New Zealand transport companies are poised to release new apps they hope will save their business and seize the initiative from the high-tech newcomers such as global sensation Uber.
The biggest taxi group in the country, Blue Bubble Taxis, and airport transfer service Super Shuttle are both about to release new apps that allows customers to book taxi rides, monitor taxi arrival, pay for the ride and then give feedback.
General Manager Bob Wilkinson said the new technology has been 12 months in the making and he was "fizzing" for its release this weekend.
"It's been a long road, we've been testing it for the last month and it seems to work well."
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Uber allows customers to directly book drivers, but regulations in the taxi industry in New Zealand restrict the Blue Bubble app to run through a dispatch operation to the driver.
"You'll be able to book a ride in four clicks," Wilkinson said.
"You can see where the cab is, what the cab number is. We thought it was really important to see it arriving and know what number it is."
The app, being launched this Sunday, would require pre-authorisation of payment, either through a loaded credit card, or by confirming an Eftpos or cash payment with driver.
"It will appear the app uptake isn't huge, it's not going to change the business overnight, but [the uptake] is growing."
Wilkinson said the two biggest markets are the business market "picking up from meetings and lunches", and "the entertainment market" or rides for people after dark.
The ability to rate drivers was embraced by drivers under the Blue Bubble group, Wilkinson said, and the hassle-free credit card payment method.
Blue Bubble had some apps for the 16 taxi companies across the country before, but this will be the first app that is nationwide across all its taxi companies.
"That's a big advantage, when you are travelling between different places you won't need to download another app," Wilkinson said.
Super Shuttle's new app, due for launch in mid-November would "take away the unknowns" of a shared ride airport transfer.
Chief executive Vaughan Underwood said the app would make the journey more pleasant for passengers.
The information on where the shuttle will be stopping along the way and the estimated journey time will be provided on the app. With the passengers payment being automated through the app, the stops will be quicker for drivers, Underwood said.
"There's more visibility of the journey... It takes a whole lot of the little stresses out.
"You can watch the shuttle arrive at your house. When you're going to the airport you're often a bit angsty to be on time, so it takes that pressure out."
Underwood, who joined Newmarket-based Super Shuttle in March, was impressed with the technology used to map the shared-ride routes developed in the company. The app technology was developed in house, but design assistance was sought from outside the company.
"The advanced state of the fundamental systems here is amazing... there's nothing like it in the world. I've looked everywhere to find something like what we do here with shared ride, door-to-door technology systems and it's not out there."
Super Shuttle's new app will be available for iPhone and Android phones in mid-November.
The competition from Uber had helped to galvanise Blue Bubble and Super Shuttle to develop the apps.
Underwood said Super Shuttle had the "back-end techology" for some years, but had picked elements and design of Uber and other taxi apps around the world to emulate in their app.
"We have to keep improving, keep changing, because there's so many disruptors available via technology and Uber is certainly one of them for the taxi industry," Underwood said.
"Taxi companies do make big investments into technology... we've got to keep up with it," Wilkinson said.
Uber's technology is no longer unique, around the world there are a number of tech start-ups that are able to do what Uber does, but without the same reach.
Gett, for example, allows people to book London black cabs and New York yellow cabs, but only in five countries, compared to Uber's 63.
No app, however, has yet managed to harness the market power of licensed taxis on a global scale.
- with Bloomberg