A service provider for taxi fleets, an integrated communications solutions company and a mobile data solutions firm have joined forces to provide an inter-city computerized taxi command and control system that promises to help taxi businesses reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
Coventry Connections, a company that provides services for seven taxi fleets in Ontario, recently selected Sprint Canada and Mobile Knowledge to help implement the system, which they called both the largest centralized taxi operations system in Canada and the first to operate across multiple cities. Pursuant to the arrangement, Sprint Canada will provide toll free and frame relay data network services, while Mobile Knowledge will provide its Cabmate software to power Coventry’s centralized call centre in Ottawa.
Roy Williams, general manager of Blue Line Taxi in Oshawa and a user of Coventry’s call centre services, said that the ability to outsource dispatch functions will result in benefits not only for his drivers, employees and customers, but also his three-month-old company.
“”At the end of your shift, it usually works out that if you have 200 km on your car, you will have $200 dollars in your pocket,”” said Williams. “”So what we try to do is instead of having 200 km on your car, we would like you to have that money in your pocket with only 160 km or 150 km on your car. The only time taxis make money is when they’re operating with passengers in their vehicles -— not when they’re driving to pick one up. What we’re trying to do is cut back on that time. We can cut that by about 30 per cent.””
Williams said his company is saving money on mileage because the fewer miles racked up by his 50-taxi fleet over the course of each 12-hour shift, the less money required to maintain the vehicles. And then there’s the savings from not having to employ in-house dispatchers, which he said would likely have cost him between $6,000 and $7,000 per week. Outsourcing dispatching duties, he added, has reduced his weekly payroll by $3,000 a week and has resulted in shorter wait times for customers.
According to Hanif Patni, CEO of Coventry Connections, his company’s command and dispatch centre is necessary because the North American taxi industry is far less efficient than the taxi industries in European centres and some in Asian centres like Japan and Singapore.
His company’s concept, he said, entails using the system to efficiently process calls from multiple cities and multiple fleets, taking incoming calls from customers who call particular fleets in particular cities, processing those calls in Coventry’s call centre in Ottawa, finding the appropriate taxi cabs and then delivering the appropriate calls.
“”Generally speaking, in a city like Oshawa where we operate, a typical taxi company would take approximately 45 seconds to maybe two or three minutes to answer a call from a customer,”” said Patni, whose company owns Blue Line Taxi fleets in Ottawa, Gloucester and Oshawa as well as DJ’s Taxis in Kanata/Nepean. “”And (they) may take another two or three minutes to process that call over the voice radio.
“”Compared to that, our standards are some of the highest in North America. We take an average call in between 15 and 20 seconds. We can allocate the right cab in a second or two, and we can send that information to that right cab for the driver’s acceptance within another second or two after that. So it would be extremely rare for the transaction not to be completed, and the cab driver not knowing where he has to go, in excess of 30 seconds.””
It’s quite complex to manage a large fleet of cabs, stressed Mick Chawner, president and CEO of Mobile Knowledge in Kanata, Ont. Ensuring that drivers get fair cracks at all the fares and that customers get the closest vehicle or at least a vehicle within a reasonable distance from them, he continued, requires using the right technology.
“”(Coventry’s) gone one step farther in that they’ve partnered with Sprint so that not only do we do dispatch for multiple fleets, but we do dispatch for multiple fleets in multiple locations,”” said Chawner. “”So now we’ve taken it to the point where we can have dispatch done here in Ottawa for a fleet in Oshawa, using Sprint’s frame relay network. That means we’ve got to take all that data and the voice communication and send it down to Oshawa or send it back from Oshawa to Ottawa in real-time so that the managers, the call takers and the call dispatchers and the supervisors here in Ottawa can manage the fleet in Oshawa as if it was here in Ottawa.””
Although Blue Line Taxi has only been using the solution for three months, Williams said it has already benefited his operations.
“”Having voice over data means the gentleman on the two-way radio can actually talk here in Oshawa or Toronto to Ottawa directly,”” he said, “”as if they’re just down the street like a normal taxi company. So we have everything but at a great savings to us as an operation.””