Posted by Taxi9n95 on December 12th, 2009 | 0 comments
I sat down to see what was taped on the DVR last week and I noticed that there were a gaggle (maybe a group? A pod?) of episodes of “100 Greatest Songs of the 90′s”, by that broadcasting giant that brought us “100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80′s” and “40 Naughtiest Celebrity Scandals” (Tiger Woods was too late to make the list) VH1. Of course, being the obsessive compulsive vidiot that I am, I was forced to flip through and see every song. Finally, I just went over to the computer, pulled up the list on VH-1′s website, went to I-Tunes and downloaded all of the songs that I didn’t already have on my i-pod. We do’t need to get into the “why” of it, because as musical eras go, the 90′s is one bubble gum pop song and two rap hits away from being the 1962 Mets of music, but suffice it to say that once I get into a project I tend to go overboard.
So now I’m fully downloaded with 90′s, I have my i-pod plugged into my car stereo, and for the last week or so I have been mentally revisiting the previous decade: carpools to Dalton with my elementary school kids, pipe bombs in Atlanta and the blue dress that never went to the cleaners. The songs, which play in alphabetical order due to my lack of i-pod savvy, reached M and I found myself listening to “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains. I reached a red light and turned to see what fascinating info my car screen was going to feed me about “Man in the Box”, and I saw that I had downloaded it off the Greatest Hits album. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Alice in Chains, or in fact against grunge music in general, and I understand that, taken literally, if you have eleven songs ten of them would by definition be greater hits than the eleventh, but let’s be honest. “Them Bones”, “Rooster” and “Angry Chair” would never make it into anyones “gotta have that song on my i-pod when I am stranded on a desert island” list. Even the grungiest of grunge fans.
“How does one get a roster of greatest hits anyway?”, I wondered. Ok, so Michael Jackson, Elton John, the Beatles, Billy Joel and even pop stars like Britney, all have greatest hits, some of them in more than one volume. The songs all made the charts, were played ad nauseum over the airways, and whether you liked them or not you had to agree that they were popular. In some cases you would even agree that they were great. But how many really sub-par groups annointed themselves as “great” by releasing a compendium of mediocre music and calling it “Greatest Hits”? Well, “Ratt” for one, and “Dexys Midnight Runners“, singers of that 80′s “take of your clothes” anthem, ”Come on Eileen”, which begs the question how can you be a one-hit wonder on one hand and have a greatest hits album on the other? The Boomtown Rats, who had more humanitarian hits with frontman Bob Geldof than they did musical hits, although “I don’t like Mondays” is a classic, have a greatest hits album. And the list goes on.
This got me to wondering what would be on the list if the rest of us had greatest hits albums. Al Gore would have a the hanging chad, a Nobel Peace Prize for scientific research that he didn’t do and it is questionable whether he understands, and the distinction of being the only person I know who’s married to someone named Tipper. Dan Quayle would have the day he became Vice-President, the day he learned how to spell “potato“, and the day he no longer had to be vice president, and Larry King would have the day he divorced wife number one, the day he divorced wife number two, the day… you get the picture.
To mutilate the metaphor still further in the name of somehow relating this to our basic topic, what if we all had to assemble our list of “greatest hits”? When you think about your business career, would it be more of a one hit wonder, or can you come up with a string of moves you have made and successes you have amassed that led you to where you are? Either way, are you content to rest on your laurels and collect royalties on your one big golden oldie hit, or are you continually striving to adapt, change, come up with new and innovative ideas and projects and find that next great hit? Sort of the U2 of the taxi industry.
For better or worse, in the transportation indsutry today you don’t often have the luxury of resting on your laurels. Technology changes so rapidly today, as do customer loyalties, that status quo is really not a viable option. The tech that we have added in the past ten years alone is mind boggling. Digital dispatch, automated cashiering, electronic credit card acceptance and GPS tracking have all become standard in fleets across the country. If you are in a major marketplace and your competition is dispatching digitally and accepting credit cards easily and quickly, you had better do so as well, or you will have to be twice as good in every other phase of your operation in order to maintain your customer base. With that in mind, let’s take a look at where we might need to go in the next couple of years.
Start with dispatching. The era where your customer will call you from home, or from the phone at the local bar, or the doctor’s office is over. Now they have you plugged into their cell phones, and they call from whatever streetcorner they might be standing on. This has a couple of ramifications. First, the value of that easily memorizeable phone number has diminished. It’s still important to have a good number, but don’t spend the money to buy (312) TAXICAB when you can better spend your money on new tech. Second, whoever makes the process the easiest for the iphone savvy thirty something traveler will get the new generation of business riders. These guys and gals all have ADD, they have no interpersonnal skills, so they don’t want to be talking to your dispatchers, and they live in the VERY fast lane, so speed is all. Ride Charge has a downloadable application (there’s an app for that) for i-phone and blackberry that can send calls from a rider’s phone directly into your dispatching system without ever bothering a call taker. Go Fast Cab has a similar system that is text based, where you text “taxi” to a certain number and that enters you directly into a taxi company’s dipsatch system. These two processes charge a per call fee, but if you can increase call volume without adding dispatchers it may be worth the cost. Unified Dispatch (UDI) has their new Uni-book system online, which routs calls directly to an automated dispatcher, again, bypassing call takers and speeding the phone call in the process. UDI charges a large fee up front for their services, but if you can reduce your call taking staff it soon pays for itself.
We have pretty much beaten the credit card issue to death, but there are a couple of updates. We have begun installation of Creative Mobile Technology’s (CMT) PIMs in the rear seats of our vehicles in Chicago. These units are already in operation in New York and Boston. We have approximately 500 units installed, and results are mixed. The units seem to be working okay, but the influx of credit card riders has yet to materialize. We attribute that mostly to the lack of recognition on the part of riders, and to the fact that only 10% of the city’s vehicles (albeit 20% of ours) have the units installed. We have begun our public relations campaign and we expect solid improvement. CMT has also come up with a far less expensive rear seat unit that works off of our current radio, thereby eliminating the cell phone charges inherent in the more robust unit. The new devices won’t be available for testing until February, and the obvious drawback is that radio transmission is generally less reliable and slower than cell phone technology, but they still get the credit card process into the rear seat where there is no risk of fraud, and less intimidation to your customers. Ride Charge is also currently working on a rear seat device, and Verifone has had one working in New York and Philadelphia for some time now.
The newest enhancement for credit card processing has more to do with drivers than passengers. We are working on a debit card for each driver that will allow us to send processed credit card fares directly to the driver thereby eliminating his need to come to our cashier to get his money, and reducing the need for cash at our locations. I believe that programs of this type are already in operation in San Francisco and San Diego. The issue that we have found is that most card issuers want to charge exhorbitant fees to your drivers to use the money they have already earned. We have found one card so far that has no fees for card usage as a debit card, and only local atm fees if the driver wants to withdraw cash. We are contemplating installing our own atm machines that will not charge fees to our drivers.
So, years from now when we look back do we know what our greatest hits will be? I doubt they will be what we think they are today, but here’s hoping we all make it to Volume II.
Update: A few days after the posting of this page Al Gore proved that he really did not understand the science.