Opinion

Karhoo – Will this New Third-Party App Level the Playing Field for Taxi Companies?

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Peter Lin

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No matter which country you’re from, you’ve definitely got a word to describe someone who sticks his nose where it’s not wanted. In the Philippines, they call it “epal”. In Singlish, we know it as “kaypoh”. Whatever the word we use for “busybody”, we recognise it as soon as we see it. Like when someone new tries to jump on the crowded taxi app bandwagon in Singapore.

News came out earlier this week about a new third-party taxi app launching in London, New York and Singapore. Called Karhoo, they’re a start-up that just got funded to the tune of US$250 million, and they hope to change the local taxi booking landscape next year.

 

Kar… who? Who the heck are they?

There’s not much we know about how Karhoo’s app will work. Our best guess is that it’ll work similar to Uber and GrabTaxi. The one difference between those apps and Karhoo? Karhoo only wants to work with licensed taxi companies.

Thanks to The Straits Times, we now know that the likes of Comfort, Premier, Prime and Trans-Cab are all in talks with Karhoo. That’s 4 out of the 5 taxi operators in Singapore, with SMRT unable to because of a previous deal with taxi app Hailo.

 

We already have so many apps in the market… Is Karhoo a big deal?

It’s going to a pretty big deal, but only if Karhoo is able to get taxi companies onboard. Let’s look at 5 ways Karhoo may or may not be able to level the playing field for the taxi industry in Singapore.

 

1. Karhoo partners the companies, not the drivers

Apps like Uber and GrabTaxi partner with individual drivers who are more technologically savvy and also more willing to be accessible. It’s up to the drivers themselves to sign up with Uber and GrabTaxi to get on their booking app.

Karhoo, on the other hand, is trying to capture entire companies at a go. Imagine the ability to reach out to every Comfort, Premier, Prime and Trans-Cab driver in Singapore. In one app. That kind of accessibility is going to be a big game-changer for both the companies as well as us, the customers.

 

2. Not every taxi company needs Karhoo, though

Even though SMRT was the first taxi company in Singapore to introduce a taxi booking app, they were more than willing to partner with Hailo last year in order to take advantage of their more established technological infrastructure. However, the clear winner in the taxi booking app wars is clearly Comfort, who claims 2.6 million downloads. Not content to rest on their laurels, they came back stronger with a very stylish new iOS-only update earlier this year. With success like that, Karhoo will need to try harder to convince Comfort that they’re able to provide a value-add service.

Sure, the limited number of surveys and studies done so far seem to suggest that taxi booking apps still aren’t as popular as just flagging down a taxi on the road. But let’s look at the numbers – GrabTaxi has over 10,000 drivers registered on their platform. That’s second only to the 16,855 Comfort and CityCab taxis on the road. So what we do know is this, the numbers are growing, and it’s not impossible to imagine a near future where everyone in Singapore will enjoy the convenience that a mobile app provides.

 

3. Karhoo is desperately needed by many taxi companies

So companies like Premier, Prime and Trans-Cab, who have yet to find success with their own attempts at a taxi booking app, would benefit tremendously by working with Karhoo. If Karhoo really can do what they claim, it would be foolish for these companies to turn down the opportunity.

Even without Comfort on board, Karhoo would probably be able to aggregate the taxi fleets of Premier, Prime and Trans-Cab. Working with these three companies against the likes of Comfort and SMRT would go far to level the playing field and create some much-needed competition. At the end of the day, we customers would be the first to benefit.

What Karhoo hopes to do is ensure that no taxi company is left behind when that near future becomes reality. Imagine if there were only two taxi-booking apps you need in Singapore – Comfort and Karhoo – it’ll take the sails out of companies like Uber and GrabTaxi.

 

4. However, Karhoo doesn’t increase the number of taxis on the road

As a taxi booking app, Karhoo can’t control how many taxis there are on the road. It doesn’t make a difference to us, the consumer, if they have the fanciest taxi booking app in the world, but can’t book a single taxi.

In fact, that’s the reason why many people have since switched to Uber. Unlike other taxi booking apps, Uber actually increases the number of available transportation options by actually putting entire fleets of cars for hire on the road.

 

5. Karhoo shouldn’t have any problems with the government

When we discussed Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s suggestion that the taxi playing field would need to be levelled, and how that would affect companies like Uber, we didn’t expect a CEO to enter the market and say exactly the same thing.

But that’s exactly what Karhoo’s CEO and founder Daniel Ishag said. In his words, “We can go in and we can level the playing field.” Karhoo’s main selling point is that they’re here to help the licensed taxi companies compete with upstarts like Uber, and maybe even GrabTaxi.

So if Mr Khaw ever plans to introduce any regulations to the taxi industry, Karhoo should feel safe knowing that they won’t be affected. In the meantime, Uber’s probably shaking behind the wheel. Is Karhoo going to be more than a “kaypoh”? Only time will tell.

 

What do you think of this new taxi booking app? Is it going to be a big deal? Share your thoughts with us.

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Peter Lin

I am the poster boy for reinventing one's self. I've been a broadcast journalist, technical writer, banking customer service officer and a Catholic friar. My life experiences have made me the most cynical idealist you'll ever meet, which is why I'm also the co-founder of a local pop culture website. I believe ignorance is not bliss, and that money is the root of all evil only if you allow it to be.

  • Sim Lim

    How much did Karhoo pay for this sponsored post $Smart? #contentfail