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New player waiting on Weatherill's taxi shake-up

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A company spruiking a digital program it argues will revolutionise the taxi industry is poised to enter the South Australian market if the Weatherill Government gives the green light when it responds to a wide-reaching review of the sector.

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NetCABS sells itself as “an innovative digital, smartphone and web-based vehicle booking and dispatch services platform” that promises cheaper fares, increased operating efficiency and “unprecedented” safety features.

InDaily understands the company has held talks with the State Government and participated in the industry review, the final report of which was handed to Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan last week.

The system is set to roll out interstate from March, fronted by its booking app Oiii, which features a digital meter and GPS tracking technology.

The app will also feature identity checks and facial recognition technology for drivers, a 24-hour dispatch centre and an in-built payment system with no fees for credit card payments.

Mullighan has previously publicly railed against the existing surcharge on the taxi industry’s Cabcharge system, flagging a need for its monopoly to be eliminated.

NetCABS is chaired by business identity and Fed Square CEO Ron Gauci, a former chief of Melbourne Polytechnic and Rugby League franchise Melbourne Storm.

Gauci told InDaily “the trials we’ve run to date have been extremely positive”.

“The feedback we’ve got has been excellent, whether from an operator perspective, a driver perspective or a passenger perspective [and] obviously regulators are keen to have that level of satisfaction,” he said.

He described the operating system as one that influenced “the way you hail a cab, your experience in the car, the payment process and the reporting that comes from that… it’s an end to end solution that has no equal anywhere else in the world, as I understand it, at the present time”.

He confirmed discussions with the Government “in line with the review that’s taking place”.

“We understand there’s a process and we’re keen to understand what the Government’s strategy is going to be,” he said.

“But we certainly believe we have a role to play in providing a solution to a number of aspects of what I think passengers, operators and governments want from the taxi and hire vehicle industry.”

Gauci said the company hoped to work with the taxi industry, insisting the program offered “significant benefits for the operators”.

“We think for the operators there’s enough benefit for them to want to be engaged with us,” he said.

“Certainly the solution we’re proposing covers a number of [issues] including safety, economics, logistics and taking the service that should be provided to customers to a new level.”

He said the company’s foray into SA would depend on the outcome of the review and how the Government responds to it – a response that is unlikely to occur until mid-2016.

“It’s our preference to be working with the various state Governments, and we’re very conscious of the State Government conducting its review and we’re very supportive of that,” Gauci said.

“We’re keen to see the outcome of that… should the review show there’s a need for our solution – and we believe there’s likely to be – it’s our preference to work with the Government to roll out the solution.”

He said NetCABS and Oiii would be ready to roll out from March, but “then it’s up to the various states to get on board”.

“I think it requires an endorsement from Governments that the taxi industry itself needs to address a number of customer issues and a number of industry-related issues… an endorsement as to what’s expected from a customer service and safety perspective,” he said.

Gauci said he had “not discussed any commercial aspect at all” with the Weatherill Government, but was “focussed on the launch of the service we can provide to the marketplace”.

“[Our] discussions were quite limited… I’m not sure we want to go into detail as to who we’ve spoken to, but there’s been preliminary discussions,” he said.

Much of the review and the hype surrounding it has been focussed on the Government’s determination on the future of ride-sharing interloper Uber, but Gauci says: “I don’t know that it’s about one operator or other.”

“It’s more to do with what’s been a growing dissatisfaction over a period of time around the various state taxi industries,” he said.

“We think what we’re operating will empower them to offer a much better service.”

The NetCABS technology will be available to various on-demand transport services, including taxis and charter vehicles.

The taxi industry has developed its own national iHail booking app – in addition to individual companies’ existing booking applications – but its rollout has been frustrated by the ACCC, which deemed it anti-competitive.

InDaily has sought comment from the SA Taxi Council.

NetCABS Managing Director Caroline Woodhouse says the system is a response to a taxi industry “suffering from an image crisis… and consumers would argue rightly so”.

“The introduction of ride sharing has shaken up the industry and highlighted the need for change,” she said in a media statement.

“We have listened to public opinion and the concerns about the current taxi system and we have created an end-to-end, all-encompassing solution which we believe addresses the current inadequacies.”

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