Frozen-rails-2014

Controversial App Haxi lingers in the grey zone of Taxipiratism

As commonly reminded to us by popular culture, Scandinavians used to make a serious living out of piratism. Vikings, as the Nordic version of pirates were called, left a trail of countless of burned villages wherever they set sail, pushing nations to rethink their defences largely. Indeed, the Vikings’ bloody adventures went as far as to define the very existence of the country we today call the United Kingdom.

Today, roughly a thousand years later, the Scandic civilizations are still fond of piratism, though luckily for the rest of us, the piratism they do now is of less aggressive nature.

A well known example would be Sweden’s Piratebay, which caused, and still causes havoc in the global online seas, but now a new kind of piratism is causing public distress, this time in neighbouring Norway.

The source of these so called shenanigans is Haxi, the on-demand ridesharing network that enables users to share transports for much lower cost than usual. The service was created in October 2013 by Aleksander Soender as an alternative way of transportation for the younger and less wealthy who usually cannot afford to pay for a taxi-ride.

In December 2013 the site was launched in Stavanger, Norway, where the service was immediately met by widespread criticism from Norwegian taxi drivers, resulting in numerous articles on national newspapers and general public discussion on the legality of the service.

However, the controversy in public opinion didn't stop Haxi from growing, quite on the contrary: in March 2014, Haxi had launched its app for iOS and Android; a month later, Haxi registered as a company in the UK, securing a seed round from angel investors  a couple of months after that. As of today, Haxi has more than 11 000 active users, including 600 registered drivers, making it easily the largest ridesharing network in Norway.

In the course of this year, Haxi has slowly been pushing its communication tool for unlicensed “buddy rides” across the Norwegian borders, towards Denmark, where it was quickly labelled as illegal by the Danish Transport Authority, who also denounced the service to the police. The crisis is still ongoing: Haxi has appealed to the authorities to reconsider their position towards the application, citing that the service isn't breaking any laws, but to be honest I’d be surprised if the plea was actually noted.

Here’s how Haxi works in basics: Registered users can choose to be drivers, passengers or both; the Haxi app allows users to make spontaneous ride requests, to which available “community drivers” can respond to. The idea is that the price of the ride should be evenly divided by the two parties, with the passengers having the freedom to give drivers tips for good service if they so wish. Users can check the drivers' profiles on Facebook, and if for example they share two common friends, it should provide some sort of security, according to the developers, as mentioned in this Dine Penger article.

This probably won't surprise you, but Haxi combines the words “hack” and “taxi”, shortening the words “hacked taxi” if you will. The general feeling you get when browsing through the Haxi website and social media pages is that the users are usually in their mid-twenties, smiling and have a positive sense of community revolving around the app (which by the way is completely free). For those of you paying attention to the international press, Haxi is remarkably similar to its American counterpart Lyft.

Haxi has an active blog here, where they keep users posted on new updates and remind them to keep sending feedback.

So why is Haxi freaking everyone out?

The answer would be partially similar to the one I presented in last week's Taxify article: the taxi industry is faced with a serious wave of change. Startups like Taxify and Haxi are among the first manifestations of this industry transformation, a transformation taxi companies might not be too keen to welcome just yet.

Besides, if we're comparing Haxi with illegal taxi services, it's good to keep in mind that Haxi is run by the community, not an organisation, and the community's goal isn't profit, but rather public benefits.

In the end it should be the consumers and voters who decide what’s going to happen, and better, more efficient services will likely prevail. Taxi companies will fight against that, for understandable reasons, but it doesn't change the fact that they’ll look pretty narrow minded and foolish while doing so.

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