Singapore cabbies reach out via mobile

Country's largest taxi company releases application to ease booking process for mobile users in efforts to reach more passengers.

SINGAPORE--In a bid to compete for passengers, one local taxi company is turning to the mobile platform to augment its presence in the island state.

ComfortDelGro, which runs the country's largest fleet, last week launched a location-aware app allowing mobile users to book a taxi via he Apple iPhone.

Tammy Tan, group corporate communications officer at ComfortDelGro, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that the app has been downloaded 19,000 times since its launch on Feb. 4, transacting an average of 500 bookings each day. These numbers are expected to increase, she added.

The company commissioned local Web development company Maven Lab, to build the app, which took two months to complete. Tan said the program operates on a J2EE platform running on Wintel servers, and connects to ComfortDelgro's existing taxi booking system that pushes booking requests to drivers moving around the island.

However, some users have encountered issues making bookings. One Singapore blogger complained about the app's overloaded backend at peak hour, preventing him from successfully booking a taxi.

Tan said the company is investigating these issues, noting that the company's system has sufficient capacity to handle iPhone-based booking volumes.

On reports of inaccuracy locating users, she said the app relies on aspects such as whether the user is in line-of-sight with satellites to allow a more accurate GPS fix, and the ability for the mobile unit itself to pin its location.

"Nevertheless, we are continuously looking into providing users with alternatives that would be able to detect locations more accurately," Tan said.

She added that the company will be releasing an upgraded version of the app with new features, and is also planning to extend a similar app to other mobile platforms.

ComfortDelGro also allows users to book a taxi via its Web site, and offers a mobile version for devices accessing this service.

On why the company chose the iPhone for its maiden foray into mobile apps, the company's CEO of taxi business, Yang Ban Seng, said in a press release: "iPhones have become a cultural phenomenon so we thought it would be useful if we came up with an application for commuters who own [the mobile device]."

In response to a ZDNet Asia query, competing taxi company SMRT, said mobile users can currently book its taxi via SMS. The company does not currently expose its APIs (application programming interfaces) to developers to build apps, but it is "open to exploring [other] ways of making bookings", a spokesperson said in an e-mail.