Taxi fleet ditches voice dispatch as costs come down

A West coast taxicab company is hoping to take advantage of falling costs in order to install the same kind of computer-based dispatch system used by its larger counterparts.

With less than 60 cars, White Rock, B.C.-based Pacific Cabs has been using a voice dispatch system to run its fleet.

Under that system, a call taker would answer the phone, take down the details of a job and hand it over to the dispatcher, who would then radio all the cars in the fleet to see who was in the area and available to take the job.

That process will all be automated as the company installs Pathfinder from Richmond, B.C.-based Digital Dispatch Systems Inc. (DDS).

Dale Mortimer, DDS’s vice-president of marketing, said the sale to Pacific Cabs is the first North American taxi implementation for Pathfinder. The company currently operates an older system, TaxiTrack, with a number of North American companies, and has sold Pathfinder into Europe. Pathfinder will be its main dispatch product for North America as well.

Mortimer said the voice dispatch system used by Pacific used to be the standard for the industry, but over time most of the larger companies have adopted digital systems. The early adopters were those who could really reap the benefits, because with a 500 car fleet voice dispatch can be quite expensive and complicated, he said. Smaller companies were slower to adopt the technology because of the costs involved, but that’s changing, he added.

“”We’re getting to the point now where smaller fleets are starting to realize the benefits of a data dispatch system, and the costs have come down over the years,”” said Mortimer. “”When we first started deploying these you had to put in a VAX or PDP system from Digital that cost tens of thousands of dollars, and now we can run them on PC servers which cost a few thousand dollars.””

When someone calls for a cab the call taker enters the request into the Pathfinder system. The computer will then automatically dispatch it to the closest free vehicle. The dispatcher can watch all the activity, and intervene manually if there are any problems.

Each vehicle is equipped with a mobile data terminal with a built in GPS receiver, which features a map allowing drivers to find jobs, and lets dispatchers monitor vehicle locations. Mortimer said they’ve written all the software, which is built on an Oracle database running Windows. The wireless data network connecting the system will run over Pacific’s existing radio network.

“”With their voice dispatch system they have radios in the cars, and they have a big transmitter site broadcasting over the Lower Mainland,”” said Mortimer. “”What we basically do is take this old voice grade system and put a data layer over it.””

Pacific Cabs general manager Tim Land said it took some time to convince the taxi operators here it would be better to have a computer dispatch system versus a voice system, but he’s worked with computer systems before and said it is far more efficient.

“”We wanted to get away from the voice dispatch,”” said Land. “”It just takes too much time to dispatch cars through a voice dispatch system, and we wanted to simplify things a little bit.””

Land said Pacific looked at various systems from different companies, and DDS seemed to have the best package for its needs. They wanted a system with GPS capability, and wanted to work with a local company for ease of maintenance and servicing.

“”Another thing we really like about it is that is has the credit card verification system in every car, so drivers won’t be having to ask for verification for credit cards everytime they do a transaction,”” said Land. “”That’s especially convenient for our airport guys, because they do a lot of credit card trips.””

Land adds the system, which should be in place by the end of next month, will be a lot better for the customer too.

“”They won’t have to listen to the talk on the radio during the trip, since it’s all digital it will be a lot quieter,”” said Land. “”It will be a lot safer too, because often times when we get credit card approval it’s done over the air on the radio, that will stop with this system.””


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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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