With ride-hailing giants Uber and Grab yet to enter the Cambodian market, a pair of local entrepreneurs have seized the initiative and developed the first private-hire car service and smartphone application for Phnom Penh’s frenetic city streets.
Exnet Taxi Cambodia, the brainchild of Hor Daluch and his wife, aims at satisfying a demand for convenient, cheap and safe transportation in the Kingdom’s increasingly congested capital.
The company has developed its own mobile app, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request, which is then routed to the company’s pool of registered drivers.
The location of both driver and customer is continually updated and visible to each using the GPS and mapping software on their smartphones.
Drivers who respond to trip requests use their own cars to pick up customers and collect payment. While only cash is currently accepted, plans are afoot to support electronic payments.
“We wanted to provide passengers with a more convenient way to order a taxi, without the need to call and have difficulties explaining their location to drivers on the phone,” explains Daluch.
The local ride-hailing service launched in June with just two drivers. It has since grown to around 60 registered freelance drivers, while more than 300 people have downloaded the application to their phones.
For now, the company is operating at a loss. But Daluch expects as more drivers sign on and consumers use the service it will turn a profit, perhaps by early next year.
“We are the first ride-hailing app in Cambodia, but we think [the model] will start growing very fast,” said Daluch.
“Right now, most of our customers are foreigners, maybe around 85 per cent, and about 20 people use the app per day,” he said. “One to two drivers register every day, but a lot of them do it part-time, so this does not mean that all our 60 drivers are always available.”
Exnet’s customers can request a ride and choose from three differently priced types of vehicles – classic, business or van – each with its own specifications and rates. The minimum fare for a short hop in a standard vehicle is 4,000 riel ($1), while the 3.5 kilometre journey from Independence Monument to Russian Market works out to about 8,600 riel ($2.15).
“We set a reasonable fare rate to be competitive with normal taxis, tuk-tuks and other forms of transportation”, he said. “Our prices also give a reasonable profit to drivers.”
Drivers – who are required to possess a driver’s licence and provide proof of rental or ownership of the car they will use – receive training on how to use the app, as well as the company’s rates and policies. Exnet charges drivers a 1,000 riel fee for each trip request they answer, and takes 10 per cent of the fare.
To address safety concerns, Daluch said, each driver must register for the app with his full name, driver’s licence and national identification document, which are recorded in Exnet’s system. Additionally, there is always a dispatcher monitoring all the trips and a 24-hour hotline to receive complaints.
Daluch insisted that Exnet’s ride-hailing service is not in direct competition with the capital’s taxi companies, though some taxi drivers have also registered on the app to earn extra income in between dispatch calls.
When the Post spoke to Tola Vong, a taxi driver for Choice Taxi, he had been picking up customers using the Exnet app for two days. He said he learned about the app from a friend, and has in turn recommended it to several colleagues, who also signed up as drivers.
“During the day, when I’m free, I open the app to get more customers,” Vong said.
“It makes it much easier for me to find business and I can maximise my use of time.”
Choi Dae Yong, president of Choice Taxi, which operates a fleet of 300 taxis in Phnom Penh, said his company is currently testing its own smartphone application to connect drivers and passengers, which he plans to launch by the end of the month.
He said the service will be open exclusively to Choice Taxi drivers because the company wants to maintain its reputation for safety and quality.
He stressed that while Choice Taxi has obtained a licence from the government and City Hall to operate a taxi service, Exnet has not, echoing a common complaint that conventional taxi companies worldwide have voiced in response to the disruptive and largely unregulated growth of ride-hailing applications.
Dae Yong said that although Cambodia might not be ready to adopt ride-hailing services on a large scale, the model could become increasingly beneficial as the city grows.
“Mass transportation such as public buses is not developed enough and the driving conditions and traffic jams are getting worse and worse, so a smart system for better public transport must be implemented as soon as possible,” he said.
Uber, the world’s most popular ride-hailing service, did not respond to requests for an interview. The US-based company, which announced this week it would merge with Chinese competitor Didi Chuxing in a $35 billion deal, operates in nearly 70 countries worldwide, but is not yet available in Cambodia.
Grab, the chief rival of Uber in Southeast Asia, also could not be reached. In January, however, the Malaysia-based company said it was looking to expand its foothold in the region but was not considering the Cambodian market.
“At this moment we have no plans,” Cheryl Goh, the company’s vice president of regional marketing, said in an email.
Additional reporting by Cam McGrath