Taxi News Roundup January 2017
Uber Trials Self Driving Taxis
Select groups of Uber users in the USA can now request to be picked up by a driverless vehicle. The service is being offered to app users in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and California, following on from a year and a half of intense testing.
Uber has been cautious to state that the service is still only in a trial stage, branding it as a “research exercise”. For safety (and testing) reasons, each vehicle is manned by at least one Uber engineer, who has the ability to switch from autonomous to manual mode and take control of the vehicle if needed.
Courts in California have already branded the self-driving vehicles a safety concern, after they were found to cut across cycle lanes rather than merge with them. In addition, California’s attorney general has warned Uber to withdraw its driverless fleet or face legal action; something that Uber has stated they won’t be complying with. However, the company did admit that “It’s still early days and our cars are not ready to drive without a person monitoring them”.
Uber is yet to comment on introducing driverless cars to the UK. However, driverless vehicles are being tested by other companies and manufacturers. Nissan recently announced that they will be trialling a driverless version of the LEAF in London from February, with Volvo also planning to carry out trials of their own autonomous vehicles in early 2017.
Karhoo Bought by Renault
Renault has announced the purchase of taxi-comparison service Karhoo, taking the app’s parent company out of administration. The app was purchased by Renault’s financial services division RCI Bank & Services, for an undisclosed fee estimated to be in the region of £13m.
Initially pitched as a direct competitor to Uber, Karhoo initially seemed to be set for success. At its height the firm employed around 200 members of staff in offices around the world, and at one point stated it had received $250m in funding from backers, although recent suggestions have placed this at closer to $30m. However, Karhoo ceased trading in November 2016 after only 6 months of business, leaving its employees and cab firms in the lurch.
RCI are now set to resurrect Karhoo -which will be incorporated under the new “Flit Technologies Ltd” venture - stating that it would help the company “design simple and attractive solutions” as part of its Renault-Nissan alliance brands.
The app is set to re-launch under the stewardship of new joint CEOs Boris Pilichowski and Nicolas Andine. In a statement, the pair said that “there is a need in ground transportation for someone to aggregate all the independents and allow them to compete, and we are determined to make sure Karhoo fills that need. Karhoo was amazingly successful in ferrying hundreds of thousands of people around the world but lacked a corporate backer, but with RCI Bank and Services, we now have that.”
Study Shows Black Cabs Faster Than Uber
Researchers from Lancaster University have pitted black cabs against Uber, in a bid to accurately compare the average cost and speed of the two services.
Over a period of 3 days the researchers took 29 different journeys from various locations around London. From a set location, one researcher used the Uber app to hail a taxi, whilst another hailed a traditional black cab and let the driver decide the route.
Their findings showed that on average, hailing a black cab was the faster option, with journeys conducted in around 88% of the time that it took the Uber driver. However, Uber was found to be the cheaper option, with black cabs being around 35% more expensive.
Anastasios Noulas, who led the research group, explained that “Uber drivers rely on navigation apps, but in dense parts of the city these can be slower than a black cab driver to react to traffic build up.”
The research group found that black cabs had a particular edge in the densest parts of the city, where the specialist knowledge of drivers provided especially useful in finding faster (but more complex) routes than Uber. They also noted that black cabs had the advantage of being able drive in bus lanes, and that drivers frequented side streets not generally recommended by navigation apps.