In October I wrote that MyTaxi’s increase in fare charges would increase the prevalence of students opting to walk home after a night out. The article condemned this practice as reckless and dangerous. Unfortunately, this is never more true than around Christmas time when students are finished exams and indulging in the nightlife scene becomes more viable. However, it is often forgotten that more people are killed on Irish roads over the six weeks surrounding Christmas than at any other time in the year. Of course, drink-driving is a strong contributor to these death figures but sadly drunk pedestrians make up a significant portion of fatalities, according to the Road Safety Authority.
Luckily, a new app “Flag”, created by former NUI Galway (NUIG) student Richie Commins has safety at its core. It’s an idea that started out as the premise for a college assignment, when Commins’s class was asked to solve a problem for students. He came up with the idea for a taxi service that had safety as its priority. In his third year he chose to work on his idea further with Blackstone Launchpad and it was from here the first prototype of the service was developed. Then, in his final year, instead of working with a pre-existing company for the purposes of his final-year project, he enquired whether he could pitch his idea to his class.
The aim is to enable people travel from A to B without any other physical commodity
His audacity paid off and after getting some of his classmates on board they developed a service called “Dash” which has since been developed into an app called “Flag – the taxi app”. The app is available for free on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store. Speaking to The University Times, Commins said that the name “Flag” comes from “the ability to flag a taxi off the street and use the service”. Commins states that the inspiration for a taxi app came from his own experiences being left without cash or his phone dying and the struggles he had getting home. The app has already generated significant attention: amongst its sponsors are Enterprise Ireland, Nissan, the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation, AIB and An Garda Síochána.
Commins explains that Flag is targeted specifically at students and is the first app to enable users to order taxis and pay without having cash, card or a phone. “The aim is to enable people travel from A to B without any other physical commodity”, he says. Phone batteries are notoriously temperamental and there are bound to have been instances where a student wishing to order a taxi has been left in the predicament of having their phone run out of juice or they’ve lost their wallet. Uniquely, Flag’s “wallet-less” feature enables users to simply hail a taxi off the street and enter their pin into the driver’s Flag account. The added verification processes for creating an account include a photo ID ensures that drivers can rest assured there are no mistaken identities. For other occasions when you wish to pay by cash, the app works in a similar fashion to MyTaxi where you confirm your location and a licenced driver is sent to pick you up.
Flag launched in Dublin, on December 18th, but the company hopes to expand nationally in 2018. In order to encourage early adoption of the app, drivers won’t be charged commission until February, after which they’ll be charged a 10 per cent commission which, as Commins points out, is lower than MyTaxi’s commission.
Moreover, Flag never takes a commission on wallet-less payments. This is something that Commins is passionate about. The company is not trying to unjustly capitalise on safety. Perhaps the only thing more dreaded for students than losing their wallet is losing their phone. In the event you lose both of these, Flag ensures you’ll still manage to get home safe and won’t punish the driver either.
Whether the company can get enough drivers to sign up to the service and thus, become a viable option for students, is another issue
Flag has just released a promotional video featuring an assortment of Irish celebrities including Joe Duffy, Keith Barry, Ultan Dillane and Marty Morrissey. The focus of the campaign is to encourage potential drivers and users to get on board and “to give the gift of safety this Christmas”, Commins says. In order to increase the sign-up rate, Flag is crediting anyone’s account who encourages a driver to sign up: “The next time you’re in a taxi tell him about Flag.” If you get a driver to sign up to the app and you then send on his or her name and badge number (via email or Facebook) your account will be credited with a free fare.
In terms of the future, Commins doesn’t let too much slip but he mentions that they’ve plenty of added safety features planned for the New Year. There will be a feature that enables parents to top up the account of their child and also will enable parents to add a secondary card to the account in case there are insufficient funds in their child’s account.
Whether the company can get enough drivers to sign up to the service and thus, become a viable option for students, is another issue. Commins seems confident but emphasises the importance that Flag’s free fare promotion will have on the company’s success over Christmas.