A few months ago the folks at SplitCab reached out to me to ask that I include them in my peer-to-peer travel resources spreadsheet. Similar to Uber Pool and Lyft Line, SplitCab facilitates riders sharing a taxi, but unlike Uber and Lyft these are commercial cars. And initially SplitCab is focusing on the London Heathrow airport to central London route. The SplitCab founder offered me a discount code if I wanted to try out their service next time I visited London. On my recent trip to the UK I took advantage of this offer to get from LHR to the city.
First, I want to warn users that SplitCab is meant to be used to book cars in advance. I didn’t realize this and so by the time I got through immigration and started looking at the app I learned that the soonest I could book a car was an hour away. Still, that wasn’t too bad, especially since we had plans to grab a quick shower in the airport lounge. We could just hang out there and have some free lunch and wifi while waiting on our car. So I put in our ride details, and booked the car using a credit card in the app. It was quite easy to use. For my airport to Kings Cross station ride the price was £16 per person. That’s pretty cheap for one person, but starts to get inefficient if you are traveling with companions.
London Heathrow airport is served by both an express train and the London Underground. The SplitCab pricing is competitive with the Heathrow Express which costs £36 round trip per person. The Underground costs only £6 per person (or£3.10 off peak if you have an Oyster card), but it’s slower. According to Google Maps, in the middle of the day it takes about the same amount of time to drive from LHR to Kings Cross station as it does to take the Heathrow Express train. This is because, although the Express is very fast, it doesn’t go all the way to the station and so there is more time (and money) required to transfer to the Underground. In the end, for two people, it looks like SplitCab is cheaper, and at least as fast as taking the express train, provided there isn’t too much traffic.
Once they get a critical mass of users, the SplitCab concept is to deploy private cars that pick up the designated riders from the airport so that multiple people are sharing a ride into the city. Presumably this car sharing would slow down your journey a bit as you have to pick up people from other terminals and drop them off in other parts of the city. But it is quite a luxurious way to travel. Once they iron out the system on the airport route SplitCab plans to launch local London rides as well.
I got the sense that there was some manual intervention required for our trip, but that might be partly my fault since I didn’t book in advance. The app asks for your flight information, which I dutifully entered. But then 15 minutes before our car was supposed to arrive I got a call from someone at SplitCab asking me if I was still at the airport since my flight had landed a few hours before. I assured him that we were still there and ready for our car. He then told me exactly where to go wait for the driver who would show up with a sign with my name on it.
Sure enough, 10 minutes later the driver (who’s name and picture we had from the SplitCab app) appeared with a placard. We were his only customers and we enjoyed a private ride to the city in his very comfortable car. He seemed to be using the SplitCab app (a driver’s version) for the journey, both to manage the trip and navigate. Overall a pretty smooth and very comfortable transit experience.