iCabbi’s innovative initiative to unite the UK & Irish taxi industry under the formation of the Taxi Alliance will come into effect on March 31. The Taxi Alliance will be a joint venture between iCabbi and independent private hire and taxi companies, which gives taxi fleets security about the future of the software they’ve built their businesses on. Members get voting rights and the opportunity to hold shares in the Alliance. It’s an unprecedented business model that marks a major shift in the taxi landscape towards a true technology provider-operator partnership. Can it work? In this Q+A, iCabbi CEO Gavan Walsh explains what the catalyst for this unique business model has been, and talks about the factors that will influence its success.
Q: It’s fair to say this is a sizeable change in how iCabbi has done business until now, so why the Taxi Alliance, and why now?
A: The short answer is that our customers want security, or need it even, in order to continue planning for the future success of their companies. We devised the Taxi Alliance to give customers security that their technology won’t be sold out to a competitor as has happened in the Autocab-Uber case. Autocab, which should have been acting in the interest of its customers, has instead allowed Uber to access markets within the UK that it hitherto has been prevented to enter by local regulators. Autocab has attempted to frame this as a good news story, lauding a strategic move that brings more bookings to their customers. In reality, it’s a Trojan horse, and most people can see through it. They sold out their customers. Given this background, it’s understandable that all fleets are now nervous that their tech provider may also go this way and stitch them up. They’re vulnerable. We want to be a true partner to the industry and so we’ve created an entity that facilitates true partnership and gives customers the confidence and strength to continue asserting their market position and to grow and expand into new areas. Did I say short answer…?
Q: How does the Taxi Alliance work to provide security and partnership
A: Members get voting rights and if any decisions relating to significant dealings with competitors were ever to arise the membership would be able to vote on these. While there are no plans whatsoever for a sale now if ever this were to happen the Taxi Alliance would retain the right to copy and use the license for iCabbi in the region. No other provider anywhere in the world offers this kind of security. Alliance members also get to participate and have a say with representatives sitting both on the Board of Directors and on a special Product Council. Additionally, members get to hold shares – which is something fleets have wanted for years and years and now they have this opportunity.
Q: What’s different about the day-to-day then once the Taxi Alliance comes into effect? Will the price change?
A: Yes, and it has to. We’re moving to a transparent pricing model. ?it’s about fairness – everyone should be asked to pay the same in return for the same technology and service. And it’s about value – and by value I mean delivering a valuable offering, not ‘value’ in the ‘bargain basement sense. We need to maintain quality, and invest in delivering innovation to the market, so it is important that the product is priced reasonably to ensure we all stay in business! For some customers the Taxi Alliance pricing will actually be a reduction in what they pay, for the majority it is cost-neutral and for others it is a marginal increase. But for everyone it is fair. Our goal here is to be sustainable.
Q: Taxi Alliance contracts were issued to customers last week. What options do they have?
A: Two options really! 1. Sign the contract to become a member and unite with the rest of the industry to build a strong future together. 2. Don’t sign and by default become a customer of the Taxi Alliance. You can still leave at any time as has always been the case with iCabbi, but by not being a member you will pay a higher price for the technology and you won’t benefit from some additional services and opportunities that the Taxi Alliance will provide.
Q: So customers of the Taxi Alliance continue to have rolling contracts. Are members locked-in to a long-term commitment?
A: No, the member contract is just 12 months. We’re not interested in locking people down, we want them to be happy being members of the Taxi Alliance and continue to do so. Our retention rate at iCabbi has always stayed in the high 90% range, and I think this is partly down to the freedom we have always given to our customers. They stay with iCabbi because the technology and the service they get is superior to other providers not because we’ve locked them into 3-5 year contracts. There’s no obligation to commit the the Taxi Alliance for any longer than a year.
Q: What about shares?
