From our uniformly woeful sports teams to our comic book villain of a mayor, who recently admitted to not fully understanding the BASIC REQUIREMENTS OF HOLDING PUBLIC OFFICE, Toronto has been a kinda down on itself lately. So it was somewhat surprising when UK-based taxi service Hailo chose our little burg as its first North American market last month, on exactly the same week that San Francisco startup darlings Uber were giving Torontonians free rides. Why all this sudden attention?
Regardless the reason, Toronto is in the midst of a cabbie Cold War, and citizens of Hogtown must now decide which service is right for them. As someone adverse to using his legs unnecessarily, I was keenly interested in the service Hailo provides. So how does it stack up?
On the surface, Hailo appears quite similar to its competitors: use a mobile app to call a cab to your location and to pay for the trip, bypassing long dispatch wait times and the ignominity of competing with fellow degenerates for that one lonely cab outside the bar after last call. It’s simple, but it should be, and generally it works well (for a quick demo of the in-app experience, check out the video below).
Hailo looks to differentiate itself behind the scenes. For starters, they’re officially licensed in the city of Toronto as a taxi network (the first of its kind in Canada). The Toronto Hailo team have also split their workspace into a ‘drivers’ office’ to train Hailo cabbies and provide them a place to unwind. Most surprising to me was the fact that Hailo also handles its customer support in-house, with dedicated teams for each city.
People reading this review might wonder how any of this factors into the relative value of the app. And again, at that surface level, it probably doesn’t, but I think it will certainly have an effect on the long term success of the service in Toronto, for a few reasons.
Firstly, Hailo’s dedication to in-house customer support means that they’re closely montitoring and weeding out poor drivers and users, and tracking optimization opportunities. I was surprised to learn upon visiting their office that they were well aware of issues I had earlier in the week when trying to grab a cab at 1pm on a Sunday (basically a cabbie dead zone) – their tracking systems had alerted them immediately when my cab request had failed. It was a good feeling to know that Hailo is focusing on more than making sure users get their phones back when they forget them in the back seat.
Secondly, as Uber has inadvertantly demonstrated with its city by city legal struggles, being a licensed taxi provider allows both users and drivers to be confidant that the service will be around long enough to invest in it. Everyone knows that if a service fails twice in providing what it intends to, it won’t be used a third time. And, Sunday afternoons aside, if the cabbies aren’t buying into the service, then users won’t.
In speaking to my chauffers during Hailo rides, most seemed excited by the monetary opportunities provided by services like Hailo, and particularly adamant that Hailo’s official licensing made it the superior choice (interestingly, Uber cabbies generally weren’t aware of any differentation on this point, and seemed to enjoy that they were provided with a free smartphone to use the service with). Hailo currently has 450 cabbies signed on and trained (making them the second largest taxi service in Toronto), so it will be interesting to see how that number grows over time (Hailo mentioned to me that they expect 1000 drivers by Christmas).
For now, 450 cabbies is more than enough to provide reliable transportation across Toronto. Give Hailo a try (use the coupon code “TORONTO” for a little Guru hookup) and stay on the lookout for the Hailo cabbie that has a dedicated iPhone charger for his fares. That’s service.