You hail down the cab. You get in the cab. The meter starts running — and the cameras start rolling.

Calgary-based Associated Cabs Ltd. Tuesday said it had signed an agreement with Richmond, B.C.-based Digital Dispatch Systems Inc. to upgrade its dispatch system. The products in the suite will include Digital Dispatch’s recently introduced SmartCam surveillance camera, an MC1790 mobile computer and the SmartPrint mobile printer for use in its fleet of 400 vehicles.

“”We already have cameras in our cars, but these cameras are much better,”” said Roger Richard, president of Associated Cabs. “”They store more pictures, and they’re integrated into the computerized system, so the installation is quite a bit less.””

Dale Mortimer, Digital Dispatch’s vice-president of marketing, said that while in-car cameras aren’t new, most vendors see it only as an add-on product.

“”We figured it as a complementary product to our dispatch systems and in-vehicle computing equipment,”” he said. “”We’re able to leverage the equipment our customers already have in their cabs and therefore the addition of a surveillance system is quite inexpensive.””

The SmartCam includes global positioning system (GPS) vehicle tracking and dispatching. Each digital picture that the SmartCam takes contains embedded information including vehicle and driver identification, date, time and GPS co-ordinates. Richard said the SmartCam system can store up to 4,000 pictures. Digital Dispatch also includes an optional over-the-air emergency upload feature that allows taxicab drivers to covertly send images to the fleet company’s central dispatch office, where the images can be viewed or sent to the local police authority.

Richard said Associated Cabs first started installing cameras two years ago to increase security and potentially cut down on insurance costs.

“”It’s a deterrent, and it works,”” he said. “”I think it does spare us some incidents. It doesn’t save us 100 per cent, but it does a great deal. People have a tendency to be more careful when there’s a camera looking at them.””

Mortimer said cab companies sometimes turn to technology in order to attract drivers to their fleet. The Digital Dispatch system, for example, allows a system administrator to create rules around a job order that dispatchers cannot override.

“”In the past there’s been a lot of corruption with dispatchers — favouring people and that kind of stuff,”” he said. “”The systems that we put in have been something that’s taken those biases out and allowed cab operators to fairly distribute jobs between cabbies.””

Richard said his main priority was putting in place a solution that didn’t make dispatcher’s lives any harder.

“”It’s very easy to operate,”” he said, adding that it only takes a few hours to train dispatchers on the system. “”We’ve already got the GPS, but we don’t have the mapping in these terminals. The new terminals are touch-tone with all the goodies in it.””

Mortimer said that while some of his customers in the U.K. and Europe have significant IT expertise, others rely on third-party “”radio shops”” to install data systems as well.

“”The smaller companies here in North America tend to be the less-sophisticated ones,”” he said. “”We understand these challenges they might have.””

Mortimer said Associated Cabs, which has been a customer for more than five years, is the first organization to use the SmartCam in its fleet.


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