A new innovative electronic hailing (e-hailing) application is threatening to disrupt the meter taxi industry, but this time with the traditional meter taxis as partners.
Emergency Taxi is an application that was designed by a Zimbabwean-born IT entrepreneur, Prince Pirikisi, who investigated the problems plaguing the meter taxi industry, including violence and loss of life.
The service, which already has more than 150 vehicles registered in Gauteng, caters for traditional meter taxis through an app, similar to the ones available from Uber and Taxify, while also accommodating the not-so-tech market through an equally efficient call centre service.
Emergency Taxi, which employs 15 people, started rider registrations this week.
Right now the app has an Android version, while the iOS version is set to be released soon.
The business has also brought on board the Meter Taxi Association as partners and shareholders.
Among the countless differentiating benefits are the 3% retainers for drivers, which are calculated annually and paid out as a bonus; provident fund benefit; rent-to-buy options; and the fixed per kilometre agreed rate with the council.
Pirikisi, who is the sole owner of Emergency Taxi, developed the application in 2016 but only launched it two months ago after lengthy negotiations with the Meter Taxi Council, which in turn gets a percentage of the profits.
“I have a background of IT, programming and animation, so we investigated the problems meter guys have. We found out the core problems were territorial, almost like cyberinvasion,” he said, adding that another major problem identified was safety.
Pirikisi said it took almost 18 months to reach an agreement with the meter taxi authorities. It was during that time that his personal finances took a knock.
“I sold all my cars. I suffered a lot for this business. I funded it myself from day 1 and it crippled me. I even had to close my printing and art design business to fund this one. The banks also cannot give me money until I have half of the money in hand,” he said.
So far about R2 million has been spent on developing the Emergency Taxi app.
He pointed out that, to be compliant, all vehicles and drivers would have to be members of the taxi council and be registered with Emergency Taxi.
Each driver would have a profile, pictures would be taken and necessary inspections of vehicles done.
Emergency Taxi chairperson Zitha Dube said that, by providing both e-hailing and hailing services concurrently, the service will bring together sidelined markets.
Dube said the company was already talking to various stakeholders for possible loyalty programmes for both drivers and clients.
“We know many of the drivers are not creditworthy enough to qualify for normal bank-financed deals, so we are talking to dealerships for trade-in options as well.”
The call centre, which is just as efficient as the app, has three main functions: dispatching and customer service, as well as a communication platform between the drivers, the company and clients.
On the thorny safety issue, which has dogged some of its e-hailing competitors, Pirikisi said the app had a concealed panic button, a live chat feature and a hidden camera, as well as anonymous random inspectors to ensure the quality of the services.
“All the vehicles and drivers are screened and vetted by the taxi association so no one else comes to us unless it is through them,” Pirikisi said.
The service is only in Gauteng right now but there are plans to roll it out in Cape Town and Durban in the next six months.
After that the service would be extended to the rest of the country.
There are plans to expand into neighbouring countries, beyond Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana, where there have already been activations.
There is also a plan for a stock exchange listing.
He said the company was wary of flooding the system with cars and had done extensive research to help it decide on its spatial vehicle allocations.
Pirikisi pointed out that the research that Emergency Taxi did was invaluable as it revealed the sensitive issues the industry was faced with.
“This is a very sensitive issue so we have to comply; it’s more than just people riding in their cars,” he said.
Asked about the choice of name, Pirikisi, who is the CEO of the company, said Emergency Taxi was what meter taxis were called in his home country of Zimbabwe.
* SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.