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Matteo De Renzi talks Gett, Uber, driverless cars and politics

Taxi apps and circuits can be a tricky subject to talk about within the taxi trade, but here at TaxiPoint we approach it head on. Over the coming weeks and months we delve deep into the taxi tech world and give you an exclusive insight into the apps that shape the industry we work in and learn more about the people who run them. In part one we look at Gett. One of three taxi apps available in London, Gett has been operational in London since August 2011. In the 6 years that the taxi-hailing app has operated it now boasts over 50% of the overall taxi fleet as well as hundreds of thousands of customers on the platform. Occasionally controversial among some taxi drivers, but always willing to talk and change if necessary, TaxiPoint would like to welcome Gett CEO, Matteo De Renzi. 

Welcome to TaxiPoint Matteo, my first question to you is, how long have you been CEO at Gett and what did you do prior to working for Gett?

I've worked for Gett for 15 months. Prior to working for Gett I worked for almost 2 years for McKinsey based in Jermyn Street. I was dealing with automotive, aerospace, defence and semi-conductor clients looking for improvements in their processes or dealing with restructuring. Prior to that I worked for Pirelli for 10 years in Italy, Latin America and Russia. 

How did you switch from McKinsey to Gett?

I was approached by a headhunter to become Chief Operating Officer at Gett. I was happy at McKinsey but Gett came along with a great opportunity. It's a highly innovative industry with a lot of potential. I really love two things - one is cars (I'm a bit of a petrol-head!) and the other is cities. My wife and I made a conscious decision to leave Russia to come to the U.K. to give our children a nice place to live and learn. When I see London continually clogged up with traffic I felt that it was a great opportunity to help try to solve some of the transport issues in London working with an existing transport supply - that being the Black taxis, which have been here for 350 years, helping them to work smarter with better technology and helping them move more people around.

Disregarding Lamborghini, Ferrari and Bugatti what is your favourite car?

Disregarding the Italians - the latest Aston Martin is a work of art. The DB11 is superb.

The Gett organisation seems to have a very family orientated feel about it, why do you think that is?

We all share the same passion - we do our part, the taxi industry does the fundamental part and we all share the same goals of customer satisfaction, earning more money for drivers and doing things in the right way. 

Where in Italy are you from?

I'm originally from Milan but I was lucky enough to grow up in the beautiful Pisa in Tuscany.

How many countries and how many cities do Gett operate in and how many do you anticipate Gett expanding to?

Gett operates in 4 countries so far - Israel, Russia, UK and the USA. In the USA we recently acquired Juno. All systems, clients, drivers etc have been switched from Gett to Juno. The Gett brand itself is not available in the US anymore. We are in more than 100 cities. Gett is very big in Russia, is the market leader in Israel and we have very fast growth in the UK. In the UK we are in more than 20 cities - London is our main hub but we are also in Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Coventry, Manchester, Leeds and some smaller areas where we have just started operating.

As a consumer can I still order a Gett in the US with the current UK app?

No - if you travel to the US and for example land in New York, when you open the Gett app you will automatically be prompted to download the Juno app.

Given recent events, if Uber don't get relicensed in London and possibly other areas of the UK, will Gett move in to fill the vacuum?

To be honest I don't believe that Uber won't be relicensed. I believe that TfL have drawn a line in the sand and shown that they (TFL) do care about the quality of the service, so I believe that Uber will take any reasonable initiatives and actions to resolve the situation. The question is, how long will it take them? I do believe though it will be a major wake up call to many people. We have to get the message out that there are great alternatives to Uber - the number one option being Gett! 

Do you feel that "millennials" see Uber as the only way forward at the expense of the Black Cab industry?

