Whether it’s Hailo siding with London’s black cabs, Lyft looking to win hearts and minds, or flat-rate priced Gett, all of the taxi startups on the market have some way to go to overtake Uber.
So, what’s the difference?
Uber shook up the taxi industry in 2009 by bypassing traditional licensed cabs and allowing customers to quickly book cars using an app, then pay for the journey using pre-stored card details from their phone.
The company doesn’t own any cars or directly employ drivers, they simply match up supply with demand using technology. However, what started as a premium car service in a few key markets has turned into the biggest car booking service on the planet.
Lyft operates with roughly the same business model as Uber, but has yet to break out of US borders. The company promotes its “friendly, background-checked” drivers, and its vehicles are adorned with pink moustaches.
Uber offers the larger range of products, starting with the budget Uber X service up to the high-end Uber Luxe. Both Uber and Lyft introduced car-pooling services in US cities on the same day this summer. Naturally both companies claimed credit for the idea.
In contrast, Hailo helps licensed taxi drivers gain extra business by linking them up with customers looking for a cab using their app, instead of relying on people on the street or taxi ranks. The app also allows licensed drivers to accept card payments, and with the introduction of HailoPay, mobile payments.
Israeli startup Gett differentiates itself from Uber and Lyft by offering completely flat pricing, and works with licence taxi drivers.
Where Uber “surges” its pricing depending on demand levels, Gett prices journeys dependant on zones, much like the London Underground. Cities are divided up into zones and the prices for journeys within or across those zones stay the same regardless of demand.
Gett analyses data to define these prices in order to make sure it is running at a profit. Flat pricing has allowed Gett to gain inroads with corporate clients that don’t want to account for surge pricing when employees need to use a taxi.
However the hidden advantage of surge pricing is that it encourages more drivers to get into their cars at peak times in order to earn the extra money, meaning it is easier to get a cab using these services.
Hailo and Gett facilitating normal taxis means these cars can dry up at peak times, as these drivers are more likely to be hailed down by people on the street.
Uber allows anyone in the UK with a valid private hire licence and a car to register to transport passengers, meaning Uber drivers can work their own hours. In London a private hire licence is different from a taxi licence. Extra criminal record checks, amongst other criteria, are enforced, but drivers do not have to study and pass the Knowledge.
Lyft only operates in the US but the requirements are extremely similar to that of Uber, with a driving licence, car, smartphone and criminal record checks the primary requirements.
The recruitment of drivers will prove the main battleground as these two fast-growing companies look for supremacy. Both firms are reliant on a huge number of drivers to keep its customers moving: if they can't fulfil demand the consumer will simply look for a taxi elsewhere.
Gett and Hailo are only available to licensed taxi drivers, which limits their resource. However it allows for the companies to side with regulators and alleviate passenger safety concerns.
Lyft was valued at $2.5 billion following its last round of funding back in May and Gett is valued at just below this, around $2 billion.
Uber, on the other hand, was valued at $51 billion back in July. London-based startup Hailo’s figures are a lot more modest, having raised around $100 million to date.
Uber remains among the top 50 most popular free apps on the UK Apple App Store, whereas Hailo and Gett aren’t even in the top 150 at the time of writing.
Battle lines have frequently been drawn between the three USA based startups: Uber, Gett and Lyft.
Lyft accused Uber of sabotage last year, claiming Uber staff were submitting and cancelling car requests, according to CNN Money. Gett has also accused Uber of the same dirty tactics earlier that year as a means to recruit drivers away from the rival service, again according to CNN Money.
Gett launched a New York-specific advertising campaign against Uber this summer, specifically around its policy of surge charging.
Away from the threats of its competitors, Uber is fighting regulators across the globe. It faces bans in India, Thailand (following allegations of rape against drivers), Belgium, Spain and Germany and widespread protests from taxi drivers in several of the major cities in which it operates.
However, the company won a key court case against Transport for London in October, where the high court decided the app is not a taximeter and therefore legally allowed to operate in the capital. Uber also restarted operations in Delhi in September as it seeks a licence to operate there.
In October 2014 Hailo announced it was pulling out of the lucrative but competitive US market. The following year Hailo made staff cuts in April, and said that it would stop working with private licence holders in order to become "black cab only in London” in October.
Uber does offer a similar, additional service for black cab drivers called UberTaxi, but it is yet to be seen how keen drivers will be to sign up with Uber as they continue to protest against the service.
Who will win?
Probably Uber. It seems more likely a major controversy or devastating legislation, rather than an effective competitor, could bring down the biggest name in the industry. If the current valuations are to be taken seriously Uber could effectively buy out all of its competition and still have plenty of cash to spare.
Customers may finally become fed up with surge pricing and take their business elsewhere, but the disruptive company is big, smart and agile enough to respond to the market and continue to grow, even in highly testing circumstances.