Anyone who was in London on 11 June is likely to have found that the capital’s traffic was even worse than usual, thanks to a protest by the capital’s black cab drivers, who parked up in Trafalgar Square to complain about the in-roads being made into their archaic and closed-shop business practices by mobile phone app Uber.
[Uber is an app that allows anyone needing a taxi to use their phone's GPS to find the nearest available taxi (normally a minicab), book it, and pay for it, if necessary.]
Uber’s makers says that it improves the efficiency of taxi networks in dense urban areas, and I’d tend to agree. Black cab drivers, of course, are opposed, as the growing popularity of Uber means that more drivers are using their phones to summon minicab taxis, rather than walking the streets looking for a black cab.
Uber for vans?
In the UK, services such as Uber are restricted to passenger transport — but in Hong Kong, a new startup, GoGoVan, is doing the same thing for urban freight services.
The premise behind the business is that while some businesses have their own dedicated fleet of vehicles, many don’t, and rely on ‘man and van’ services, couriers and daily-rented vans to collect and deliver goods around large cities. According to the firm’s chairman, Gabriel Fong, in Hong Kong, 35,000 of the city-state’s 70,000 registered vans are essentially owner-operator or small courier companies. Historically, they’ve relied on telephone-based call centres for business, but the GoGoVan app speeds means that drivers can receive instructions much faster and with far greater geographic accuracy — meaning they can sometimes be at the job within minutes.
The company gathers feedback on each job and rates drivers, removing any who consistently fail to meet the required standards.
Could it work in the UK?
So could this model work in the UK? GoGoVan has already expanded to Singapore and recently secured a ‘seven figure’ round of funding and is targeting international expansion within the Asia-Pacific region, into cities such as Tokyo and Seoul. I can see how it could work in Europe, with the proviso that, in the UK at least, we don’t have the same culture of ‘calling a van’ like we call a taxi.
In my experience, most businesses have direct relationships with courier and light haulage companies — call centre-based services such as those with which GoGoVan is competing are less common, although the rise of parcel websites such as MyParcelDelivery.com is perhaps a sign that this might be changing.
After all, as long as the price and service are right, who cares who the provider is?
Naturally, this might have a damaging effect on the self-drive van hire business in urban areas — after all, if you could call up a van with driver on your phone within, say, half an hour, you might not go to the trouble of hiring a van for the day to drive yourself…