Fleet hits the streets with automated dispatch

An Ottawa-based cab company is taking advantage of IT to both get its drivers out to calls faster and to pay them more quickly.Coventry Connections Inc., which runs a call centre for seven taxi fleets, says it can dispatch a call for a pick up to the appropriate cab within 15 seconds.
As soon as a call comes in, Coventry operators know which of the seven taxi companies in Ottawa, Cornwall and Oshawa it’s for. A personalized recording for the call centre employees first picks up the call and thanks the customer for calling the appropriate cab company. The employee then takes over, confirms where the customer is calling from and the computer finds the appropriate cab using Mobile Knowledge Cabmate, Mobile Knowledge Series 6000 Mobile Data Terminals, and a Sprint Canada toll-free and frame relay data network service. The information is sent to the cab driver’s on-board computer. If drivers accept a job, then they can press a button on the computer as they approach the pick up location which causes the computer to phone customers and inform them that the cab is approaching.
“They can put on their coat, and as they head out the door, the cab is coming,” says Hanif Patni, Coventry’s chief executive officer and president.
Coventry operates this call centre service for seven cab companies, including Blue Line Taxi fleets in Ottawa, Gloucester and Oshawa and DJ’s Taxis in Kanata and Nepean.
By the time smaller cab companies pay for on-board computers, they can’t afford to put in a centralized call centre, Patni says.
He admits it’s difficult at first for cab drivers to get used to the data dispatch system.
“Whenever cab drivers have a voice system and go to the data system, initially they feel like there’s something missing. There’s no noise in the cab, but there’s less tension. It’s nice and quiet — they can listen to music.”
With the data system, drivers don’t have to write anything down, he says. The system also eliminates problems with understanding different accents, Patni says.
In fact, once cab drivers get used to the data system, they don’t want to go back to voice-based dispatch, he says. If for some reason Coventry has to go back to voice, some cab drivers just pull over and say they’ll wait till the data system comes back online, Patni says.
The call centre has 20 seats, but generally there are only about 10 to 12 people staffing it, including supervisors.
Along with running the call centre, Coventry must also pay some 2,000 drivers who operate about 850 cabs.
Cab drivers pay Coventry a fee for maintenance, insurance and equipment rentals. In turn, Coventry pays the drivers for the taxi chits they collect.
Coventry then bills its corporate clients for the cost of the taxi chits — it could take as long as 45 days to collect the money, says Leslie Buchanan, a vice-president, administrator and controller with Coventry.
The company uses SIA’s Common Sense ERP system, which is built on IBM’s WebSphere technology to help handle its financial management processes.
The cashiering application also resides on Common Sense and is integrated to the financial management tools, says SIA’s Andy Frankel, a principal and solution advisor for On Demand business.
Coventry recently upgraded to an IBM iSeries server so it could support a GUI version of Common Sense, Buchanan says.
Thanks to the upgrade, Coventry is now paying slightly less for a more robust machine, Buchanan says.
The switch over was done on a Friday afternoon, after the office was closed and did not affect the dispatch side, she says.
The upgrade “really provides the platform for Coventry to become an On Demand business,” Frankel says. With the i5 operating system, Coventry will be able to integrate an application server, database, Web server and Java server all into a single box, Frankel says.
“That’s what drives integration,” he says. “What we’ve done is effectively integrate IBM middleware in order to help customers extend their business processes.”
This is just what Coventry is planning to do. The company is going to introduce credit and debit account cards as well as prepaid cards that can eliminate many of the paper chits and further automate their systems. Patni hopes to introduce the account cards to one of Coventry’s fleets by April.
Currently, processing the taxi chits is a very manual process, Buchanan says. As the chits come in, they are sorted by customers and invoices are sent out.
The company is also preparing to roll out prepaid cards — Taxi Tab — next year. Parents worried about their children drinking and driving could buy such cards as stocking stuffers and presents, Patni says.
The cards could also be recharged over the phone using a credit card.

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