Hailo, the company that began life as an app for easily hailing and paying for black cab service in London less than a year ago, has now officially kicked off service in Boston, its first U.S. city. The app-based taxi service got its sea legs in Europe first in London, and then with an expansion to Dublin, and then moved across the pond with a launch in Toronto a little less than a month ago at the end of September. Hailo CEO and co-founder Jay Bregman said in interview that the startup’s efforts to expand to both New York and Chicago are also coming along nicely.
That’s due in part to an approach to local markets that Bregman characterized as disruptive, but not combative with existing local infrastructure. That’s why Hailo worked with city regulators in London when it originally launched, and even sought out a cab company license in Toronto ahead of its recent launch there. In New York, likewise, Bregman says they’re waiting on regulations to be drafted before making any official moves, which could help them avoid the kind of problems UberTAXI has run into in the Big Apple. It’s been no different in Boston, where Bregman says Hailo has been working closely with city officials ahead of the service kick-off today.
“We went about it really in the same way that we go about it everywhere,” he explained. “Whenever we decide that we want to launch in a city, we reach out to the local regulators, we go and see them and have a conversation about how the market works, we explain our service we explain what we’ve done in other places, and what benefits we believe it brings to the city.”
As an added step, when Hailo has spoken before commissions in NYC and DC about app-based taxi services, they’ve had John Mason, Director of London Taxi and Private Hire testifying by video conference on their behalf regarding what it’s like working with the startup.
Contrast that with Uber’s approach, which, at least as characterized in an interview with Uber founder Travis Kalanick at TechCrunch Disrupt this year, puts that app-based personal transportation service at odds with a lot of local regulatory bodies. Bregman says that Hailo believes that being disruptive doesn’t have to mean having a negative relationship with local governing bodies, however, hence Hailo’s measured, market-by-market approach and efforts to make sure local officials are on their side. That’s why in markets like New York, they’ve laid the groundwork, but are waiting on rules to be spelled out before launching in earnest.
“We’re really executing on schedule and as planned,” Bregman said of the company’s New York City progress. “We always have this strategy of giving out an app to drivers that gives them value independently of connecting with customers as the first phase of the process, and then only when they have enough drivers do we launch. We started that process last week and the initial feedback has been fantastic.” Already, Hailo has seeded some 4,000 drivers with its service app, and hopes to convert many of those to its active fleet once it gets the green light to start ferrying passengers.
In Boston, Hailo’s pricing works a bit differently than it has in its other markets, with a service fee being charged to the passenger instead of having costs go to the driver. That’s due to the nature of the market, Bregman said, which already has relatively low fares and where drivers don’t have to hunt quite as hard to fill their back seat. So instead the person taking the cab will be charged a fee starting at $1 on top of the metered fare, which can go up depending on time of day (rush hour is more expensive). As in Toronto, but unlike in London, users will only have the option of paying with a registered credit card on file, and not with cash. Also, while finding drivers who have their own smartphone is still proving somewhat of a challenge in Toronto, Bregman says that in the U.S., prices are cheaper on plans and devices, so it’s been much easier to get new drivers on board. Hailo doesn’t provide drivers with smartphones, as Uber does, believing it not to be a fiscally sound strategy over the long term.
So far, Hailo already has amassed 8,000 registered cabs in London, and did its first $1 million in fares week last week in that market. The startup also recently passed the 3,000 register cab mark in Dublin, breaking four figures in hails just months after launch. “In Dublin, if you look at how we’ve grown month after month, despite it being a much smaller market, we’ve grown much faster in terms of members, revenue and rides than we did in London early on,” Bregman said.
Now the challenge will be seeing how Americans respond to the service, and whether or not Hailo can continue to find favor with regulators while expanding its geographic footprint and going up against others like myTaxi making the jump from Europe to North America.