A: You must be a member to buy shares and it is based on one share per car. All members get 18 months to decide if they want to buy shares or not, it’s called a share option. It’s a free bet really because the share price is fixed for those 18 months. You can buy shares 17 months in and still pay the same as a fleet who buys shares on day 1.
Q: What has the reaction been from your customers so far?
A: Well we’ve been talking with our customers about this for over 9 months now, so we’ve heard plenty! Due to the complexity of the contract required to make this work it took longer than we anticipated to complete the legal processes…. Anyone who has ever dealt with solicitors on company matters knows what I am talking about and then multiply that by about 1000! So, the concept of the Taxi Alliance was welcomed by the industry when we first announced it, albeit there were some areas that needed clarification, because as I said it is a very complex undertaking altogether. You can never really be sure of how people feel until they have to put their money where their mouth is, or in this case, their signature on the dotted line, but we’ve been delighted with the number of signed contracts we have received so far. We’re well, if not ahead, of the target on that and it is exciting, and also a bit of a relief if I’m honest, to see this response. They’re voting with their feet and we’re glad that the work we’ve put into creating this security and partnership is being recognised. Every single fleet that signs up strengthens the power of the Alliance.
Q: Is the Taxi Alliance just for existing iCabbi customers or can anyone join?
A: Any taxi fleet in the UK or Ireland that switches to the iCabbi platform will be offered the same terms as current customers. They can be a member of the Alliance or they can be a customer. We’ve had lots of inquiries from fleets recently about this. Some want to switch because they can see that the iCabbi tech stack is the best offering on the market and that we have begun innovating and releasing new products once more. For others, they want to switch because of the Taxi Alliance itself, the sentiment behind it, and what it means for the future of the sector.
Q: You mentioned new product releases there….What have you brought out?
A: The entire iCabbi platform is being revamped right now. We brought in new product leadership mid-last year and the impact is now very, very visible. People are now seeing regular new releases. The cumulative impact will be a vastly improved product suite by the end of 2022.
We’ve finally – I know this took a long time, brought out our new Driver App on Android and IOS is coming soon. Fleets are crying out for more drivers and this app is very stylish and easy to use and the new dev framework means we can deliver new features in quick succession, which is a problem we had with the old architecture. Our VoicePlus+ has been a phenomenal success with customers. It brings me back to the early days of iCabbi where we saw this instant impact of our tech on customers’ businesses. It basically is intelligent voice recognition that allows a passenger to provide a new pick up or destination with voice input. Before it was just a keypress for choosing 1-2-3 Historic bookings but now they can speak new destinations which means those calls are no longer being redirected into the call centers. We’re seeing overnight leaps in automation by about 20% which has the knock-on effect of dramatically reducing wage bills.. So yeah customers love it and we are all buzzing about it. Our passenger app is doing really well too. It looks brilliant which is important for consumers and it has a number of enhancements to improve usability recently. I love checking out the ratings on the stores and they’ve climbed recently and are consistently good which is definitely testament to the work. There’s a really talented team on the app and they’ve got lots in their pipeline. We’re also investing in developing Dispatch. iCabbi is hands down the most powerful dispatch engine out there. The complexity however is a bit of a double-edged sword in terms of what it means for future R&D, so the team are now streamlining the product to enhance scalability and – the bit fleets will love- working on new features around optimisation and driver positioning. There is a real sense of momentum building in-house and customers have already seen some delivery but will see plenty more in the coming months.
Q: What will make or break the Taxi Alliance?
A: Members participation. The bigger the Alliance is the better the outcome for every individual company within it, and it’s not just about joining but really embracing the Alliance and contributing to it. People actively engaged in making it a success is what will make it a success. The Taxi Alliance allows us to take control. Gone are the days when one local taxi firm competed against another. We have a global competitor now and we all need to unite and work together in order to ensure the survival of this deep-rooted industry. I’m confident that the taxi industry has a bright future if we forge a path together – but everyone needs to play their part.
Want to join the Taxi Alliance?