Taxi service grows with wireless apps

An Ottawa-based taxi service has installed a new communication platform that brings the company one step closer to national expansion, according to its president.

Coventry Connections Inc. runs the Blue Line taxi service in Ottawa. The company also provides dispatch, credit card processing, driver insurance and other services to competing fleets.

According to Hanif Patni, Coventry’s president, the company wanted to expand across Canada, but it didn’t want to set up new contact centres to accept customer calls for service in every location.

Instead it created a centralized taxi command centre in Ottawa, where call centre staffers take all customer requests.

Coventry sourced toll-free service from Sprint Canada, so customers calling for cabs in, say, Moncton, N.B., need not dial an Ottawa area code to reach the call centre. Coventry also signed on to Sprint Canada’s Frame Relay network, which carries IP-based text and voice traffic to a private radio network, which, in turn, connects to cab receivers, Patni said.

The firm purchased Cabmate Dispatch Software, made by Ottawa-based Mobile Knowledge Inc. According to the software vendor, Cabmate rides on a combined Unix-Windows platform, and offers automated booking via interactive voice response (IVR) technology, automated order-entry for quicker call processing for Coventry staffers, as well as an automated customer call-back feature to alert clients of their cabs’ imminent arrivals.

The centralized call centre lets Coventry expand to new locations without building new call centres for those spots, Patni said, adding that national expansion also helps the firm make better use of its human resources.

He pointed out that each day presents a number of service-request peaks and valleys — calls flood in for the morning rush at 7 a.m., fall off until just before lunch, when they peak again. That cycle repeats in the evening as people call for cab rides home from work and, the next peak, for rides to and from nighttime entertainment venues.

“You have order takers working at full capacity during the bumps but during the troughs they’re twiddling their thumbs,” Patni said. “If we go across time zones, the call taking staff at 6 a.m. would be taking calls for the Maritimes, at 8 a.m. they’d take the eastern calls and at 9 a.m. they’d be taking the Prairies…You get better utilization of the staff.”

Patni said Coventry chose Sprint Canada’s service largely because the price was right, while Mobile Knowledge got the call centre contract because the software vendor could provide a system that handles multiple fleets — important for a company like Coventry, which serves not only its own cabs, but also has other fleets as clients. Patni said Mobile Knowledge designed some code specifically for his firm and its multiple-fleet requirements.

Patni said Coventry employs technology to improve efficiency. In Oshawa, Ont., for instance, where Coventry also operates, Blue Line cabs have Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that give HQ a mark on each car, so dispatch can allocate calls to the taxi closest to the customer. Patni said GPS, coupled with the functionality found in the Cabmate software at the call centre, cuts down the time-to-pick up substantially, and it spells more revenue-generating miles for drivers. They don’t have to travel halfway across the city to pick up clients when only the cab closest to the action gets the call.

Not all drivers, however, want GPS in their vehicles, indicating that users can sometimes be the hurdle before successful high-tech implementations. “Blue Line in Ottawa doesn’t have all of this high-end equipment,” Patni said. “The drivers tend to be nervous about putting in GPS. They’re unfamiliar with the technology. It’s going to take more time to put it in Ottawa itself.”

As for Coventry’s expansion plans, the firm means to bring dispatch and taxi-related services to Ontario locations first, then to other provinces. Patni said the company hasn’t decided yet whether it should also expand the Blue Line fleet alongside the dispatch offerings.

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