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WHAT3WORDS: How the talk of the mapped out town is impacting the taxi industry

Updated: May 27, 2021


Image credit: what3words

One of the cornerstone tools used by any taxi driver is the trusted map. Whatever your level of local knowledge, books or devices used for mapping are still found within touching distance of every working cab driver. Maps can be used to reinforce knowledge you already have, update your knowledge with recent changes, or simply map areas you are unfamiliar with.


Over recent months there has been much talk about what3words and how the technology can transfer over to the taxi and private hire industry. Dispatch software firm Cordic became the first systems provider to offer what3words bespoke geocoding technology on all of its white-label applications. They join private hire operator Addison Lee as one of the first in the industry to integrate the technology into their platforms.

With the help of Patrick Arbuthnott, Mobility Partnerships Lead at what3words, we delve deeper to find out how the London based mapping firm can positively affect drivers’ working days.


How do you see what3words making the taxi and private hire industry more efficient?


what3words is a very simple and accurate location technology system.


Street addresses aren’t very efficient – they often don’t lead you to the right place. Search for one and a pin will typically drop in the centre of a building, rather than the entrance passengers need to get picked up from or dropped off at. Road names are often duplicated and easy to confuse. Did you know there are 14 different Church Roads in London, 367 Park Streets in California and 632 Juarez Streets in Mexico City? Providing a street address by voice, either over the phone, radio or into a voice interface, can be really difficult. For example, “Lawn Road” and “Lorne Road” sound exactly the same. In many situations, street addresses may not exist at all, for example, if you’ve broken down on the side of the road or if you live in a new build.


From the feedback we’ve been given by operators, this is a real frustration in the taxi and private hire industry because passengers expect drivers to find them, but unreliable street addresses make that difficult.

what3words is an easy way to communicate a precise location. Every 3-metre square has been given a unique combination of three words: a what3words address. For example you can find the main entrance to what3words’ Head Office at /// filled.count.soap in London. what3words addresses cover the entire world, meaning passengers can easily enter destinations that don’t have street addresses, such as park entrances, pop-up events and markets.


Often, passengers will already know the what3words address for their pick-up point or destination. They might have discovered the what3words address in a guidebook, website contact page or anywhere they would normally find regular street addresses. They may be sent one by email, text message, or calendar invite. By accepting a what3words address, taxi and private hire companies give passengers a way to communicate exact locations, improving efficiencies.

Passengers can now quickly and easily tell drivers exactly where to pick them up and drop them off, without having to give a long explanation based on landmarks or having to drag and drop a pin each time. Providing a destination is much more efficient now that passengers can simply enter the three words and receive a smoother service.


For drivers, gone are the days of circling around the block looking for the right building entrance. When customers use a what3words address, drivers will know exactly where to go. Accurate locations also help to save fuel and reduce emissions, so rides become more sustainable too.


How do taxi drivers search for a what3words address if a passenger provides one?


Where what3words has been integrated into dispatching software, a driver will just follow their usual navigation process and arrive at their customer’s what3words address. Many major dispatch software providers, including Cordic, cab9, Dispatch from Dever Software, Catalina Software and Chauffeur Drive Systems, have integrated what3words directly into call-taking software, web booking tools and passenger apps. CMAC also now accepts a what3words address from their breakdown recovery partners to help taxi drivers navigate directly to passengers on the side of the road.


Even where there is no technical integration in the dispatching software, drivers can still benefit from what3words. Many navigation apps are compatible with what3words. When a passenger provides a what3words address, drivers can search those three words in the what3words app and then use it in their preferred navigation app with just one tap. Drivers simply type, scan, or enter the what3words address by voice using the search bar. They then select the correct result, tap Navigate, and choose their preferred navigation app, such as Waze, Citymapper or Google Maps.


In addition, what3words has been integrated into a range of in-car navigation systems. Drivers with compatible models can now say or type in a 3 word address to get directions to a precise 3m x 3m location, anywhere in the world. The growing list of automotive companies that have adopted what3words includes the likes of Mercedes Benz, Ford and Mitsubishi.

Do you see a time when it might become more common for a person hailing a taxi off the street to provide a what3words address rather than more traditional forms of address like a street name or place of interest?


Some people assume that we’re trying to replace street addressing, but that’s not the case. Rather, what3words is an additional tool for when street addresses aren’t accurate enough. It also provides instant solutions for places where addresses don’t exist at all – a roadside for example. We’re increasingly being used by taxi and private hire businesses in the UK because, when a passenger wants to be picked up from a new build or dropped off to meet a friend in a park, a street address isn’t going to help drivers find them.

In which places in the UK is what3words most used at the moment?


Millions of people use what3words to make life safer, more efficient and less frustrating. Thousands of businesses use what3words to improve efficiencies and customer experience – from e- commerce and logistics companies to travel and navigation apps.


In the UK specifically, we’ve seen that what3words is useful in rural areas, like Yorkshire, where postcodes cover large areas and houses have names, rather than numbers, which are frequently replicated. For example, there are over 8,000 Rose Cottage addresses across the UK! We also see what3words being used in urban areas, such as London and Manchester, where lots of people live in apartment buildings with multiple entrances. There’s also a big use-case for what3words with people living in new builds, which take months to appear on maps, making it very difficult to order a taxi.

Aside from bookings (pick up and destination details), how could what3words be used by taxi drivers and motorists?


Taxi drivers and motorists can use what3words to help resources get to exactly the right place faster. This could be locating anything from a pothole, to a road traffic accident, to a front door for a delivery.


A road only has one address that can stretch for hundreds of miles. Some roads are unmarked and new roads can take a long time to appear on maps. A pin can’t be communicated over a phone call, which is how the incidents are often communicated. This means that it can be difficult for taxi drivers and motorists to get help when they need it the most.


what3words makes it easy to pinpoint the exact location of an incident or emergency faster, which means that responders can arrive quicker. This is particularly important in situations where every minute counts, such as in an emergency, or where an incident is in a dangerous location, such as on a motorway. That’s why 85% of the Emergency Services in the UK, as well as breakdown recovery providers like the AA and National Breakdown, are enabled to accept a what3words address. It’s also easy to share a what3words address to coordinate a response, especially where multiple agencies are required. For example, an insurance company like LV= can pass on a customer’s location to a recovery vehicle.


As part of their health and safety practices, organisations are urging their staff and customers to download the free what3words app so that they’re prepared to provide their exact location in case of an emergency, which could happen anywhere. This is especially important in the taxi and private hire industry where employees are often outside of the safety of an organisation’s offices.


As more and more taxi operators throughout the UK have pivoted to delivery and courier services over the pandemic, what3words has become even more valuable. It’s easy for people to say exactly where they want their packages – a safe location for contact-free delivery for example – and you can guarantee their orders find them first time every time.


We would encourage anybody reading this article to download the free what3words app now so that you’re prepared in case you ever need to let someone know exactly where you are! Click here to download the app.

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