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    Oct 27, 2015

    New taxi app wants to join hands with cab companies

    ANOTHER ride-booking app is coming to town. But instead of going head-on with taxi companies, London and New York-based Karhoo wants to work with cab operators "to level the playing field".

    Started by British entrepreneur Daniel Ishag, 41, Karhoo has been in talks with most of the taxi companies here to create a journey aggregator commuters can tap into.

    "We are really excited about launching in Singapore in the first quarter of next year," he told The Straits Times via e-mail.

    Karhoo is supposed to allow commuters to pick a cab or a private-hire car across companies, based on criteria such as cost, time of arrival and type of vehicle.

    SIM University's adjunct associate professor, Park Byung Joon, said Karhoo may not be very unique technologically, but the fact that it is tying up with taxi companies might give it an edge.

    "The others, like Uber and GrabTaxi, sign up individual drivers. But in Karhoo's case, if a taxi company agrees, it has the entire fleet onboard," Dr Park said.

    ComfortDelGro, the largest taxi operator with nearly 60 per cent of the 28,500 cabs here, told The Straits Times yesterday that it was "in talks with Karhoo for a possible tie-up", but added that discussions were still "in early stages".

    Trans-Cab, the second largest taxi firm here, said it, too, was exploring joining hands with Karhoo.

    Its general manager, Jasmine Tan, said: "It is something extra, to help our own dispatch system. If passengers can accept it, we can give it a try."

    Prime Taxi, the smallest player here, is also in talks with Karhoo.

    But Premier Taxi managing director, Lim Chong Boo, said Karhoo has to do more to convince players to come onboard. "I don't think we need another app per se. Unless they come up with a novel plan, it's just going to be another Grab or Uber," he said.

    SMRT, however, is not in talks with Karhoo, having tied up with London-based app provider Hailo last year.

    Karhoo claims to have already signed up 200,000 vehicles in London, New York and Singapore.

    Its founder, Mr Ishag, the man behind British water-treatment company Bluewater Bio, said in a Financial Times report that by working with taxi companies, Karhoo will avoid the regulatory pitfalls faced by groups such as Uber.

    "We're able to work in markets where the peer-to-peer networks aren't allowed to work, simply because we empowered the incumbents," he said.

    In Singapore, which has not adopted a protectionistic stance against taxi apps, Karhoo may have a harder time.

    Tech consultant Richard Ho, 55, said: "I've never had a problem getting a taxi with GrabTaxi. So this company has to be much more than an aggregator for it to make people switch."