ingogo’s fixed fares – a brilliant or a dog of an idea?

In an email to its customers on 16 May ingogo enthused: “In an Australian first, we’re super excited to announce that ingogo will shortly be introducing FIXED FARES”. Whether its customers will share its excitement only time will tell, however, the reactions from the few drivers who contacted OZ Cabbie immediately after it was announced ranged from confusion over how it would work, to anger over the stated reasons behind the move: “It removes doubts for consumers about their fares and eliminates the worry that cab drivers will take longer routes for a larger fare”.

by Peer Lindholdt

For more than 100 years one of the key components that made a taxi a taxi has been the taximeter. From a relatively simple mechanical device calculating the distance and time travelled it has evolved into a highly sophisticated automated electronic marvel, which can interface with a raft of other electronic gadgets like booking systems, eftpos terminals, GPS and toll gates. However, one feature that hasn’t changed is the display of the fare ticking over through to the final charge. So important has this feature been considered that we have laws dictating that the taximeter must be placed so it is clearly visible to the passengers.

On 24 May 2016, the day ingogo activated its revolutionary new FIXED FARE app, the taximeter became a thing of the past for ingogo clients and drivers. It’s innovative wiz kids have developed an algorithm that determines each individual fare price, taking into account the distance and expected time using the most efficient route to the destination, traffic conditions, as well as any tolls that might accrue through the trip. But unlike other booking apps that offer a fare estimate based on the same criteria, ingogo has so much faith in the superiority of its new algorithm that it offers a guaranteed fare. “A fixed fare is a fixed fare”, “the fare you see before you book is the fare you’ll pay”, “no surprises” the ingogo promos say.

Ingogo’s old app logo

“Customers are at times uncomfortable with taxis, some hire cars and rideshares for a number of reasons,” said Jeff Lim, Ingogo’s Chief Marketing Officer. “They’re not sure of the final price before they get in, or are concerned that a driver will take a less-than-optimal route to get the passenger to their destination.”

I don’t know what kind of drivers ingogo has using its app, but I would have thought its ‘star rating’ and complaints system would quickly expose any rotten eggs and see them kicked off the platform.

I also don’t know what kind of passengers it has as account customers. I thought they were mostly savvy corporates, evidently it also has a large contingent of vexatious paranoid meter watchers, enough for it to go to the trouble and expense of creating a brand new very complex algorithm to calculate an upfront fixed fare rather than simply a quote, as will be required by all booking apps in NSW under new legislation soon to be introduced.

ingogo is certainly right that offering fixed fares for all its taxi bookings is an Australian first. It could even be a world first. Over the years there has been plenty of talk about fixed fares between the airport and the CBD, but each time it was found to be impossible to set a median price that was fair. ingogo has overcome that problem as its fixed fares are calculated for each individual trip.

“Like a normal taxi meter, we of course look at things like distance travelled, time of day and day of the week, however, we’re also now through a variety of fantastic mapping and other technologies, able to consider many other types of information e.g. optimal routes to get the passenger to their destination, real-time and predicted traffic patterns, road and airport tolls, etc.”, the ‘ingogo team’ writes.

The new. What an improvement!

All sounds very impressive and clever, but what about the unknown and unpredictable?

Here are some of the questions raised with OZ Cabbie by drivers:

“What happen to the fixed fare if a passenger tells me to wait when I arrive?”

“What if my passengers say, “Can you just stop at Macca’s up there and wait while we pick up some grub?” or “Can you just turn left here, we need to drop my mate off?”

Here is the amazing answer from ingogo: You, the driver, are entitled to request and negotiate an additional fee payable through the ingogo terminal on completion of the trip.

So much for the ‘fixed’ fare!

“What happens if I get stuck in traffic due to an accident up the road? How will their algorithm allow for that that?”

The answer of course is that it can’t so its back to ‘negotiating’ with your passenger, which can end up being a very unhappy experience for both parties.

Previously ingogo customers could book and choose whether to pay cash, eftpos or direct debit through the app. Now, as is the case with Uber, the only choice is direct debit by stored credit card. It’s super convenient and efficient, and has opened up the way to penalising errant passengers who have booked but failed to show up or cancelled too late – it’s something drivers have dreamt about forever. They are automatically charged $10, which is then paid to the driver as compensation. Of course it works both ways. If a driver fails to show he is also fined $10 ($50 if it is a booking to the airport), which is credited to the passenger.

When you are offered a booking you will be able to see the fixed fare quote and the pick-up and destination suburbs. From that you should be able to make a reasonable assessment whether the job is worth taking.

I spoke to Ingogo CEO, Hamish Petrie on the eve of the app going live. He told me his team had already contacted drivers who had done jobs with the new system and that the feedback had been extremely positive. “Our intention is to keep taxi drivers competitive, both in terms of service and pricing transparency. That way, everybody wins,” he said.

Who can argue with that? •

If you want to know more here is a link to ingogo’s FAQ page.

 
 
 
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OZ Cabbie February 2017

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