Foreign-owned taxi app Uber has dominated headlines after a series of scandals and legal woes, but many lesser-known Australian smartphone applications may offer better services and more consumer protections.
The US-based Uber has ignited controversy around the world for allowing non-professional drivers to accept fares, which many governments have denounced as illegal, but which it defends as ‘disruptive’.
In contrast, popular startups GoCatch and Ingogo are legal and locally owned, they employ a combined total of more than 70 Australian workers, keep their profits on-shore, and have been endorsed by multiple state governments.
All of the tech-savvy taxi options have changed user experience “for the better”, says app expert Paul Lin, CEO of Buuna.
“You can now stand on a street corner and see in real time how many cabs are in your area,” he says. “With a click of a button you can book a cab, and know immediately how long it will take to be picked up.”
But the Australian Taxi Industry Association (ATIA) warns against using the “illegal” Uber, saying we should ‘buy local’.
Lawful and local
“When you’re using a local app, you’re supporting a local industry,” says ATIA chief executive Blair Davies.
ATIA endorses the industry’s own apps, such as 13Cabs and mTaxi, which it describes as the “safest” and “most legitimate” options. However, these apps are poorly rated by users, do not allow direct communication with drivers, and are splintered across the nation.
For example, ATIA has endorsed 16 apps in NSW, 15 in QLD, six in VIC, five in SA, three in WA and two in Canberra.
Safety is a valid argument against Uber’s unlicensed drivers, but less so against GoCatch and Ingogo, those companies claim, both of which require proof of certification before a driver can use them.
“We pay Australian tax, we pay Australian people and we’re keeping our wealth in Australia,” says Ingogo founder Hamish Petrie, who insists that every new driver must visit his company’s office to prove their credentials.
Both Ingogo and GoCatch claim to be more popular, and to connect users directly to far more drivers, than either Uber or what the industry endorses.
Ingogo is unique in that it offers advanced bookings up to two days ahead (with a $10 penalty for a no-show), whereas GoCatch’s bookings can be made no more than three hours ahead of time.
Both apps allow users to offer small tips to attract drivers at busy times, whereas peak pricing is built into Uber, which can result in huge spikes, such as the four-fold increase during the Lindt Café siege in Martin Place.
GoCatch operates in most city and regional areas, and is available on all four of the major phone systems – iPhone, Android, Windows and Blackberry.
Ingogo offers better coverage in Sydney and Melbourne, but is limited to iPhone and Android, and has far fewer taxis in regional areas. It does, however, offer a web application, which no other apps offer.
Uber did not respond to a request for comment.