After a failed Uber partnership, Thai taxi operator launches own ride booking app

Howa unveils its HaHa app to keep up with ride-hailing firms in Thailand.

Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Braden Jarvis on Unsplash

Howa International Co, the Thai operator of Taxi Radio and Suvarnabhumi Taxi Cooperative, was supposed to partner with Uber in Thailand in 2017 and bring its fleet of 4,000 vehicles onboard the Uber app. But that did not happen as Uber exited Southeast Asia last year after its business in the region was acquired by Singapore-based ride-hailing giant Grab.

Last week, about two years since the failed Uber partnership, the 30-year-old Howa unveiled its own taxi-booking app, HaHa, with a BHT20 million (US$635,000) investment, in an attempt to compete with rivals Grab and Line’s taxi-hailing service in the local market.

According to an announcement published by the Bangkok Post, Howa will let go of its taxi radio services and undergo several technical upgrades that will allow it, among other things, to track locations of drivers through its HaHa app. It also plans to partner with universities to analyse its data to help better manage Thailand’s traffic.

The upgrade also involves offering passengers the option to pay digitally via the app. Howa now uses Mastercard’ digital payment platform for this, which allows passengers to connect debit and credit cards with the app.

The launch of Hawa’s app comes at a time when Grab and Go-Jek, the Southeast Asia ride-hailing duo has been speeding up their land grab moves in SEA, posing challenges to traditional taxi operators who are usually less advanced in tech.

Howa’s deputy managing director, Hudsadin Eamsherangkul, said the company aims to sign up 20,000 taxis to use its technology in the future. To reward drivers who do not cancel passenger bookings, the company will use a credit scoring system and assign jobs to high-scoring drivers first.

Howa does not directly compete with Grab and Line on Thai roads. According to reports, the app will focus on what Howa describes as premium passengers – those who are willing to pay a surcharge of BHT50 (US$1.58) to be picked up where they are, or even BHT150 (US$4.74) for an advance booking. These passengers are in prime areas such as hospitals, five-star hotels, and department stores.

Editor: Ben Jiang