Free Now CEO Thomas Zimmermann says car-hailing is part of the urban transport mix of the future

Thomas Zimmermann is used to slurping up the name.

I know pretty much all the jokes,” said Free Now’s recently appointed global CEO.

The taxi company’s name is still being called out on social media in frustration when someone has to wait. However, he insists that renaming “Hailo” a few years ago was a success.

“In most countries we now see a higher level of awareness than during the Hailo era,” he says.

Ireland, he says, remains “important” for the company, which now spans 10 countries across Europe with 54 million users and multiple services beyond taxis such as e-bikes and e-scooters.

But taxis are still the core brand in Ireland. And Herr Zimmermann says that another Christmas season of bottlenecks is upon us.

“There are always bottlenecks at Christmas because many drivers go on holiday,” he says.

But it’s not just that.

Many drivers have had to change jobs during the pandemic. Many didn’t come back

“We have generally seen post-pandemic supply shortages across Europe. Many drivers have had to change jobs during the pandemic. Many didn’t come back.”

The situation is improving now, he says, but not enough to prevent noticeable shortages in the coming weeks.

Is it difficult to get drivers?

“Basically yes,” he says. “There is competition [for them], particularly in the Irish market. There are also many formalities to complete and a test to pass.”

Are the regulations here too strict in this regard?

“Not necessarily,” he says. “I think it’s good that there are regulations because that includes a certain level of safety and quality that we can then deliver to our users, which is important. But I think it’s more about the motivational aspects.”

With “motivational aspects” Mr. Zimmermann speaks of public policy that helps to attract drivers to the labor market.

“While we offer training, it could also be something that comes from the city or the government,” he says.

“When you see a lack of drivers, you want to motivate this ecosystem because something other than public transport plays a very big role in the city’s overall infrastructure. Therefore, it should also be in the interests of the minister or the municipalities.”

Irish public policy on transport issues, which Free Now is interested in, has been a mixed bag for the company.

For example, Free Now, like others, has been ready to start rolling out e-scooter rentals for a while. But the legalization of e-scooters, which has now been expected, has been postponed by the government until 2023.

Is that a disappointment?

“Yes, to a certain extent,” says Zimmermann. “Because we can offer this service to Irish users. If you compare it to other countries where we have already launched a mobility offer, you can see the beauty for the end user in terms of cross-use.”

Free Now also has other ideas that will be adopted in Europe years before Irish authorities consider them. In Germany’s largest transit area, the company just launched an integrated ticketing system that allows people to link public transport with Free Now services in the same app.

The public transport system in Ireland is comparatively small

Dublin is on the list of hopefuls for service expansion. However, this would depend on bus and rail authority systems being interoperable. Given the slow pace at which Irish public transport systems are implementing technology, this seems an unlikely scenario.

“There are definitely plans to go to more European cities to integrate public transport.

“But in Dublin it’s hard to say. You don’t have a central API for public transport systems. And then there’s how great the demand is. The public transport system in Ireland is comparatively small.”

There are other reasons Free Now would like to see an acceleration of such integrated ticketing. Across Europe, cars are in the early stages of banning in cities. Paris, Oslo and Ghent are seen as the forerunners of what could become the norm in major European cities over the next decade.

As a company that still relies primarily on rental cars, is that a concern?

“Actually, not very much,” he says. “To an extent, I would say it’s the opposite. What we strive for as a company is to change the cityscape in metropolitan areas. Cars sometimes take up space that could be put to better use, right? And then you have all the traffic jams and stuff that comes with it. [In some of those cities banning cars] It’s private cars not allowed but you can enter if you use a carsharing or use a ride hailing service. So it’s not like the city is shutting down completely or that nobody is [in a car] can get in. They just want to limit it.”​

Download or stream today’s interview to listen to the full interview The big tech show Podcast on every podcast platform. Free Now CEO Thomas Zimmermann says car-hailing is part of the urban transport mix of the future

Fry Electronics Team

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