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MARIUSZ ZABROCKI Q&A: Why the taxi industry must recruit or risk losing future demand growth to PHV


Image credit: FREENOW

TaxiPoint caught up with Mariusz Zabrocki, the UK General Manager of FREENOW, to ask what the future holds for the industry and whether it can continue its growth trend.


WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS DRIVING THE GROWTH FOR TAXIS/TAXI APPS IN THE UK?


The growth in taxi apps is a global phenomenon to which the UK is not an exception. The new generation of tech-savvy consumers who are used to everything at the touch of a button expects transport options to be available in the same way. While their grandparents and parents grew up hailing taxis on the street, the current generation of consumers is not used to and is not as keen to hail taxis on the street - they are the app generation.

Customers expect to be able to order a taxi when and where they want it. The ability to see when the car will arrive, the make and model of the vehicle and who the driver is gives customers comfort and reassurance. This focus on convenience is not going away – demand is going to grow as consumers continue to focus on travelling with ease and comfort.


Taxi apps also provide customers with the opportunity to choose the car they want, whether that be an EV, a larger cab or a more comfortable ride. There is also an element of price transparency, with consumers able to see the price before they commit to the journey. This allows consumers to make an informed decision.


Consumers are also drawn to the sustainability aspect offered by mobility apps such as FREENOW. Our MaaS report showed that 91% of Europeans consider sustainable transport options as, if not more important, than before the energy crisis. This behavioural change is driving a shift to a combination of cabs, e-bikes, e- scooters and public transport, moving away from private car ownership, particularly in big cities such as London.

CAN THE TAXI INDUSTRY KEEP UP WITH HIGHER DEMAND FROM PASSENGERS?


At the current trajectory, it can’t. The UK taxi industry, particularly in London, is losing more and more customers to PHV because, increasingly, they can’t get a black cab when they need it. Passengers love the new generation of black cabs and value knowledgeable drivers and access to bus lanes. However, there is no loyalty if there is no reliability.


The current situation is very concerning because the taxi industry plays a key role in society, assisting the public to move freely. According to Transport for London (TfL) data, there are now 19,356 taxi drivers in London, compared to over 22,000 pre-pandemic. At the moment, there are more drivers retiring from the trade than entering it and this needs to be addressed; otherwise, the industry is at risk.

In order to increase these numbers, an emphasis must be placed on attracting new people to the profession by highlighting the flexibility, financial and other rewards this career offers, but most importantly, ensuring the process of becoming a taxi driver is not putting people off from joining this noble profession.


The Knowledge exam was introduced in 1865 and tests aspiring London black cab drivers on the name and location of every street and major landmark within 6-miles from Charing Cross and the best route to it. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, the challenging exam was typically completed within 18 months, and reports now show it takes 3-4 years. The Mayor of London recently revealed that 70% of students training to become licensed London taxi drivers do not complete the testing process. The Knowledge test should be adapted to reflect modern times and service requirements, making it more relevant and contained. That will substantially reduce the time of completion, engaging a new generation that can keep the trade alive.

HOW DO PARTNERSHIPS LIKE THE ONES WITH GETT AND AMERICAN EXPRESS HELP FREENOW GROWTH?


Driver benefits are key at FREENOW, and we reward our drivers for their hard work. We also reward our customers for their loyalty to FREENOW. Partnerships like these allow us to do just that. We maximise earnings for our drivers while making sure we provide a quick, easy, and effective service for our customers or business partners.


FREENOW launched a partnership with Gett back in March. The goal of the collaboration was to provide Gett’s clients with access to the 20,000 private hire vehicles available on the FREENOW platform. In turn, the partnership also increased FREENOW’s drivers’ demand and earnings, while the collaboration added flexibility and reliability for Gett’s business riders.


Last November, FREENOW also announced a partnership with American Express to allow clients of FREENOW for Business to connect their accounts to their American Express Business Travel Account. The partnership is available in seven European countries, including the UK, alleviating the need for business travellers to manually upload taxi receipts, saving time and delivering greater expense management efficiencies.


We have got more partnerships planned for the future that will benefit our riders, drivers, and the industry.


HOW LONG CAN THIS TYPE OF GROWTH CONTINUE FOR?


The UK ride-hailing market is expected to grow in the coming years, though much slower than before due to the cost of living crisis and overall maturity of the market. The simple yet effective mechanism of booking a cab through an app and having the power to choose when, where, how and what you pay to get somewhere has become the norm. However, how much of this growth, if anything, will be delivered by London black cabs depends on the reliability. If we don’t reverse the driver number trend soon, the black cab industry will fade into irrelevance over the next couple of decades and we as FREENOW are committed to do anything we can to prevent it from happening.


At FREENOW, our focus continues to be on working closely with drivers, offering them high earnings and other benefits such as support with transition to EV while continuing to offer consumers a service that they can rely on whenever they need and the widest choice of vehicles in one single app.

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