Taxicabs have long been the boon and bane of the urban commuter’s existence. And the public sector can only do so much to address the bane. Nurtured by UP’s incubation program, a start-up company is rising to the occasion.
In the UP Cebu Business Incubation for IT (UPCeBuInIT), Micab has found a home since January 2015. Even before the Grab issue, Micab had already been pioneering this kind of service in Cebu. As a start-up, it zeroed in on the much-maligned taxicab service, to give commuters an alternative to old-school taxicab fleet management and hailing.
In 2012, it pioneered SMS-based taxicab hailing; by 2013, it was a working data-based app. But only when it was taken on by UP Cebu in January 2015 was it able to have staff that would run and continually upgrade the service full-time, with active customer support for its growing number of clients.
Now Micab is known as an Internet-based taxicab hailing application, introduced into the national consciousness in the wake Grab’s takeover of the country’s TNVS (transport network vehicle service) private fleets.
“Instead of getting fleets from the private sector, we provide the taxis a system by which the fleets are managed and monitored. At the same time, the riding public can get taxis through the app,” Micab Chief Technology Officer Kenneth Baylosis summarizes the system.
Now, according to Baylosis, the Micab app has conquered 50 percent of Cebu’s taxicab fleets or around 3,000 taxicab units. It is now powering over 2,000 taxicab users in Manila, 700 in Iloilo, and 500 in Baguio. It is being introduced in Bacolod, Davao, and Cagayan de Oro. Its share of the market qualifies it as a major app provider, even as it struggles to meet demand nationally.
Labeled Taxicab 2.0, this has improved the taxicab experience, through the app that has worked out kinks in its early operations and that continuously learns from its partnerships. Baylosis said that Micab embodies the aspiration for modern and professional taxicabs.
The app chooses units to power. The Micab app runs on units that meet standards, certifications, and clearances set by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). These include adoption of modern amenities such as GPS, and the use of units not older than four years. Micab thus partners with highly recognized operators, such as Ken and Yoo in Cebu.
“In the app, you can see the complete driver’s profile,” Baylosis adds. “And we are training the drivers, who must of course have undergone regular health and drug checks.”
“We began with a difficult situation—a taxicab industry that was very old school in terms of doing business and bad habits already formed. We’re trying to shake those habits out through technology. We’re using technology to change the culture,” he says.
“For example, we have a points system to dissuade the drivers from choosing clients. If you accept clients and reach quota, you get incentives. We’re now working to ‘gamify’ the incentives for the drivers’ side,” Baylosis continues.
Honing its edge
To further ensure safety, the app has a “Share Trip” feature which allows friends and family to track the cab one has taken.
But it is Micab’s online support to both operator and customer that gives Micab an edge, Baylosis said. “If you want to report units that reject you or for lost-and-found, they can be traced through customer service. Actually in the app, you can type your complaints. Our customer support is constantly going through all those. We make outbound calls, especially in urgent cases. That’s a salient feature of Taxi 2.0.”
Micab collects data to support further development. For one, “We make sure that rides with three-star ratings and below go through proper investigative measures.”
For a start-up to accommodate such overwhelming demands, it needs all the support it can get. UP’s incubation, with the aid of the Department of Science and Technology, is making it possible for Micab to meet the challenge, first by giving a home, together with some scientific and entrepreneurial network support, to its 20 regular and freelance staff.
“Providing this facility here is very beneficial to us, especially when we were still really growing. The rates are not expensive.” Having a Micab office was a decisive step since Baylosis met Micab Chief Executive Officer Eddie Ybañez in a Start-Up Weekend in 2012, when the latter was just pitching a hailing application off his thesis. They started off by borrowing staff from another company.
Spreading its wings
After three years, moving into a dedicated office enabled it to collect and confine the developers’ energy into focus through a conducive space provided by UP. Now the staff is devoted exclusively to Micab. Additionally, it now has staff to take the Micab expertise toward demands outside the transport network, forming the nucleus for a spin-off start-up they are not yet ready to reveal.
Through UP CeBuInIT, Micab expanded its business network, and was able to be referred to DOST for a grant for technology development. It soon hopes to be able to provide government with the important transport data it needs.
UP technology incubation thus remains a boost to Micab, a small start-up now playing against a multinational giant in the transport network service.