Former cab driver tries to divert his 400-year-old sector

Darren Tenney once drove cabs and now wants to disrupt the sector through a new app and platform

The British cab industry is ancient, dating back over 400 years and there has long been enmity between minicabs and the premium-priced Hackney carriage taxis (‘black cabs') that are such a feature of London and other UK cities. But in recent years the sector has received a series of shocks, most notably the emergence of ride hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft, as well as bike rental schemes, rickshaws and other transit options. Uber, Lyft and others took advantage of the ubiquity of smartphones, app stores, GPS and user reviews to reinvent how people got from A to B but now a new challenger is attempting to divert the market… based on the owner's personal knowledge as a former private-hire driver.

Launched in May 2019, the service, which is branded under the tricky name of xooox (pronounced ‘Zooks'), is the brainchild of driver-turned-entrepreneur Darren Tenney. With xooox, passengers can search via an iOS or Android apps for all available minicabs, black cabs and other taxis in their area, making choices based on factors including fare price, car type, emissions, estimated time of arrival, space, number of seats and accessibility.

Eureka moment

Tenney went on from driving to the business world, working at at United Biscuits and Bayer, but he was born into driving for hire.

"I grew up with my father and grandfather who were both cab drivers and all I ever heard about was taxi drivers," Tenney recalls. "I had a little bit of insight that I didn't realise I had. I had the idea eight years ago but there wasn't the technology. There were so many apps but they were just following the old ways to get a passenger. With xooox, drivers and passengers get complete control, including what they charge and pay.

"I had the idea in 2010 while I was shaving and came out and said, ‘I've got it!' My daughter thought I'd lost the plot. The taxi industry's been disrupted for years and the regulators don't know how to deal with it: there's the wars between black cabs and private hire and then Uber… the industry is saturated. We're trying to harmonise the industry and get it back to being all about passengers. We're acting as an Airbnb-style broker. Uber is trying to control the human being and we're trying to turn that on its head and allow the human being to control the technology."

The giant, algorithm-powered services have won valuations worth tens of billions of dollars but Tenney remains a sceptic.

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