New Taxi Hotline Sidesteps App

A new taxi hotline has just been launched which will surely provide a boost for thousands of Jordanian cab drivers in the short-term, but is unlikely to stave off the threat of industry disruptive transport apps like Uber in the long-term.

The automated Taoseal Taxi service identifies the exact location of a caller using simple GSM technology before patching them through to the nearest available taxi. The service costs 100 fils per call and doesn’t require an Internet-enabled smartphone or app to use. Its creator, Saad Abu Odeh, told The Jordan Times that around 4,200 taxi drivers had so far signed up to the service and more were expected to participate in the future.

But these taxi drivers and their respective firms, who have long enjoyed a monopoly of Jordan’s streets, might be inadvertently putting themselves out of a job by embracing Taoseal Taxi, as it opens the door for US companies like Uber, which is valued at over $18 billion. Uber effectively allows anyone with a car to drive around picking up passengers who summoned them using Uber’s hugely popular smartphone app.

This democratization of the taxi services is happening at a breakneck pace in developed economies, much to the dismay of established taxi drivers. On June 11 in London, the drivers of hundreds of licensed black taxis staged a protest against Uber by slowing traffic down to a crawl in the center of the capital. “This is about an all-out assault on our profession, our livelihoods,” Max Small, a London taxi-driver of over 30 years told Reuters.

What’s more, it seems that any official intervention to stop the march of companies like Uber, whether to protect the jobs of existing taxi drivers or otherwise, is proving fruitless. Local taxi regulators in cities like Berlin and Hamburg have tried to ban Uber on safety grounds, only to have their decision later overturned in the courts.

In the absence of a decent integrated public transportation system, demand on taxis in Jordan, especially on the 10,000 or so in Amman, can only grow. Even though they might represent a threat to vested interest, transport officials in the Kingdom would be wise to give Uber fair consideration if and when they decide to come to town.