Canberra Elite Taxis prepare for Uber

Nic Crowther
Thu 30 Oct

You’ve gotta love Canberra Elite Taxis. At some stage of their lives, everyone in Canberra has felt the sigh of relief as a taxi pulls up to whisk them to their next for the night, a quiet trip home or the mad dash to the airport.

The traditional taxi business model, centred almost entirely on the familiar TX number plates, is severely under threat. Drivers, owners and governments are scrambling to keep up with internet-based models that are disrupting this highly regulated industry in the same way as digital music or Amazon.com.

You’ve probably heard of Uber – the 2009 start-up from San Francisco now valued at around US$15 billion that provides a platform for private vehicle owners to offer rides to customers via their app.

It’s a clever little system. Essentially you log in to the app, tell it where you’re going and, using GPS, it lines you up with a nearby driver. Intriguingly, you can rate the driver, just as you would an eBay trader, on the cleanliness of the cab, customer service and punctuality.  The bad news is, the driver can also rate you, so be careful if lunch has run a little ‘long’ or your evening has suddenly spun out of control – you might risk your next ‘pick-up’ through bad behavior!

Anyway, Canberra Elite Taxis can clearly see the tsunami from over the horizon, and are moving quickly to adjust their service model in order to establish their position within this small, though profitable market. Their new web-app (not something you’d download from the App Store or Google Play) is available by visiting their website on your phone, and can be added to your home-screen with a few simple clicks. Once this is done and you’ve logged in, it behaves exactly the same as any other app: just open it, put in your destination and you’re off!

This competes with another taxi-catching app called GoCatch, which has been developed by local entrepreneurs Andrew Campbell and Ned Moorefield. Designed (apparently!) to compliment the existing regulated system of taxis by alerting drivers to new potential fares, allowing the passenger to communicate directly with the driver and choose their preferred method of payment.

Interestingly, the ACT Government has approved 25 taxis to operated outside of the current registered companies in the ACT, and we’re interested to see what this means for the inevitable arrival of Uber, which has the competitive advantage of no accreditation for drivers.

While neither of these options provide all the functionality of the Uber app, this is clearly a crucial (and much-needed) step in the right direction. Whether it’s enough to protect the investment of plate-owners and the income of their drivers remains to be seen.