What the hell just happened? One minute I was planning a trip to the UITP Taxi show in Cologne, the next I was running around the local Tesco looking for Dettol wipes, with a trolley full of Porridge, Pasta, and Pringles. Early March was like an opening scene from one of those Hollywood disaster movies, except it wasn’t Tom Cruise swinging off a helicopter, it was me swinging out of that Tesco trolley. Lockdown and cocooning came at us fast and furious and before we knew it most of us were having this weird shared experience of sitting at home, zooming from one end of the day to the other, wondering when the curve was going to flatten.
As that curve went up you simply couldn’t tell when it would be time for normal again or what that normal would look like. Taxi is absolutely crucial when it comes to helping people get on with their daily lives, but when most are homeschooling kids or watching Tiger King then there are no flights to catch, no school runs, and zero nights out. The decline in trips from mid-March was rapid, with fleets experiencing drops of between 70-90%. We witnessed the numbers go south overnight, the industry had been dragged off a COVID19 cliff.
Everyone’s fight or flight reflex was activated. With little or no work for their drivers’, survival instincts kicked in and the response from fleets was swift. Call center staff worked from home, business operating hours were reduced, government assistance was taken, driver fees were reduced, essential worker discounts and passenger safety procedures introduced, protective screens were installed and deep cleaning started. Most importantly, the taxi industry stepped up (as always) as the 4th emergency service, helping to move essential goods and get Health workers to where they were needed. We saw many of our fleets go above and beyond by launching charity and community initiatives out of their own pockets and raising money to support the emergency effort.
At iCabbi we were busy too. We quickly set up a Customer Task Force and implemented a 2 month payment holiday (as in the opposite of deferral – this means no payment due at all, ever, for that period! ). We brought forward product launches for our new Passenger App, the iCabbi Insights tool and Voice+ to help our customers straight away and gave them away free for the first three months with no lock-in clause (we never lock customers in!). Our Customer Success Team engaged with every one of our customers, big and small, to provide support, guidance, and insights on how they should set up their business for the slowdown and optimise their iCabbi solution. It’s what this team does anyway, but in those first few weeks, it was important for us to be at the end of the phone around the clock. For some fleets, it was enough to get them out of the headlights. We also created a COVID19 Resource Hub and started our Webinar Series to help get as much information out to our customers as quickly as possible. Moving people and stuff has always been a mantra of mine for the Taxi Industry, overnight fleets were doing just that by focusing on delivering food, pharmacy and grocery supplies with a little help from our newly added “Collect + Deliver” app feature and Caboodleit’s white-label delivery platform on our Marketplace.
The first signs of recovery for the taxi industry were seen late April. Fleets have been adapting and the numbers have started to slowly reflect that effort. The average weekly increase in trips has been 7.1%, with the last 2 weeks of May coming in at 9.5% each week. The good news is that overall there are now 51% more trips since we hit rock bottom around mid-April. In a perfect world, this would translate to the industry being back to pre COVID numbers by September. There is simply too much uncertainty out there at the moment to make a call like this, but that week on week curve is certainly one to watch. Some of our developers have seen an elephant trunk in the curve, maybe you can too.
This isn’t the first time the industry has faced down a threat, albeit never one so big. Dark clouds were on the horizon back in 2015 when we entered the UK and US markets. The taxi industry was under severe pressure from new technology players like Uber, Lyft and Free Now. The best response back then was to remove the hardware and hassle, move into the cloud, and take advantage of a Pay as you Grow subscription model. Taxi operations who switched were transformed, the pace of their digitalisation quickened and the growth in passenger and driver numbers over the years has been impressive, none more so than Veezu who started with 300 drivers and had 6,000 in March 2020. Looking forward to the new normal expect to see the following factors play an important part in driving the recovery to rapid growth:
- Ability to adapt- Many of the fleets who came to iCabbi first fall into that desirable category of ‘early adopters’, showing true entrepreneurship in their ability to embrace change. Fleets are already demonstrating their entrepreneurial class with quick moves to delivery during COVID-19, and it is crucial that they continue to look for and act on opportunities as we enter into a new normal. It’s time to capitalise on ‘safe transport’ and identify new markets for Taxi. Taxi has always competed against planes, trains, private cars and buses. Time to use all those data insights, reposition Taxi and hit those competitors head-on!
- Safety, Safety, Safety Expect to see fleets compete more and more on Health & Safety for both Drivers and Passengers. Vehicle deep cleaning, drivers wearing PPE, contactless payments, and protective screens will all be required for fleets to grow. This will be a real competitive edge over other forms of transport.
- Variable cost. In times of uncertainty, fixed costs are bad news. We have always offered a 30-day contract and Pay as you Grow model. Adapting to a more variable cost model in all operating areas will be absolutely crucial for fleets to succeed and also be better prepared to deal with a potential return of COVID19. This approach frees up funds for driver and passenger acquisition and retention initiatives.
- Customer experience – Taxi does its best marketing whenever that passenger is picked up on time, and never has it been more important to keep customers happy and drivers earning. As fleets get back to being busy the focus must be on delivering a great experience for both drivers and customers with safety in mind, engaging with them and their communities regularly to keep them informed of all the great work they do and why taxi is the most reliable option, Uber and the like haven’t gone away!
The demise of our taxi industry has been heralded before. Those naysayers were wrong then and will be wrong again. We at iCabbi are looking forward to working with our customers and partners in making the Taxi Industry great again! Together, we will see that elephant’s trunk roar!
Want to recover the iCabbi way? Talk to us today about making the switch.