Forget Fancy Taxi Apps – This Driver Went Mobile with Twitter

Mobile taxi apps are popping up left and right in Latin America.

From Rocket Internet’s EasyTaxi and Polymath’s Táximo to Chilean SaferTaxi and new Mexican market player Taxibeat – well, let’s just say the pool is crowded. And while we’ve all been busy dealing with the entrepreneurs, investors, accelerators and passengers involved in the mobile taxi scheme, we’ve been overlooking the opinions of one major component in all of this – the driver.

The guys of trend reporting project iF thought to ask.

Scanning the scene in Bogotá, where there are over 50,000 taxis, the team met Hugo Valenzuela (@hugoleonrojito), a taxi driver who, thanks to Twitter, has jumped on the mobile bandwagon.

In March 2011, Valenzuela started to offer his services on Twitter, inviting his followers to book rides through mentions and hashtags. A much more rudimentary system than the more taxi hailing apps out there today, his strategy caught on fast.

Not only did his followers start to pay attention, but local media outlets, other taxi drivers and the Twitterverse did, too. Valenzuela’s taxi business got a boost, and he, through Twitter, was able to break down barriers with passengers.

Out of Bogotá, @hugoleonrojito is taking taxis mobile, one tweet at a time.
Out of Bogotá, @hugoleonrojito is taking taxis mobile, one tweet at a time.

Of course, not all taxi drivers, in Colombia or elsewhere, are as technology-savvy as Valenzuela – nor are they all thrilled about the transformative prospects of mobile in the taxi industry.

Just a few weeks ago, the Guardian ran an opinion piece from New York City taxi driver Eugene Weixel, in which Weixel refers to the Hailo app as “one of the worst things I’ve seen for our industry” and says it is dangerous for drivers. He explains:

Let me put it this way: anyone can be both a data input clerk and a taxi driver. If I have a data input job during the week and I also drive a taxi on weekends, this wouldn’t concern the public. Were I to combine the two occupations and do them simultaneously, it should be a matter of serious concern. If 14,000 drivers (or more at peak times) are being encouraged to do this with the approval of the municipal authorities, it is an even greater concern. Yet this is exactly what is happening in New York City, and the local media and mayoral candidates have little to say about it and likely are oblivious to it.

For Valenzuela, however, going mobile has been an extremely positive experience. And while he’s not using an app just yet, his Twitter announcements likely require a similar amount of effort and time.

Closing the Deal

As to what’s keeping other taxi drivers from following suit regionally, low smartphone penetration rates are at least partially to blame – especially among those in lower segments of the population. While internet access among higher social classes is at 89% in Colombia, in the lower class, that number falls to 35%. However, device prices are lowering, as are data package costs, meaning more and more drivers on the mobile bandwagon.

So what needs to happen for more taxi drivers to take a cue from Valenzuela and follow mobile suit?

According to iF, the way technology is viewed needs to change – it can’t be seen as just a novelty but instead as a differential element to improve customer service. Distrust and insecurity are also major obstacles to overcome, especially in major Latin American cities where corruption and crime are prevalent. And services need to be designed for specific niche groups to go beyond traditional demographic segmentation.

In the meantime, Valenzuela will continue on his one-man Twitter crusade to get Colombia’s taxi’s on board with mobile technology. Take a look at the iF interview with him below: