - Resurrected startup Zapacab plans to equip local metered taxis with technology to help them be more competitive against internet ride sharing service Uber.

Uber has been in the spotlight in recent days as metered taxi drivers in Johannesburg and Cape Town have complained that the internet company is competing unfairly.

Taxi drivers and operators argue that Uber is performing a door-to-door service through e-hailing, yet the internet service is not subject to the same regulations as metered cabs.

Local differences in the application of regulations further complicate matters. Authorities in Cape Town, for example, expect Uber drivers to obtain metered taxi permits while in Johannesburg the internet service is given chartered licences.

READ: Cape Town impounds over 200 Uber cars in 2015

Subsequently, tension between metered taxis and Uber has spilled over in Johannesburg where incidents of intimidation and harassment outside Gautrain stations have been reported.

READ: Uber drivers harassed outside Gautrain stations

In the light of this local startup Zapacab, which previously launched in 2013 but then closed last year, has a new owner and is again looking to help metered taxi drivers win back business in a less confrontational way.

“Yes, they (metered taxis) can compete, but they need to compete through smart technology, not by threatening Uber drivers, as that will further drive clients away. Zapacab will change that,” Mark Allewell, the new owner of Zapacab, told Fin24.

“Zapacab is a white labelled solution for the taxi industry.

“In short, taxi companies or associations can launch their own taxi calling app within a few steps. The end product would be a fully branded taxi calling app that they can market to their clients. They also have access to a stats package and full control of the drivers that they approve to use the drivers' app,” said Allewell.

Allewell, who founded another successful local digital startup, Tourism Radio, is now heading up Zapacab after he bought the business.

Zapacab was previously launched in Cape Town in 2013 as a booking service that helped customers find pre-existing metered taxis near to them. The service operated in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Nairobi. However, Zapacab reportedly failed to scale and the business was put up for sale.

Allewell has since resurrected it and pivoted Zapacab’s business model.

A digital mission

Changing the metered taxi industry’s approach to its business is a key mission for Allewell.

“There is this weird scenario in the taxi industry of us versus them, that is the antiquated taxi industry versus Uber and ride-sharing apps,” Allewell told Fin24.

“Taxi associations need to realise that it’s not about them; it’s about the user.

“Taxis have always had control over their passengers, but things have changed. People now have choice and full control over what they want,” Allewell told Fin24.

Taxi companies also need to realise that customers choose the easiest option and that it is now a prerequisite for metered drivers to have a digital platform, Allewell said.

Three partners have already signed up for the re-pivoted Zapacab solution which will be rolled out over the next three months.

Thereafter Zapacab plans to open up the platform to other taxi associations and companies.

Meanwhile, Allewell is a bit more tight-lipped over how Zapacab will earn money.

“It’s an enterprise solution based on providing a white labelled platform and the data around that,” said Allewell.

“We have a secondary business model, which I can’t talk about until our first client rolls off the assembly line,” he said.

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