Toronto cab company dispatches GPS, POS to taxis

A Toronto taxi company is in the midst of a pilot phase after deploying an automated dispatching technology meant to streamline the process of connecting cabs to waiting customers.

A handful of Co-op Cabs have been outfitted with IntelliFleet mobile data in-cab computers and software. Ron Boulton, national product manager with the taxi division for Mentor Engineering Inc., the Calgary-based company providing the technology, described it as “an automated system that displays on an MDC – mobile data computer – where there are trips waiting and taxis parked.”

Boulton was actually a cab driver and dispatcher “way back in the day” and said he comprehends the challenges inflicting the business. “I understand what companies are saying to me when they start talking taxi,” he joked, adding that drivers would have to use voice dispatch systems that required constant communication with the dispatch centre.

The GPS component of the Intellifleet technology will route customer requests to the closest available cab in that neighbourhood – so from the time a customer calls, the information “is displayed in the taxi in less than two seconds,” said Boulton. In other words, the dispatcher needs only enter the customer address into the system and the rest is automated.

The GPS technology also works as a safety feature for cabs, letting the dispatch centre know their location at all times, and helps new drivers figure out directions to a particular location.

Co-op Cabs CEO and general manager, Peter Zahakos, expects the makeover to make the process not only more efficient, but allow cab drivers to better “hustle” – or book customer pickups while en route with another customer – and therefore increase their revenue.

Cab drivers on the road who encounter system issues have a dedicated voice channel to a dispatcher, effectively making the system-trained dispatcher an IT help desk of sorts, said Zahakos.

Although the use of GPS in vehicles is not exactly a novel concept and used amply in the transit industry, said Boulton, it will become more common-place with taxi companies as the falling cost of the technology makes adoption increasingly feasible. Most taxi companies, he added, are privately-owned, therefore making investment in such IT systems costly.

Besides enhanced GPS capabilities, Co-op Cabs is also using wireless point of sales (POS) technology from St. Catharines, Ont.-based POS provider Tangerine Concepts Corp., to give customers more payment options besides cash. The upgrade will also mean broader and clearer reception so fewer payment transactions get dropped and customers can exit vehicles faster, said Zahakos. The company plans to deploy the system upgrades across all 450 taxis in mid-May.

Streamlining the dispatching process aside, Co-op Cabs is also striving to make the cab ride more entertaining for the customer with interactive kiosks at the back of the vehicle. By the end of this summer, 500 cabs in Toronto – primarily those of Co-op Cabs – will be outfitted with touch screen monitor systems that deliver Flash-based advertising, said Jason Powers, director of marketing at Vaughn, Ont.-based Showcase Media Group Inc., the company that built the mobile media advertisement technology.

Eventually, said Powers, the system will offer more interactive services like locating restaurants and events, purchasing movie tickets, and partaking in real-estate tours. “[Customers] will have a lot more things to entertain them along the way,” he said.

Currently about 150 cabs in Toronto have the technology that features only advertisements. Actually, the touchscreen monitor technology is undergoing a trial period in Las Vegas with two taxi companies with 1850 cabs, and will go meanstream this fall, said Powers, who just put forth a bid to a Californian-based taxi company’s request-for-proposal to use the technology.

“It’s really just on the horizon. I’d say in two years you’ll see at least a thousand taxis with touchscreen monitors in the back of taxis [in Toronto].”

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