Britain's taxi industry will use Uber's playbook against it

It's creating a network of local firms that can cover the country instantaneously.

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Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg via Getty Images

My adopted city is pretty forward-looking, but it was still a surprise when local taxi operations, as one, began offering their own Uber-style apps. It's a phenomenon that's occurring across the UK, with smaller outfits suddenly adopting app- and cloud-based booking systems. But the company that's pushing the change isn't doing so just to make it easier for folks in far-flung cities to book a ride home. Instead, it's the first step in a plan to unite the taxi industry in building a credible, singular rival to Uber.

Autocab is a British company that has produced specialist equipment for the taxi industry since 1991. It began with the crude radios that connected drivers to their dispatch office and grew from there. It now provides technology to more than 1,500 fleets across the globe, including 60 percent of the UK market.

In response to the looming threat of Uber, Lyft and the rest, Autocab began developing a passenger app. Seamlessly integrating with Autocab's booking and dispatching system, Ghost, it essentially does the same job as Uber, connecting paying customers with nearby cars from a specific business. Companies simply buy into the system, skin the app with their own identity and branding, and hey, presto. But beneath the surface, all of these companies are using the same cloud-based platform to run their business.

That is what makes the iGo Everywhere network such an exciting prospect, since it can connect every company using Autocab's systems. Let's imagine that your local cab company is based in Nottingham and you use its app during your day-to-day life. If you traveled to another major town or city in the UK, that app would be useless, giving you an incentive to download a competitor's product. That's a lose-lose situation both for the business that's local to you and the one in the city you're traveling to.

But if both firms have signed up to iGo, then you'll be able to book a ride from inside the same app that you use in Nottingham. You won't have a reason to stray to a different platform, and it creates a virtuous cycle of back-scratching for these otherwise small businesses. You get the same ease of use, and your local taxi company gets a tiny commission for the referral.

Recruitment advert used by Autocab in the UK trade press

Right now, the iGo Everywhere network is in its infancy, having launched on July 18th, and Autocab is still reaching out to cab firms, encouraging them to sign up. But if it is successful, then it could quickly extend its reach to every part of the UK, and potentially beyond. It could prove problematic for Uber, which still has to expend enormous amounts of time and resources entering new locations.

That's important, because iGo can operate anywhere Autocab has contracts, which is a lot of the UK. For sure, there are other taxi apps, like Gett and Kabbee, as well as apps that serve specific providers, like the transport giant Addison Lee. But those platforms are mostly London-centric, and Uber's reach only covers the major cities. iGo Everywhere's reach is about aggregating all the smaller players nationwide.

When a business fails, there is often talk about its lack of a moat, a unique business method that others can't easily copy. Ridesharing's moat is, or was, the ability to schedule trips in the cloud that didn't require the cost of a human dispatcher answering the telephone. The idea was that saving could then be passed on to the consumer, making it cheaper and faster than a taxi company. That, coupled with Uber's ability to raise vast sums of capital that it could use to put the local players out of business.

But Uber's troubles and the glacial pace of its rollout beyond the UK's most dense metropolitan areas have given its enemies a window -- one that companies like Autocab and its partners are, potentially, well-placed to take advantage of.

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