The days of hailing a taxi on the street could be coming to an end, with flexible and convenient taxi-booking apps shaking up the taxi industry in a big way.
We put the two big players, Uber and goCatch, to the test to see how they stack up.
The Back Story
Global giant Uber and Aussie start-up goCatch are the two dominant players in taxi-tech in Australia, battling it out for supremacy in our capital cities.
And while on the surface it seems like they both do the same thing – let you order a taxi via your phone – each company has a slightly different operating model.
Uber’s point of difference is their budget ‘uberX’ service, which allows any driver with their own vehicle who passes Uber’s background check to start taking fares through the app, a legal grey area that raises some obvious safety concerns.
Uber maintains that they operate outside existing legislation, but many state governments disagree, to the point where some unlucky uberX drivers have received significant fines from state transport authorities for their part in operating an illegal ridesharing service.
Uber also offer a premium service, ‘UberBLACK’, which connects drivers who own vehicles like limos or stretch Hummers with customers looking to live large, and in Sydney it’s also possible to connect with a regular taxi-driver through their app.
GoCatch, on the other hand, only allows registered taxi drivers driving metered taxis to take fares through their app, and cross checks drivers’ accreditation with the relevant regulatory authority in each state.
It’s clear that customers are embracing their newfound freedom; Uber has been valued at an eye-popping US$41 billion despite ongoing legal and safety concerns, while according to goCatch CEO and co-founder Ned Moorfield the company is growing at over 10 per cent per month.
So which is better? We put the two services to the test to find out.
Booking an uberX can be much cheaper than a regular taxi, particularly in off-peak times.
Drivers supply their own vehicles and cover all of their own costs meaning that Uber can charge significantly lower fares.
However, it’s important to be aware of Uber’s ‘surge’ pricing policy, where rates increase dramatically during peak periods.
The most controversial example of this was during the 2014 Martin Place siege, where Uber’s surge pricing kicked in and charged people four times the normal fare to get out of the city. Surge pricing can mean that your ride ends up significantly more expensive than a regular cab.
Meanwhile, all goCatch drivers operate official metered taxis, meaning the cost to you is exactly the same as hailing a cab, with no surprises.
And if you pay by credit card via the goCatch app, you won’t get stung with the exorbitant 11 per cent Cabcharge surcharge that somehow still exists in many Australian states. GoCatch caps this at five per cent across the country.
Winner: uberX. It’s cheaper (mostly).
2. App features
After a simple setup process, the centrepiece of both apps is a map that provides real-time information on the number of available vehicles close to your location.
Booking a ride is simple, a couple of taps in each, although Uber does offer a fare estimate before you finalise the booking, and an estimate of how long you’ll have to wait for a ride.
On the other hand, goCatch allows you to incentivise drivers to pick you up by offering an up-front tip when you send out a ride request – great for high-flying city dwelling types – and also lets you book in advance.
Both apps let you watch your ride approach and call your driver directly, too.
Customers in both apps can also provide instant feedback on any issues they encounter during the ride.
Uber’s rating system allows customers to see a driver’s previous reviews, while GoCatch drivers with a pattern of offences are banned from using the application, with over 1,000 drivers blocked to date.
Winner: Tie. Uber does offer a couple of more advanced features, but ultimately both apps work great and do what they say on the tin.
3. Payments and receipts
Each service has a strong in-app payments process, with PayPal and credit cards supported and email receipts.
Both also let you scan a picture of your credit card and automatically read the card’s information, which can only be described as… pretty cool.
Uber has some great advanced payment options, however, including the ability to split a fare between multiple users.
You’ll pay a booking fee using both apps, and you’ll also pay a 5 per cent surcharge with goCatch if you’re paying with a credit card or PayPal.
Winner: Uber (just). Both work well, but advanced payment options tip the scale slightly in Uber’s favour.
4. Safety and insurance
GoCatch’s on-boarding process involves a photo ID and ABN check, as well as cross-referencing a driver’s accreditation with the relevant state transport authority.
They also enforce a strict code of conduct on their drivers over and above what is required by the taxi network operators themselves, meaning that drivers can be penalised or banned from the network if they don’t show up for a fare, are overly rude, overcharge or spend the whole drive on their phone.
GoCatch have banned over 1,000 drivers to date for code of conduct violations.
And because goCatch drivers are licensed taxi drivers, they are also fully insured in case of an accident (and you’ll be covered as well).
And the questionable legal status of ridesharing in Australia means that insurance cover for passengers in the event of an incident is uncertain, too.
Winner: goCatch. Simple.
GoCatch currently boast over 30,000 taxi drivers and 310,000 passengers on their network, or around 40 per cent of the Australian taxi industry, and is growing at over 10 per cent a month.
The average pick up time for goCatch taxis is seven and a half minutes, compared to fifteen minutes for regular taxis booked over the phone.
Uber is growing significantly in Australia but its budget uberX service is limited to major capitals.
Winner: goCatch. For reach and scalability, goCatch pips Uber at the post.