Uber has a superb app that has had a lot of investment and allowed massive growth. But it has come at a price - and that price is the quality of the product. In the past people were used to ordering a minicab or taxi on the phone, or hailing a taxi off of the street but now that has changed. The customer is now not as telephone centric, but has become more app-reliant. For all the criticism of Uber and crises they’ve had - these are well reported - there are still hundreds of thousands of people using them every day and are happy with the service. We all have to recognise that, think why that is, and do everything we can do win back the work. What is happening now is that the "millennials" who started with Uber are now becoming more mature, getting older and are now looking at other services and alternatives outside. Maybe in some cases they are happy to pay a little more for a better quality service and also to spend less time in the traffic as well as having a 24 hour support service such as what we have at Gett. There is a perception that Uber is cheap, but they are not always cheap, in many cases a taxi is cheaper than Uber. Equally, a lot of people think that Black Cabs are expensive - that’s mainly because of rates 3 and 4, but it’s simply not true. A Black Cab at rate 1 can be incredibly good value in town. 

Do you believe that Uber's new CEO will be able to turn the company around and will we see them evolve into a more ethical company?

The challenge is to turn Uber into a more sustainable, regulated and proper business. The new CEO will have big challenges within the culture of the company. Uber was competing on incredible technology with incredible focus on growth and making their app available to everybody. This came at a price - it came at a cost of quality and of the burning of some bridges all over the world in order to make it happen. I believe their big challenge will be to change the trajectory of the company from being a disruptor to becoming a company that people and institutions are comfortable travelling with. This may impact their policy, prices and availability. One of the biggest advantages Gett has is that big businesses trust us with their accounts - that’s why we’re winning so much corporate account work for Black Cabs.

Why should taxi drivers use Gett as their prime source of app work?

Well first and foremost we do have the majority of the corporate work that goes into Black Cabs in town, and that in an invaluable source of income for the drivers. As an example, the average consumer ride is approximately £15, but the average corporate ride is around £25. This is because the corporate work is normally on tariffs 2 and 3. Therefore the average take home for a Gett driver is higher than that on any of the other apps. We also believe that we have an excellent app on a technological basis - we receive a lot of feedback from drivers as to how we can improve the app itself and have a good relationship with drivers on the app as they know we take their feedback seriously. We have a going home function and we now have a function where a driver can cancel a ride directly from the app when necessary. We want to make a taxi driver’s life easier - an easier life works better for the driver, works better for the customer and works better for Gett. We also want to build around the Gett "eco-system" and make things better for the driver that way. So we have a 24 hour call centre available for the driver. We do occasionally get very busy on the phones, but on average our call response rate has improved considerably. I believe the average waiting time for a driver to speak to customer services is now less than 2 minutes. We really want to provide a service that puts the driver first, because in the past we have tried to put the customer first without taking into account the drivers needs. We are also right at the heart of the changes in transportation in London - with Gett Together for example - so as this industry changes even more our drivers will be right at the heart of it and we can make sure they continue to earn as much money as possible. 

How do you respond to criticism surrounding Gett, in particular, the belief that Getts end-game is to see the proliferation of driverless cars and to see drivers moving away from self-employment and becoming Gett employees?

The first thing I wish to make clear to readers is that any critique or feedback is always welcome - this for me is an important message. We will not tolerate abusive tweets or messages but we invite drivers into our offices to discuss their concerns as well as inviting drivers to help us improve our product. We welcome drivers feedback on new features. I really wish to champion this approach of "an open door" and driver engagement. So - driverless cars. They will come eventually but will it happen tomorrow? Of course it won’t! Will it happen in the next 5 to 10 years ? We will see something emerge I believe that is technologically possible. The real question is when will we see massive adoption of driverless cars where it will change the trade? I personally believe that it is a very very long way away. The technology simply doesn’t work. Apart from anything, in relation to driverless taxis - there is a regulatory aspect: who will own those cars? who will hold the insurance? who will manage those cars ? Nobody knows as yet. I believe it will be many, many years before we see a shift in the industry. There will always be a need for a personal approach and somebody to take care of a customer. And this is especially true with the trade - people pay a premium for that service and there is nothing more rewarding than giving a personal service.

Have Gett and Uber ever sat around a table with other tech operators?

No, we have never had any dialogue with Uber. We have had the opportunity to cross paths at technological workshops surrounding mobility. And of course we are competing for the same accounts as each other - but, no, we have never had any dialogue.

Do you feel that the All Party Parliamentary Group report into Taxis went far enough in separating the taxi and private hire industry, or do you believe it could have gone further?

