Zingo goes south of expectations

One of the first examples of how mobile-phone positioning data can be used commercially has seen its early high rate of take-up execute a sharp u-turn

Zingo, the pioneering taxi-hailing service that uses mobile-phone positioning data to hook up potential passengers with GPS-equipped London taxis, has proved to be less popular than its operators had hoped.

Interim results for the six months to 31 January, 2004, from parent company Manganese Bronze -- the manufacturer of most London black taxis -- show the division making a £2.5m loss on a turnover of £483,000. Although use of the service grew rapidly in the second half of 2003 (turnover for the first six months, when the service launched, was just £57,000), that growth disappeared during the Christmas period as the number of hails using the service dropped. That was despite the number of taxis signed up to the Zingo service increasing to 1,150 vehicles -- still a small fraction of the 20,000-plus black taxis in London.

The Zingo service was hailed last year as one of the first examples of how mobile-phone position data can be used commerically. Using mobile-phone location data, which can pinpoint a mobile phone to within a couple of hundred metres, Zingo hooks up the caller to the closest available taxi. At the time of launch, managing director Mark Fawcett said that the biggest challenge in setting up the service was getting access to location data from mobile network operators. Such data is generally seen as very sensitive because it can be used to build up not only a picture of a person's movements but can reveal data about relationships; for instance, when two mobile phones move from one cell to another at exactly the same moment.

Manganese Bronze said it plans to continue pushing Zingo and that a planned merger with its finance business this year will cut costs. Discussions to roll out Zingo in other cities in the UK and abroad are underway.