Beware the Uber-killer: Germany’s MyTaxi debuts Stateside
Yesterday Washington DC became the first US city to be targeted by MyTaxi, which is Germany’s most used mobile app for booking taxis — with one in five German cab drivers signed up.
The three-year-old Hamburg startup has 18,000 taxis available for booking in Europe. Now it plans to take on the same mobile-first, ground-transport business model that has been popularized in the US by Uber and Taxi Magic.
Helio hasn’t made it to DC yet.
Neither has Uber. Uber has made it, but has faced hurdles from the local regulatory agency.*
Unlike those rival apps, MyTaxi offers a direct billing process between driver and passenger, smartphone to smartphone, thanks to the help of Paypal.
Its taxi-call apps for Android and iPhone/iPad have been downloaded 2.3 million times. The apps allow users to book (and optionally pay for) cabs. Users can also track the approach, arrival time, and distance of their cab live on Google Maps, as well as see ratings of the driver from other users.
On the down side, DC has a much lower-than-usual bar for entry into the cab market, so there is an oversupply of cabs, in comparison to other major US cities on a per capita basis.
That means that when Congress is out of session — sometimes half of the calendar days a year — many taxi cabs sit idle. So they may not be interested in partnering with MyTaxi and seeing a potential share of their commissions reduced.
MyTaxi charges cab drivers 99 cents per ride.
Ideal consumer market
On the consumer side, things look brighter. MyTaxi’s mobile payment may make it popular with DC’s 30,000-strong, mobile-savvy expense account-toting lobbyist and lawyer set.
For one thing, few yellow cabs in DC can accept credit or debit cards, making advance payment by app popular for people needing to file electronic expense accounts.
DC recently moved away from a zone-fare system to a hybrid distance-calculation system, but many locals continue to find it difficult to anticipate what the appropriate fare should be.
GigaOm has the scoop that MyTaxi and car-sharing company Car2Go are sharing an office in DC and will soon be appearing in each other’s apps. Feel like renting a car by the hour? Use the one option. Feel like hopping a cab? Use the other.
MyTaxi’s next major city will likely be Madrid by the end of the year, says the company, Intelligent Apps.
*Errors corrected, post-publication. My bad.
UPDATE : 4 p.m. Some readers have written in with some comments. I’d like to address them:
Hailo is a UK company, not US. If my wording implied that it was a US company, I regret the confusion, but that was not what I was saying.
Uber and myTaxi launched mobile-first, ground-transport products at around the same time in 2010. But Uber is what American audiences are familiar with — hence, my statement that “Uber popularised” the concept in the US.
Hailo started its service in November 2011, as was commented upon during a heated debate between the founders of Uber and HailoCab at Le Web in London 2012, moderated by Michael Arrington. I was not implying that Hailo was launched at the same time as Uber and myTaxi or that it was the same size as the other companies, but Hailo is clearly a competitor. Hailo has 3 cities in 3 countries. Uber has 13 cities in 3 countries. myTaxi stopped counting at 30 cities in 6 countries.
Sean O’Neill is a New Jersey-based reporter for Tnooz. He is also a daily contributor of consumer news to LonelyPlanet.com.
He used to work for BBC Travel, BudgetTravel.com, and Kiplinger's, and used to live in London, New York City, and Washington, DC.