Taxi apps are giving cab companies a run for their money.
In just half a year since its launch here, GrabTaxi already claims that it has enough drivers using its service to be the "second largest cab fleet" here. Digital Life understands that Easy Taxi has amassed 7,000 cabbies under its wing and they have made more than 100,000 rides using the smartphone app since it started in December.
Yet, neither company owns a single taxi.
Fed up with long taxi queues and tired of long waits when calling to book a cab, commuters are turning to mobile transport booking apps that do away with many of the problems associated with conventional ways of booking a taxi.
GrabTaxi, Easy Taxi, MoobiTaxi and Uber apps offer real-time location tracking and link drivers with passengers directly. The companies behind these apps say their business is growing as they compete with established operators who have their own call centres.
Before GPS-enabled smartphones became so widely used, only cab companies, with their satellite systems, could easily track taxis and relay booking information.
Now, smartphones with GPS functions enable third parties to match drivers and passengers.
The apps are especially popular with cabbies from the smaller companies as their smaller fleet size means they get significantly less calls than market leader Comfort Delgro.
Mr Jonathan Pang, vice-president of products at MavenLabs, which launched MoobiTaxi last year, said: "The simple smartphone is levelling the playing field for everyone."
The potential of these apps has not gone unnoticed. Temasek-backed Vertex Venture Holdings just invested a new sum in GrabTaxi this month, bringing its total investment in the company to at least US$10 million (S$12.6 million). Some cab companies are concerned.
TransCab's general manager Jasmine Tan said: "We have invested in call centres. It seems unfair that these apps are using our cabs."
Popular with drivers now are GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi which offer cabbies plump incentives for taking assignments. Such variable payments top the $2 to $3 that cabbies earn for taking bookings by their own companies' reservation service. They even get compensated for no-shows.
This week, GrabTaxi is paying $58 to drivers who accept 20 jobs in a week, and $188 for 40 jobs. Drivers get $2 for a no-show if the company verifies with the passenger that this is the case.
Easy Taxi will pay $5 a job once drivers accept 12 jobs in a week, and $6 a job once they hit 24 jobs in the same period. Drivers get $100 more for taking 40 jobs in a week. They get $3 for each no-show. Such attractive payouts have allowed the app companies to grow their base quickly.
Mr Armstrong Ho, 46, who drives a Premier cab, started using Easy Taxi last December. He said: "I have earned about $2,000 in incentives this month with Easy Taxi."
This included a $1,000 payout for taking 100 jobs in a week. Mr Ho was one of eight drivers who received this "super bonus" last week.
These apps also benefit those from smaller cab companies. Said Mr Ho: "Most people tend to call Comfort at peak hour because it has more cabs."
But new apps level the playing field for smaller cab companies, which get fewer calls, he said.
They give passengers a way to reach a wider pool of drivers than by calling just one taxi company.
Ms Evon Tan, 32, who has been using GrabTaxi since January, said: "It's a win-win situation for drivers and passengers."
GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi require their passengers to key in their destinations. This allows drivers to plan their routes ahead of time.
Explained Mr James Low, 38, a Premier driver who uses GrabTaxi: "It's a very useful function. At least we know which passengers we can pick up when we are about to change shift."