The report was very well written, the findings were nothing new to those within the industry but it has helped raise concerns such as the uncontrolled proliferation of private hire vehicles as well as bringing into question the operations of companies such as Uber or Taxify and of course raising issues surrounding cross-border hiring. We’re proud to be one of the sponsors and look forward to continuing doing so.

Do you believe that aspects of the APPG report will eventually be enshrined in legislation?

What has happened recently in relation to Uber has been a big wake up call to everybody. We have two different forces at work here - some things are dealt with by local regulators (TFL, in the case of London and local authorities elsewhere), but some issues need to be resolved at Westminster. Cross-border hiring restrictions, for example, requires legislation from parliament - there is nothing TFL or anyone else can do. We’re working on supporting the trade in this respect as much as we can.

How many drivers are on the Gett app?

Worldwide we have almost One Hundred Thousand drivers. In the UK we have around 19000 drivers and in London we have around 13000 drivers - that’s around half of all cabbies have signed up to the app at some point.

How do you respond to criticism surrounding Gett's fixed pricing policy and what is your response to those who feel that the only pricing policy should be the one that is dictated by the meter? 

Our previous fixed pricing structure was wrong - we made some mistakes when we initiated the fixed pricing policy. We were initially working on the assumption that customers were not using Black Cabs because they have a cheaper alternative in town - whether it be Uber, Green Tomatoes or any of the others. So we were seeing taxi drivers income drop by around 25 to 30%, and seeing taxi drivers spending more time without a fare. We thought at the time that the best way to attract customers back into taxis was to offer them two things. The first thing was the certainty of the price and then to offer them a discount compared to the last time that they used a taxi. We assumed that this would create more work for taxi drivers so that doing more rides at a price that was lower than before, but taking more home at the end of the day. It worked to a certain extent, but not to the extent that we expected - because we didn't have a big enough buy-in from drivers surrounding this approach. We then spoke to drivers to ask them how we should proceed, we did surveys, and then we recently adjusted the fixed prices accordingly. We try to maintain a pricing system that more or less matches the metered fare on the majority of rides. Although we still believe that we need to discount some of the much longer journeys - however, you will not be seeing any 30% differentials within the metered fare. Statistically it may on very rare occasions still happen due to unforeseen circumstances but it will not be the norm. Now we come to the second question, I do believe that the meter, as it works today, could be improved. This theory is borne out by statistics which state that customers are less inclined to pay fares that are on tariffs 3 and 4, because they have an alternative, and the difference is really significant. Tariff 1 journeys are considered good value on the basis of knowledge, speed and a professional service. But how many people go to Heathrow by hailing off of the street? There are fewer and fewer street hails going to the airport because there are cheaper alternatives - not just PHVs but also the Heathrow Express. Then, using tariff 4 on the longer journeys and tariff 3 at night - we are really not using the opportunity to increase the amount of people that could use a taxi. In the evening people do feel more vulnerable, so they really want to have a safe and high quality experience. But they are still going for Uber - even when they are surging twice because it is still significantly cheaper than a taxi. The more profound and complicated thing is that the meter is now cheap when it's very busy - Monday morning, 7am, tariff 1. People would pay a fortune to get a taxi at that time. And at what is now the quietest time - late evenings - the meter is really expensive. This is the opposite of supply and demand - the meter is almost upside down. But should the meter stay? Yes I believe so - it's a protection, it’s a guarantee, and it keeps people on the street safe. You guys studied for years to have that meter. What TFL need to do is allow us to properly charge more than the meter at peak times for people who book via the app and when we confirm the fare in advance. That way they get their taxi and drivers get more money in their pockets.

Finally, how do you see the long-term future of the industry?

I believe with the aid of technology, the industry can have a very prosperous future. We cannot turn the clock back and live in the past - the days of all cash are gone, the radio days are going, people are looking for a different experience. TfL insisting on credit card machines in the back of taxis was a big step forward, apps are coming on board, people need a different kind of interaction..... But they still want the same service. In short, as long as we combine these things - a different kind of service, but, still a high quality service - then we can guarantee a prosperous future for the industry.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some of the questions that have been put forward. 

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