opinion The GoCatch app will now warn you how heavy the demand for taxis is when you book, from Normal, High and Very High up to Crazy.
That's a great feature and a very useful one, but unfortunately GoCatch is using it to suggest that people offer incentives — to nominate a tip amount before you ride — in order to "make your request more attractive to taxi drivers" during peak times.
It's a practice that is legal, but — at least in NSW — one that the Taxi Council certainly frowns upon.
GoCatch initially touted its tipping functionality before the holiday season in 2013. In a press release titled "Top 10 Taxi Secrets for Holiday Season" the company suggested the following as its number four tip:
Tip the Driver: At the busiest times of year the best way to guarantee a taxi, especially if you’re going shorter distances, is to offer the driver a $5 or $10 tip when making the booking. This can be done easily through GoCatch. It is Christmas after all.
At the time Roy Wakelin-King, CEO of the NSW Taxi Council told the Sydney Morning Herald that the practice had the potential to be discriminatory, saying that "taxis are there to serve the entire community, not just those who can afford to pay more". Wakelin-King cautioned that the Taxi Council wanted to "avoid bidding wars for a taxi".
This isn't the first time the NSW Taxi Council has expressed concerns about pre-tipping. In its review of maximum taxi fare submitted at the start of 2013 (click here for PDF), the Council said:
There will be a trend toward servicing passengers who are prepared to pay a higher booking fee, whilst other passengers, who rightly choose only to pay the regulated fare, will receive a lower level of service. There will be increased incidences of price gouging, particularly at periods of high demand, and passengers who are unable to provide financial incentives to drivers and App operators will suffer as a consequence.
It's even arguable that the practice is against the code of conduct for taxi drivers in NSW, which clearly states that "drivers must readily accept all hirings and not tout or solicit for business".
GoCatch has positioned itself as the app that is "breaking the taxi rules for all the right reasons". While no one would argue that the taxi service didn't need a shake-up that dragged it into the 21st century, creating a scenario that encourages an unfair balance in terms of who can reliably get a taxi and in what time frame doesn't seem to be what we're looking for.