Around 600 drivers are currently active on the Free Now platform. For comparison: Before Corona it was 1200. Many drivers withdrew completely during the Corona period, as demand collapsed completely. According to Mönch, some of them have switched to short-time work or switched to parcel and delivery services. Currently, demand has picked up again, but is nowhere near the pre-crisis level. The demand from business travelers, which is very important in Vienna, did not return to the same extent. But at the moment it is also impossible to foresee whether the corona measures will depress demand – or possibly even stimulate according to the motto “now even more”.
However, a driver could currently earn well with a clever division of his driving times, because: “We have a handlebar market,” says Mönch. The Free Now platform also provides regular information on when there is a particularly high shortage and when drivers can do a lot of business. Currently the travel costs are “very close” to the tariff. A quarter of the trips are actually made by business customers with premium tariffs – the prices are 15 to 20 percent above the tariff.
According to the Vienna Taxi Ordinance, there is a basic rate that may be under or overrun by a maximum of 20 percent. It practically came into force at the beginning of the corona crisis and the associated slack demand, which is why prices are often based on the lower end of the price range – and some platforms also illegally undercut them, as Mönch said in an interview with journalists. Also, some platforms would have waived the charging of the two euro radio fee – although this also contradicts the legal situation. With Free Now this is out of the question, assures Mönch.
Free Now was founded in 2010 and has been represented in Austria for ten years. You do not do the lion’s share of the business with the mediation of taxi rides. However, one increasingly sees oneself as an agent for a wide variety of mobility services. You can also use the platform to book e-bikes, e-scooters from Tier (and voi) and e-mopeds (emmy) or rent cars (Drive Now) or charge e-cars (Charge Now). There are also talks with the City of Vienna to include public transport in the Free Now platform – for example, you could book a subway ride through the city with a subsequent e-scooter to your destination from a single source. The aim is “to reduce individual motorized traffic,” says Mönch.
Free Now is also involved in the electrification of the taxi fleet, said Mönch. Currently only 10 e-taxis are driving for the platform, but the goal of not allowing any new taxis with combustion engines from 2025 is not too ambitious in his view. Taxi drivers are currently being asked what incentives they need to switch to e-taxis. In any case, Free Now wants – across Europe – to offer half of all tours “locally” by 2025, i.e. during operation, emission-free, by 2030 it should be 100 percent.
Free Now, a 50:50 joint venture between BMW and Daimler since 2019, is active in over 150 cities in Europe and serves 27 million users with 230,000 drivers. In Austria, the offer is available in Vienna, Linz and Salzburg as well as occasionally in other places such as Innsbruck, if drivers have registered there.