Tuesday 22 August 2017

My Taxi to offer better driver deals as it says bye to Hailo

The German-owned cab-booking app will be good news for drivers in the medium term - until Daimler's plans to introduce driverless cars hits the streets

Sam Kirwan of MyTaxi and model Thalia Heffernan
Sam Kirwan of MyTaxi and model Thalia Heffernan

Sean Duffy

My Taxi, the German taxi app that has taken over the Hailo brand here, will look to offer packages to drivers including better deals on their insurance, petrol and car costs as it looks to grow the Irish business.

However, the good news in the medium term for 10,000 Irish My Taxi drivers may have a sting in the tail.

Car giant Daimler, which owns My Taxi, plans to replace taxi drivers with driverless cars.

Daimler is teaming up with German engineering firm Robert Bosch to develop driverless taxis in the US and Germany within six years, according to reports. Last week, Daimler's chairman, Manfred Bischoff, told shareholders that the company needed to adjust to "fundamental changes" that are imminent in the global automotive market.

Daimler - the owner of Mercedes Benz - has acquired a raft of taxi app companies in recent years in the belief that driverless travel will come to dominate a quarter of the market within the next 10 years. It purchased My Taxi in 2014.

Daimler spent over €7bn on research and development last year, with the company one of many automakers to have entered the taxi market in recent years. General Motors has invested more than €450m in US group Lyft, while Volkswagen has taken a stake of around €280m in the Israeli-made Gett.

My Taxi says nearly all of its 10,000 Irish drivers have migrated over to the new service from Hailo already. Around half of the 850,000 registered Hailo users have so far signed up to the new service. My Taxi said it will intensify its customer conversion push over the coming weeks.

My Taxi's chief marketing officer Gary Bramall told the Irish Independent that the company was looking at innovative new ways to make drivers' lives easier in the near term.

Read more: 'Different yoke, same folk'...Your Hailo app changes today - what does that mean for you?

"Drivers have got specific overheads such as petrol, car and insurance-all of these things. What we are looking at the moment is to build packages that provide better deals on those costs," Bramall said.

A specialist in disruptive technology, Bramall - who previously worked at Apple, Skype and Microsoft - believes the amount of data the company has at its disposal will allow it to offer a "surgically" tailored service to its customers and drivers.

In a thinly-veiled swipe at its main competitor Lynk, Bramall said that it went against the company's ethos to charge drivers a fixed price to use the service. "You shouldn't have to pay €200 or €300 a month to use a bit of technology. We believe if drivers don't work then we don't get any money. Our model is more flexible," Bramall added.

While Hailo has been the dominant force in the Irish market since it was launched in Ireland back in 2012, the company has come up against a formidable rival in recent years in the form of Lynk.

Founded in 2015, Lynk is led by Noel Ebbs, a veteran of the taxi business who has acquired a sizeable number of cab firms in recent years that now operate under the Lynk umbrella. His firm has gone from strength-to-strength in the past two years, with a major expansion in the UK and the US following a successful €25m funding round.

The two companies are the undisputed market leaders in the book-a-ride space in Ireland, operating a much larger market share than the globally-vaunted Uber.

Bramall admits the decision to rebrand such a well-known app was a difficult decision.

"Hailo had become a verb here in Ireland. So it was the biggest challenge we had from a rebrand perspective," he said.

"So it wasn't an easy decision, but we are now part of a bigger play. When you look at the footprint now, you can see that we can scale much quicker and we have a lot more resources to be able to do things and to win the hearts and minds of drivers and customers," he said.

The rebranding from Hailo to My Taxi began last month and follows the merger of the two firms which was overseen by Daimler. As part of the deal, Daimler is to invest hundreds of millions of euro across Europe as the merged company bids to compete in an increasingly fast-paced market.

While the future of the taxi business remains unclear, My Taxi is forging ahead with plans for the present.

Next on the agenda is to get the remaining 400,000 or so Irish Hailo customers to use the new app. While short-term solutions for drivers are likely to be welcomed, the inexorable rise of technology makes the future a lot more uncertain.

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