Norng Rithy is hoping to revolutionize Cambodia’s taxi landscape with the start-up he has co-founded, Tap, an online taxi booking platform.
Rithy graduated with a bachelor's degree in Management and Political Science and finished a master’s degree in International Relations from Russia. He is currently pursuing a PhD degree in International Relations and Diplomatic Strategy.
“Tap app is a startup that wants to solve the issue of finding taxis to travel to other provinces. After we worked with rented taxi drivers, we found some taxi sites located at Central Market, Phsar Deum Kor, and Chroy Changva roundabout. We saw the mess of catching customers, pushing and pulling them along the way,” he said.
He added, “As we saw this issue, we came up with the idea of creating a digital platform as a solution to allow travelers to find taxis to go to the provinces. We want them to experience booking taxis online in diverse ways.”
Impressed by the Uber taxi app
Hailing from Siem Reap province, Rithy grew up in a family that ran a guest house providing accommodation for taxi drivers, especially those driving from Siem Reap to Poipet province. However, he later noticed the amount of taxi drivers was decreasing from the average of 30 to 40 drivers staying at the guesthouse.
“For example, they all went outside together [to find customers] and when they cannot find any, they need to wait here [at the guesthouse],” he said, explaining the previous way Cambodian taxi drivers waited for passengers. He noted this method is uncoordinated and challenging for drivers.
In Thailand, Rithy saw taxi drivers get passengers in a different way from Cambodia. There, they have taxi ranks and queues, with allocated numbers that specify the order that they can pick up customers.
In 2014, while studying in Russia, he was so impressed by the Uber taxi app that can book a taxi for 24 hours, also making it more convenient to book a taxi at night.
When he returned to Cambodia and needed to go to Siem Reap province urgently he faced difficulties finding a good taxi. He also lost his backpack while traveling in a taxi that did not have specific data or information to identify whether the taxi driver is good and qualified.
“If they [taxi drivers] don’t move to digital, one day they will face difficulties like losing job opportunities, like the way Tuk Tuk drivers faced when PassApp and Grab entered the Cambodian market by bringing new digital technology in a fast way that they cannot keep up-to-date with. In the end they will lose opportunities,” he said.
After graduating with a master’s degree in International Relations abroad, Rithy remains enthusiastic to solve the way Cambodian people book taxis.
During Covid-19, Rithy and his five team members worked together on this start-up idea. They officially launched the website on April 6 and are in the process of designing a mobile app.
“We haven’t piloted the app yet; we are only available online because we have studied some things. Therefore, we decided to have only one website first in order to have bookings from foreigners who need to travel into Cambodia,” he told Kiripost during a Zoom interview.
“Second, we are starting to build a mobile application [app]; meanwhile, we are studying about taxis by working with taxi drivers, and we have created a taxi community. Including creating Telegram, Wechat, as well as many channels on Facebook, in order to study more about taxi drivers.”
Their vision is to help solve local taxi service issues. However, low digital literacy is a big barrier.
A total of 500 taxi drivers are now in Tap’s community, of which 151 are now working with Tap’s team in case studies, such as learning about taxi drivers’ challenges, practical requirements, and education level, especially digital literacy.
The price is set by the individual taxi drivers on the Tap website.
“The price does not vary from one to another [taxi types], it rates between $70 to $80.”
Currently, online bookings are free. But Tap plans to charge some commission for taxi drivers in the future.
“At present, during the testing of our website we don’t charge any commissions from our taxi drivers or add-on costs for using the website either.”
One million users in the next five years
There are three main routes: Phnom Penh to Poipet, Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, and Phnom Penh to Bavet. Passengers can be driven to provinces that fall along these paths, such as Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Svay Reing, Kampong Speu and Kampong Thom.
“We expect to expand our destinations more to another 15 capitals and provinces in the next three years. The mission is to reach 25 cities and provinces and one million users in the next five years,” the Tap co-founder said.
In May, Tap Taxi Cambodia (Tap app) entered a competition and was awarded seed funding of $10,000 from Bandos Digital Start-Up of NICC - National Incubation Center of Cambodia to develop their business.
Most foreign passengers book on the Tap website. In contrast, most local passengers book through Telegram, according to Rithy. He added that between June and November, Tap received 116 bookings from local and international customers.
During the Water Festival in November, Tap received more than 20 bookings a day and was unable to find taxis for them all.
Tap took up the challenge of transferring the private taxi system to the new-age online mobile platform and website booking system. It wants taxi drivers to offer unique experiences that make it possible for passengers to connect with communities in a more authentic way.