Business

Young entrepreneurs to launch 'smart taxi' franchise

Wednesday, May 07, 2014    

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A start-up logistics software development company will in a few months launch an app-based 'smart taxi' franchise in Jamaica, allowing commuters to book taxis from the convenience of their smartphones or tablets.

Ultreya Logistics, led by a group of recent University of the West Indies (UWI) graduates, plans to launch the service at the end of summer, just in time for the new school year. Its SmartTaxi app, the engine that drives the business, is downloadable on Android and iOS-enabled smartphones or accessible via a website online.

"When you take a taxi, you are looking for convenience and a better service, and that's what SmartTaxi provides," said Marc Byfield, the founder of Ultreya Logistics.

Byfield, along with Ultreya Marketing Manager Akua Walters and software engineer Akil Aikman gave the Business Observer a demonstration of the app yesterday.

Upon logging on to the application to book a SmartTaxi cab, consumers state their location and destination point either by touching a map or filling out a form, after which they are given the rate for the trip. One can either pay using the app, through Stripe or PayPal, or the traditional way via cash or card once they get inside the cab.

It's not an entirely new concept, though unique to Jamaica. The smart taxi service is similar to US-based Uber or Easy Taxi in Latin America.

Ultreya is utilising a franchise business model, with independent cab drivers operating under the SmartTaxi brand through a licensing agreement. The cab drivers pay the company royalties.

"We are currently working on a closed data release right now where we are currently making deals with drivers, people who own cars that are licensed to carry passengers," said Byfield, who noted that at least half a million dollars was invested to build the software.

The company expects to launch with at least 20 drivers, who they say will benefit from reduced expenses, higher revenues and an array of benefits from operating under the SmartTaxi brand.

"Being a SmartTaxi comes with as much benefit to the commuters as well as the drivers," Walters said.

"From comprehensive car insurance, maintenance assistance, added security measures, to a salary, we ensure our drivers are taken care of in case of any eventualities; they can count on us if needs be," he added.

The marketing manager noted that the company only uses licensed cars as well as thoroughly vetted and licensed drivers who are trained to provide world class services.

"All our drivers go through a training session to learn how to use their interface to accept or reject jobs and also a short customer service training session to ensure, even if they already possess the skills, that their customer service training is up to par with what we envision as the perfect ride for our commuters," he said.

According to Walters, the company initially approached taxi companies but were widely rejected.

"We built the software originally for taxi companies out here in Jamaica to extend their reach but it turned out that the culture resistance to technology was so great that we just decided to do it ourselves and have taxi drivers as franchisees," said Walters, adding that the taxi companies also felt that the business model would result in them earning less money.

SmartTaxi is the brainchild of Byfield, who came up with the concept while a computer science student at UWI three years ago. It was triggered as Byfield thought of a thesis for a research project. Frustrated by the congestion in the Corporate Area, he thought of researching ways to alleviate the traffic problem.

"What if we can get people to stop driving their own cars by making public transportation better? The idea for SmartTaxi flowed from that," Byfield recalled.

He soon partnered with Walters and Aikman, among other friends, to get the business idea rolling.

Ultreya plans to roll out its cab service in Kingston first, followed by Montego Bay. It is also preparing to launch with the same concept in the Cayman and Trinidadian market, according to Walters.

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