Taxi drivers warned to embrace technology – or get left behind

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Tony Moretta said that the taxi market was already being disrupted in Jersey with the introduction of Jersey Lifts, the Facebook page which is an online marketplace for unlicensed taxis, and that apps were changing the way people booked and paid for cabs around the world. The latest crackdown on that page was announced by the States police this week, with the force saying they will pass the information about drivers being paid for lifts to their insurance companies, which could invalidate their policies.

Mr Moretta suggested that an app, which rank-taxis and private-hire cabs could both sign up to, would enable people to find the nearest taxi to where they were, be given a price for the journey, pay via their phone and access information about the driver and his or her vehicle.

It could also allow drivers to work more efficiently, he explained, as, for example, the software would mean that they could pick up their next fare close to their last drop-off.

The success of the new parking app showed the huge appetite in Jersey for app-based services which were convenient and easy to use, Mr Moretta said.

There are currently around 130 rank-only tax drivers, who hold so-called yellow plates; 30 with ‘purple’ plates, who can operate from a rank or as a private-hire cab; 130 privately-owned cabs (white plates) and 30 to 40 company-owned private-hire cabs (red plates).

Mick Tostevin, the president of the Jersey Taxi Drivers’ Association, said that he and some of his members were already well advanced in talks with an international company which designed bespoke apps for the taxi market. An app, he added, was due to be rolled out early in the new year for rank-taxis only.

Since 1 October, all taxis have had to take card payments.

Mr Moretta said: ‘It’s a balance of building on the strengths of the existing system while also embracing technology, which is disrupting the market anyway, to give consumers a more convenient and better service. Would it not be great if we had a taxi app for Jersey?’

He added that consumer behaviour was not simply driven by cost and that he believed that the convenience of being able to hail a cab through a mobile app would be popular.

‘People will pay for convenience,’ he said. ‘If you don’t adapt to the way consumers behave and what they want, you will get left behind. Look at Kodak. Something will come along and you will get left behind.

‘I remember having a conversation with a cab driver in London a year or two ago. He said that they’d made a mistake in resisting so much and for so long against using credit cards and when Uber came along, the app made getting a cab look so much easier.

‘My message to taxi drivers is work with the technology community here to find a solution which will be right for the taxi drivers and the community.’

Mr Tostevin said that he could see why an app for all taxis and cabs would have some benefits, but added that he did not think it was currently practically possible because, for example, of different fare structures and business models.

He is due to meet other rank-taxi drivers in the next fortnight to discuss rolling out the app and to see who wants to sign up.

Mr Tostevin said that however the industry changed there would still need to be a rank system to ensure that taxis were available at the Airport, Harbour or at the Weighbridge to meet demand at busy times.

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