Residents in Qatar have long-complained about the nation’s taxi system, focusing especially on poor service and a lack of available cabs around town.
In response, state transportation company Mowasalat has recently pledged to more than double its fleet from 3,000 cabs to 7,000 vehicles over the next eight years.
But those cars won’t do any good if residents can’t find them, argues Palestinian expat Tariq Abdul Hameed Awadallah.
To solve this problem, the 32-year-old has been working on a new mobile app called QCab that would allow residents to search for and book Karwas driving around their area.
Speaking to Doha News, Awadallah explained that the inspiration behind the app came from online transportation booking services like Uber and Careem, which have increased competition in Qatar’s taxi market this year.
“I (myself) have experienced difficulties with taxis in Qatar. I used them sometimes, but some areas in Doha aren’t covered. You wait a lot time for a taxi in bad conditions. Then one day, I saw a video on YouTube about a service like Uber in the UK, and I thought to apply the idea here.”
QCab, which plans to work with taxi (and not limousine or luxury vehicle drivers like Uber and Careem), is slated to soft launch at the end of this month.
The app is being developed under the Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC).
QBIC started as a joint initiative between Qatar Development Bank (QDB) and the Social Development Center (SDC), and aims to grow entrepreneurial initiatives into robust businesses. According to its website, the goal is to create “developed Qatari companies valued at QR100 million.”
Through QBIC, Awadallah met his business partners – Ali Saleh Muthanna, a Yemeni expat, and Nasser Ahmed Al Yafei, a Qatari.
“I didn’t think I could do it myself…it all seemed like a lot, so I approached my friend Ali to help, and then we brought in Nasser, a Qatari, because we need a Qatari sponsor in order to start a company.”
While QCab is not yet registered as a legal company, the paperwork is in process.
The team consists of the three main founders, an Egyptian project manager based in Doha, and an outsourced team of around six app developers.
The developers, based in Egypt, are responsible for the creation of the app, which Awadallah says is almost 50 to 60 percent complete.
The tentative launch date for the app is set for sometime between Aug. 25 and 30.
The team plans to hold a soft launch, which would include the participation of around 100 taxi drivers, before rolling out the final version of the app over the next three months to the entire Karwa fleet.
Speaking to Doha News, the entrepreneur added:
“We have already spoken to the drivers. We had to conduct a customer validation as part of our QBIC initiative, and we had a great response. Around 83 percent of those surveyed liked the idea.”
The app would work similarly to other existing mobile transportation services like Uber, which allow passengers to search and book vehicles in their area.
However, while other apps require payment to be deducted from a user’s credit card, QCab hopes to work in tandem with a resident’s existing cell phone plan.
“We want to make it easier for our users, so payment for the service will be taken out of the person’s phone credit,” said Awadallah, adding that the team is currently in negotiations with local telecom companies Ooredoo and Vodafone to sort out the process.
The payment in question refers to a QR3 to QR5 free that QCab would charges users for using their service.
Meanwhile, the team is still figuring out payment terms for drivers who participate with QCab.
While an initial 80:20 profit sharing ratio between the driver and the company was initially discussed, the idea has been scrapped after discussions with the team’s lawyers.
Awadallah says that the team was advised against that plan, as sharing revenue with the drivers, who are under the sponsorship of their respective taxi companies, could break Qatari sponsorship laws.
New ideas are now under consideration, he added.
QCab currently has the backing of some QR100,000 in seed money from QBIC, in the form of an interest-free loan that is expected to be paid back via a profit-sharing policy.
The group is also eligible to apply for additional funding of up to some QR4 million through QDB.
For Awadallah, an expat who has lived in Qatar his entire life, the app has caused him to leave his comfort zone as a mechanical engineer, though he continues to works full-time at RasGas.
“It’s completely different to what I had in mind initially,” he said. “But if you have an idea, why not go with it?”
Would you use the service once it’s up and running? Thoughts?