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  • News, Startups - Written by on Friday, October 19, 2012 12:26 - 17 Comments

    Taxi 2.0 service Uber hits Sydney

    news US-based personal transport startup Uber has started testing its service in Sydney, encouraging Sydneysiders to download its mobile application and start requesting rides instead of using existing taxi services.

    The company’s model – which sees it connect luxury vehicles with passengers through a mobile app, has caused chaos in the taxi and personal transportation industries in a number of major US cities, starting in San Francisco in 2010. It has since started expanding internationally, adding cities such as Vancouver and Toronto in Canada and Paris in France.

    In several cities, Uber has been accused of breaching local taxi regulations, and has been forced to fight a series of running battles with city administration in order to continue operating. For example, in Washington in January this year, an Uber driver’s cab was impounded as part of a sting operation by the city’s taxicab regulator, which had alleged Uber was operating an unlicensed taxi service. Similar issues have been raised in San Francisco, Massachusetts, Chicago and more.

    In a post on Uber’s company blog today, the company revealed it had kicked off what it described as a “super secret stealth scenario” in Sydney, with the first ride locally being taken by the Sydney dance band Art vs. Science. “It’s a Friday morning in Sydney, and summer may be around the corner, but the taxis definitely aren’t,” Uber wrote.

    “Stranded in the east trying to get to their recording session, the boys hit up their Uber app. Straight away, a black Caprice rolled up, driven by seasoned professional William. In that portentous moment of glory and explosiveness, Art vs. Science was crowned Uber Sydney’s “Rider Zero”. So begins Uber’s super secret stealth scenario starring Sydneysiders!” The company dubbed its Sydney service its “First Fleet”, and said it was currently testing the model locally, warning customers it was “bound to hit some snags”. “Over the coming weeks, we’ll be tinkering with our pricing, placement, and positioning,” it wrote.

    “While we’re in “test mode,” you can request an Uber, but be aware that availability will be limited until our official launch. If you’re one of the lucky few that’s able to grab an Uber, make sure you shoot us heaps of feedback on your experience so that we can make our Sydney launch hotter than this summer’s going to be. You can chat with us at supportsydney@uber.com or chuck us a tweet @Uber_Sydney. Heads up nUbers, this is strictly for Adventurous Riders Only!” An anonymous tip to Delimiter this morning suggested Sydney users use the code “sydneystealth” when booking through Uber.

    Uber is not the first company to attempt to reform the Australian taxi industry, which, like the US equivalent, is highly regulated. In January this year, for example, a 19-year-old Australian developer, Zac Altman successfully launched an online service for taxi users in Australia focusing on mobile bookings.

    According to a statement issued by Altman’s company, Taxi Pro, this week, the developer learnt iPhone development in his free time in high school. Taxi Pro was conceived and developed by him while he was in his final year. He was then awarded a scholarship to the University of technology Sydney. His iPhone application attracted over 40,000 users even before it was formally advertised, predominantly by word of mouth.

    Taxi Pro released its Android application on 17 December 2011. This won Altman the second place in the Optus’ Unleash Your App competition that invited entries from all over the country. The prize included $1000 in cash and a Samsung Galaxy S II Android smartphone. Apple has featured the application a number of times and it is very popular because of its simplicity. Users in Sydney can book a taxi within 5 seconds, making it one of Sydney’s fastest and most simple taxi booking service. At the time, Taxi Pro supported taxi networks in places like Sydney and Adelaide but not in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Efforts are on to cover all these cities and more.

    The service allows users to make their bookings through various cab networks like Premier Cabs, Taxis Combined and Legion Cabs, seeing its main competitor as CabCharge. This is the largest taxi conglomerate whose services extend internationally to Singapore.

    TechCrunch wrote about Uber in August 2010: “If you live in San Francisco and you haven’t tried UberCab yet, do it. The service, which we first covered in July, eliminates everything bad about a taxi experience … When I tried UberCab a few days ago I had to wait just 5 minutes for the car to arrive (a big Mercedes), and the overall experience was way better than a taxi.”

    Could Uber disrupt the Sydney taxi market — hell, even the Australian taxi market as a whole? God, I hope so. I hope so soooooo much. Let me explain why.

    As a small business owner and a journalist, I am a frequent user of taxis. I catch taxis at minimum around Sydney 3-4 times a week, and sometimes more. The reason I do this is that it’s much more convenient than driving myself, given that I’m always hopping around Sydney’s inner suburbs to meetings in places where there is no parking, and that I am also a shocking driver who would be almost guaranteed to crash my car into something or other at least once a month. So I catch taxis and other forms of public transport instead.

    Over the past few years, I’ve learnt to avoid Legion cabs (because they’re universally shocking, in terms of driver skills and the actual cleanliness of the car), and if I’m booking a taxi or if I can find one, I always prefer Silver Service, because the car is guaranteed to be clean and the driver professional. I’m probably one of Silver Service’s most loyal customers. I will catch other taxis if I have to, but I prefer Silver Service, because it’s just better.

    But even so, there are problems. Sometimes when I book online, Silver Service cabs simply never turn up. Sometimes you get a shitty lesser brand instead. And it’s always hard, when you’re just trying to flag someone down, to know what you’re going to get. In addition, Silver Service doesn’t give you any ongoing rewards for using their service regularly.

    Uber turns all of this on its head. You want a trip somewhere? Hit the book button on your smartphone app, and an Uber car will likely turn up very shortly; clean, billed through your smartphone, with a professional driver and none of the usual taxi crap. As TechCrunch wrote, using Uber takes all the crappy taxi crap out of using the crappy taxi system. And that’s exactly what I am looking for.

