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Support for new online taxi booking service

New service: should traditional cabbies be concerned about Hitch Bermuda?(File photograph)

A new online taxi booking service has been greeted with widespread approval on local social media.

Hitch Bermuda, a taxi booking app, launches on Monday.

While the home-grown technology elicited some concern for traditional cabbies, the service is restricted to licensed taxis and taxi drivers.

In this respect, Hitch differs crucially from the international transport app Uber, which has riled taxi operators worldwide by opening up the market to regular drivers.

In theory, Bermuda’s pre-arranged booking service will eliminate problems such as drivers taking jobs from one another, or not showing up.

“The app is free to use and will soon be available on both the Apple Store and Google Play store, for free,” marketing director Coy Millett told The Royal Gazette. “Any licensed taxi driver can register as a Hitch driver, and we regularly check registration details to ensure that only licensed taxi drivers service our passengers.”

Among other features, the app will allow customers to track their cabs, and pay electronically, thus removing the need for cash. Customers can also see driver’s pictures and vehicle information.

The service is the creation of Calvin Minors and Sergio Virgil, with Mr Minors saying the two had “worked tirelessly on it”.

“It started out as small talk about a year ago, and now here it is,” Mr Minors said.

Meanwhile, as Uber’s global expansion puts the company in increasing friction with overseas governments and taxi companies, the Bermuda Government is exploring the Island’s own laws.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Transport said that a review was now under way in tandem with the Attorney General’s Chambers, examining the legal implications of taxi apps — including Uber.

“The ministry is cognisant of the various technological applications that are available for the transportation industry,” he said.

“Therefore, it is imperative that we have the appropriate legislation in place to avoid potential legal issues.”

The Island’s taxi industry has historically lacked a central taxi authority, but technological advances could bring greater cohesion.

According to the ministry spokesman, “significant progress” is under way to move toward “a central dispatching system, in consultation with the local dispatching companies, that will utilise many of the current technological applications that are available”.

Last month, Bermuda Island Taxi Service launched an app service, and Leo Simmons, the head of the Bermuda Taxi Operators Association (BTOA), said there were now “at least three” versions of the technology on the Island.

Expressing a degree of scepticism for Hitch, Mr Simmons said he felt it could turn out to be “Uber, just with a nicer name”.

“They had a presentation in September. I spoke to them then and said that I didn’t fully agree with it,” the BTOA president said.

“It puts the dispatch company out of business, or hurts their business, and you have to get the taxi drivers to buy into it as well as the public.

“Some feel that it’s not legal. They don’t have a dispatching licence and theoretically this is dispatching. I think that the Government needs to step in and make a statement one way or another, whether this is legal or illegal.”

Mr Simmons added that the advent of the off season had left many drivers in difficult straits.

“Go around and look at taxi drivers; there are no boats in and we have very few people coming in off the planes,” he said. “You’ve got guys down at the airport waiting three, four hours hoping to get a job. Sometimes these flights come in and they’ve only got 35 people on.”

Uber is most prevalent in North American cities and has yet to move into an island jurisdiction such as Bermuda or the Caribbean — although the service is now available in Honolulu, Hawaii.

For details, go to www.hitch.bm.