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Zingo takes black cabs south of the river

Zingo, the taxi-hailing service that uses mobile phone positioning data, is treading where black cabs rarely venture, as it extends south of the river into the Dartford area
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor

Zingo, the location-based taxi finding service that puts mobile-phone users in touch with their nearest black cab, is going south of the river -- and then some -- with the launch of its service in Dartford, Kent.

Zingo, which was one of the first commercial services to make use of mobile phone positioning data when it launched in the spring, patches callers through to the driver of the nearest Zingo-enabled black cab, whose position is determined using GPS equipment installed in the cab.

Location data from mobile phones is not accurate to street level, but it is good enough, according to Zingo, to find a cab close by: the rest of the navigation is done by the cab driver taking directions from the customer.

Dartford, Zingo's first venture outside Central London, has 141 licensed cabs and the company said it has already signed up 25 of them, with another 15 expecting to join by the end of January. In London, Zingo's sign-up ratio is not so impressive, with just 900 cabs recruited from a potential pool of more than 20,000.

Mark Fawcett, the managing director of Zingo, said the plan has always been to expand the service throughout the UK, once it had become established in London. He said that Dartford was selected because drivers in the area were keen to run the service: "Now people living in Dartford can hail a Zingo taxi, reliably and safely via their mobile phone. If you are out shopping at Bluewater, you no longer have to go out and search for a licensed taxi as Zingo brings the taxi to you.”

Dartford Borough Council agreed that hailing a cab is much safer with Zingo. Jeremy Kite, deputy leader of Dartford Borough Council, said in a statement: "Any scheme that improves safety for cab users is welcome in the Borough. We are already part of Cab Watch, a joint initiative with North Kent Police, which aims to enhance the safety of both taxi drivers and their passengers, and to stamp out cab crime."

The idea was conceived three years ago, said Fawcett, but the first trial was launched in November 2002. Some of this delay was due to the challenge of getting access to mobile phone location data from the 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 where, for instance, two mobile phones move from one cell to another at exactly the same moment. To persuade mobile phone companies to make available mobile phone positioning data, Zingo had to make a number of commitments about the protection of data obtained by its system and has built in safeguards to honour these commitments.
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