GrabTaxi comes to Pattaya

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GrabTaxi, a high-tech startup that arranges metered taxis for 300,000 people a month in Southeast Asia, has launched in Pattaya, offering locals what Bangkok has long enjoyed: low-priced metered cabs.

Using a free smartphone app, customers request a taxi pickup at their current location, which is marked with GPS for the driver, and the closest metered cab arrives within minutes. The fare charged is the normal, regulated meter rate, plus a 40-baht booking fee.

GrabTaxi, a high-tech startup that arranges metered taxis throughout Southeast Asia, announced they have launched in Pattaya.GrabTaxi, a high-tech startup that arranges metered taxis throughout Southeast Asia, announced they have launched in Pattaya.

Unlike motorcycle taxis, which now quote rates twice the legal regulated minimum in Pattaya, and baht buses, which often require heated negotiations to go outside the normal Beach Road-Second Road route, there is no haggling with GrabTaxi.

And while GrabTaxi’s booking fee is 15-baht higher than that charged in Bangkok, meter rates in Chonburi are lower, making metered cabs even cheaper than in the capital.

Metered cabs are new to Pattaya. But drivers long have preferred to sit in front of shopping malls and large hotels hoping to snare a fat fare to Bangkok, the airport or another distant location. Most drivers simply refuse to use the meter for any local ride, sometimes quoting an exorbitant 300 baht fare to go from South Pattaya to North Pattaya’s bus terminal.

About 50 cabs initially have signed up to join the GrabTaxi service and company executives expect that to grow quickly.

Vee Charununsiri, general manager of the GrabTaxi Co. in Thailand, said the app will now make the metered cabs a fair, affordable and viable alternative to baht buses and motorcycles. Rides can be arranged as needed, or booked at least two hours in advance for, say, a morning pickup to the bus station.

“Our mission is to revolutionize Pattaya’s taxi industry and encourage taxi drivers to use meters,” Vee said at GrabTaxi’s Sept. 17 launch at the Ocean Marina Yacht Club. “With our experience in six countries, we can relieve the pain passengers face on a daily bases trying to grab a taxi.”

Thailand is now home to three smartphone taxi apps: GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi rely on a city’s existing fleets of taxi drivers and government-set meter rates. Industry leader, Uber, uses higher-end, private cars with bilingual drivers to provide chauffer-like service at slightly higher rates.

To date, however, only GrabTaxi serves Pattaya.

“Pattaya was selected due to its proximity to Bangkok and the fact it’s a major tourist destination in Thailand,” Vee said.

Thailand managing director Juthasree Kuvinichkul said Pattaya is the 16th city served by GrabTaxi and the second in Thailand, although more Thai cities are anticipated. The service also operates in Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

The company was founded in 2011 by Harvard Business School graduates Anthony Tan and Hooi Ling Tan and launched in Bangkok in October last year. To date, the app has been downloaded 1.7 million times, has users of 300,000 a month and has 30,000 drivers using the service.

“Since our mobile app was first launched in 2012, the response from taxi commuters around Southeast Asia has been truly amazing,” Juthasree said. “The ease of use and safety aspects made it an instant favorite among commuters with one GrabTaxi cab being booked every two seconds regionally. Now we are bringing the convenience and reliability of the GrabTaxi mobile app to Pattaya commuters.”

While not as polished as Uber’s app, GrabTaxi still remains easy to use. Available for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone, the app automatically detects the customer’s location using GPS and shows the cabs in the vicinity.

The customer enters his destination into the app, which uses popular location service Foursquare for its listings. A fare quote is shown and, with one tap, the cab is requested.

Real-world testing shows that GrabTaxi’s GPS locator needs some work, but customers are automatically sent a driver’s name, vehicle number, photo and phone number. Drivers who get lost – which is frequently due to spotty GPS mapping in the app – often send an SMS to the customer to find the pickup spot.

For in-city service, the quoted fair generally is accurate. But extra fees may apply in trips of longer than six kilometers.

“We feel the fares are reflective of the local market rate, yet providing a safe and stress-free ride for passengers, which creates a fair situation for both passengers and drivers,” Vee said.

GrabTaxi brought several Bangkok drivers, all of whom have more than 15 years of experiencing driving in the capital, to the Pattaya launch to show how much taxi drivers have embraced the new technology.

They said that GrabTaxi has been a major help with their daily income after joining the operation for nearly two years. They now don’t have to roam around for hours looking for passengers as they can easily be booked in the most convenient areas. It’s free and easy and they also added that they make at least 2,000 baht a day.

Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome, who has spent years listening to taxi-related complaints from both locals and tourists, seemed please to see the service launch in the city.

“We are extremely happy to welcome a technology platform like GrabTaxi to operate in Pattaya,” he said. “This will provide convenience to both local residents and tourists to use public transport in a safer and faster way. Pattaya is growing and will continue and thanks to the new technology, and especially to company providers like GrabTaxi for using it to enhance the society.”