    Of course, it’s practically a fait accompli that Uber will run up against the same taxi regulatory nightmares in Australia, especially in Sydney, as it has overseas. The Sydney taxi scene, is notoriously regulated heavily and run by a very small number of highly predatory companies. Ask any taxi driver how it works. They’ll tell you just getting a set of ‘plates’ is a nightmare, and forget trying to be an independent, or, even worse, trying to introduce a better service, such as electric taxis or even just anything which isn’t the standard Ford or Holden model.

    Please, Uber, please. PLEASE. Come and disrupt Australia’s shitty, shitty, SHITTY taxi industry. Hire a bunch of lawyers and fight your way into this scene. We need you desperately, and I couldn’t be more happy that the company is expanding into Australia. As a frequent user of this kind of transport, I will support you to the utmost of my ability :)

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    1. LM
      Posted 19/10/2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink |

      Uber is awesome. Best of luck to them. Disrupt the taxi business, please.

      Taxi Pro, never heard of em. Best of luck to em as well.

    2. Dominique M.
      Posted 19/10/2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink |

      Premier Cabs is one of the very very few advertisers of any note on Alan Jones’ show, so there’s an automatic need to avoid them.

      • Posted 19/10/2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink |

        I haven’t had much experience regarding Premier Cabs — are they any good? Feel like they’re a bit more expensive?

    3. Sue
      Posted 19/10/2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink |

      I just wish Silver Service would realise that Carrington Road in the Eastern Suburbs has 3 sections
      Coogee, Randwick and Waverley. Sick and tired of standing on the corner outside my place and then being advised there was no one at the address. There are no trees and it is a corner house but they do not know the area.

      • Posted 19/10/2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink |

        Urgh that is truly shitty. Surely it’s not that hard? I know Carrington Road.

      • Posted 20/10/2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink |

        Here’s an idea for you Sue: walk next door to the other corner address, and have them pick you up from there. That’s if you can’t manage to edge in “Carrington Rd, in RANDWICK”…

    4. Posted 19/10/2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink |

      The taxi industry in Australia is notoriously closed and insular, and woe betide anyone who offers an alternative payment system to Cabcharge. Macquarie Bank tried to break the stranglehold with their Lime Taxis business, which they consequently sold when they realised it was going nowhere.

      Good luck to ‘em, they’ll need it!

    5. Matthew
      Posted 19/10/2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink |

      If you’re lucky to get to know some of the good cabbies you will hear that some of them create an private network within their respective companies, giving better service and higher quality assurance but without a call centre.

    6. Paul
      Posted 19/10/2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink |

      This sounds cool but we also need something to shake up taxi payments. Cabcharge has a ridiculous monopoly and gets away with a credit card surcharge few other industries match. A great solution would be Uber with one of those digital payment platforms. Perhaps the time isn’t yet right?

    7. Posted 20/10/2012 at 12:04 am | Permalink |

      Uber Yellow (as its called in the usa to distinguish it from the limo Uber Black) was introduced in NY a few months ago and shut down this week.

      Basically….not enough interest by drivers or users. Lets face it i can walk outside my apartment and flag a cab faster than i can fill out the app……

      sio the real question is does Sydney need more technology in the cab industry…..or does it need more cabs?

      • Tony Healy
        Posted 20/10/2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink |

        It wasn’t lack of interest. New York taxi regulators shut the service down. New York taxis are required by law to pick up the first person hailing them on the street, which makes it illegal for them to ignore hailers in favour of pre-booked passengers.

    8. Posted 20/10/2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink |

      Tony, NYC Taxi Commission is already putting together a panel on modifying the rules, lots of online chatter here about lack of users being the real driver on the closedown.

      and sorry but if you’ve ever caught a cab here you’ll see lots of not for hire signs eg the driver trying to get from brooklyn back into manhattan etc.

    9. Dan
      Posted 20/10/2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink |

      I hate the taxi pickup at Sydney airport so much I’ve reverted to the Train for a less shitty transit experience. My main gripe is that you are rolling a dice for the cab that will roll up to bay 6 (or wherever you are standing) and it will, 19/20 times, be some shitty broken and smelly EA Falcon with crapped out seats and some hideous knocking noise coming from the real axle. To add insult to injury, when you get in you can bet your bottom dollar the driver (who has driven to the airport all the way from Cambelltown, where he lives and knows) will have no idea where ATP is, and if he does, will crack it because its only a $25 ride.

      So +100 to Renai for featuring this. So long as the cars are licensed ‘hire cars’ there should be no issues with the regulators

    10. James Barns
      Posted 21/10/2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink |

      Need heard of Taxi Pro either – And isn’t uber exactly like DELUX, except without the upfront price? They’ve been doing this for years in Melbourne and apparently coming to Sydney soon, I don’t know if I’d rely on a 19 year old or a company that’s in legal battles all over the US! Props to both the young guy and uber tho, hopefully *someone* comes and redefines things!!

    11. Alex
      Posted 16/03/2013 at 10:24 pm | Permalink |

      FYI Über is currently operating illegally in Sydney. Hire Car regulations clearly state that the cost of the fare must be pre-determined before the fare. With uber it’s not they are they are determining the fare via GPS based on time, distance and speed through the IPhone which makes the iPhone a mobile taxi meter this is 100% illegal. Hire Cars can not by law have a taxi meter in there vehicles.

    12. Posted 13/04/2013 at 4:18 am | Permalink |

      Our local taxi company http://www.marbellataxis.com is using uber with a digital platform and found it be very effective.

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