Taxi app Hailo is “actively” looking into allowing its customers to pay with bitcoin, according to company CEO Jay Bregman.
The company, which lets users hail taxis via its own app, could even allow bitcoin to be sent directly to drivers, he said in an interview with CoinDesk, a move that would set the company apart from other bitcoin-accepting businesses.
To-date most merchants have chosen bitcoin payment solutions that convert bitcoin directly to fiat currency.
“We have [always] sought to find independent ways to provide benefit to our drivers and our passengers. I believe strongly that bitcoin is one of these ways. Absolutely, like many other things, we actively looking into it,” said Bregman.
Stressing that his comments were made in a personal capacity, he said that bitcoin could become an optional way of settling your bill with Hailo, but that it wouldn’t replace the current user-authorisation process, which requires a credit or debit card.
“I don't envisage [bitcoin] to be necessarily a primary way of people accessing the service [...] but it would be your optional way of settlement. We would be able to take the money from your bitcoin wallet and transfer it to us, or even the driver directly.”
To set up such a service, he said, Hailo would seek to connect with an existing bitcoin wallet provider instead of hosting wallets itself. The experience would be similar to paying with a credit or debit card, where the bill is settled automatically by pulling money from the customer’s account, said Bregman.
This would require partnership with a bitcoin wallet service that holds their users’ private keys.
A major advantage of accepting bitcoin payments, Bregman said, was the potential to help some drivers avoid remittance fees when sending their income to family or friends abroad.
“Bitcoin could provide benefit to our suppliers as well as our passengers. If you think about the way to do this, you might do it in such a way that you opened up a bitcoin wallet for your driver at the same time as connecting one for your passenger.”
Drivers who then chose to receive bitcoin directly could transfer that bitcoin internationally, virtually for free, or use one of a handful of new bitcoin remittance companies, which convert into local currencies and charge far lower fees than legacy payments companies like Western Union.
“Some of our drivers are spending significant amounts of their income remitting money,” said Bregman. “What if we could help them solve that problem and therefore change their cost structure by 10, 20%, that would be huge. So why wouldn't we? That's the real question.”
Disrupting an industry
As well as fierce competition from rivals like Uber, Hailo has faced opposition from London black cab drivers in recent months. The app, founded by Bregman and two other black cab drivers, previously only allowed users to hail black cabs, but has now extended its service to private hire vehicles also. In May, the company’s offices in London were vandalized.
Bregman rejected the suggestion that bitcoin payments were a distraction when Hailo has more important challenges to address, saying, “I don't think anything that could provide that substantial level of benefit to our drivers alone is a distraction.”
He declined to comment on when Hailo would begin accepting bitcoin payments, but said he wasn’t concerned about beating Uber or Lyft to being the first taxi app to accept bitcoin.
“We roll out things because it's the right time and it's right for our focus on our priorities, not just because we want to beat the other guy.”