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goCatch: the taxi app done right

After four months on my own in Sydney, I was finally joined by my wife and three-year old son on a sunny November morning. That same morning, I picked up the keys to a new, unfurnished apartment in Lavender Bay and we were all incredibly excited to start a new adventure in Australia. However, on that same day I discovered the one thing that I’ve come to loathe about Sydney: the taxi industry.

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We took a bus to a Woolworths a few miles from our house to do some shopping for our new apartment. We soon had a trolley load full of frozen food, fruit, a bread board, a rubbish bin, a broom, a duster, knives, forks, spoons and plates. Getting a bus back was out of the question. I phoned the 1300 number for Silver Service taxis and ordered a cab. It was due to arrive in 15 minutes.

I waited 20 minutes and called again. Another 20 minutes went by. After more than an hour had passed, I had an exasperated call with the call centre agent, explaining to her that I have a trolley load full of goods, that I can’t go anywhere, that the frozen food is going off and that the three-year old is about to have a tantrum of proportions that will make the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacular look like the sparkler you get in your ice cream at Spur.

The agent was kind and professional and somewhat sheepishly explained to me that the taxi company cannot control the taxi drivers. You see, unlike Cape Town where the call centre does a radio dispatch and confirms a pickup time while you’re on the phone, in Sydney the drivers are notified using an electronic system and can freely choose to ignore you! I know, I know… WTF!?

As I continued venting to the agent, she notified me that a taxi has just confirmed that he’s on his way! He did indeed show up a few minutes later, while I was still on the phone with the agent. (I wouldn’t let her go until the cab arrived!)

I stopped using Sydney taxis after that, instead using private cars using the Uber app. You pay a premium, but also get a premium experience, specifically being able to see confirmation that a driver has been dispatched.

Luckily, a pair of smart guys, Ned and Andrew, had similarly infuriating experiences and decided to do something about it. They built an amazing smartphone app called goCatch, which is used both by drivers and passengers to make the entire process less painful. You see, the problem for drivers in Sydney is that they often show up at a location to find that the passenger had already left. And typically, when a taxi driver is more than 15 minutes away from your location, they’ll simply assume that you’ll no longer be there waiting for them. (A fair assumption — I was starting to look if anyone had left their keys in the ignition in the Woolworths parking lot!)

goCatch is a simple app. It detects where you are and shows you nearby taxis. You click the “goCatch” button and it tells you how many taxi drivers your request has been sent to, how many have seen it, how many rejected it and plays a happy jingle the moment a driver has accepted it!

You can see the taxi driver approaching and can push a button to call him (or her) directly.

goCatch app shows you available drivers nearby even before you request one

I took a cab using goCatch yesterday — it took 10 seconds to confirm a driver was approaching and less than a minute for the cab to arrive. I spoke to Tofa, my driver, who sang goCatch’s praises, particularly because he could contact customers directly to let them know he has arrived at their location.

The beauty of goCatch is not just the technology and the transparency it gives, but the fact that it creates a social contract. In effect, you promise to the taxi driver that you will be there when he arrives. And if you decide to jump in a random cab driving by, you’ll lose reputation points and other drivers in the future will see that you are a potential “no-show” before they commit to pick you up.

Other taxi apps will (of course) keep cropping up, but I’ll put my money on these guys. Besides the flawless execution, Ned and Andrew are “scrappy” entrepreneurs. To sign up taxi drivers they hung around at the airport speaking to drivers and getting them to sign up immediately. In two years, they’ve signed up 10 000 drivers and 150 000 users. Unlike Hailo, which is only available in nine countries, GoCatch can be used in any country, right now. Drivers simply download the same app as end-users and register as a driver. (They’ve built up a bit of a cult following in Zagreb, where more than 200 drivers are now using it)

This is great news for taxi markets such as Africa, where GoCatch could help add significant trust to a fast growing industry. goCatch’s technology, reputation system and the “social contract” it creates could easily fill a massive void left by regulation that won’t be able to keep up with massive urban population growth.

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