Good Riddence or There is no D in Kristoff

I was reading Nicholas Kristof’s first blog of the New Year as it was tweeted to me (yes, I tweet). In it he graciously explains how, yes, he did graduate from Harvard, but now he is a man of the people, so he is dropping the pretentious middle initial. And the tie. Hence the joke, “How are the 2014 Knicks like the 2014 Kristof? No D.” My first reaction was, “Why would he think anyone would care?” I am a huge Kristof fan, but really, get a grip.

One good thing which did come from my reading of the blog was the realization that there are so many things out there that no on cares about, and which we could probably do without in 2014. Naturally I felt compelled to make a list. In no particular order.

Miley Cyrus’s tongue. We were treated to a tongue lashing this year by the twerking pop star who is determined to distance herself from Hannah Montana. I can live with the music, work on the fashion, keep the tongue where it belongs. You are not Michael Jordan.

Movies starring Will Ferrell. has anyone else noticed that they are all the same movie? Same lead character, same jokes, same dialogue. At least Adam Sandler did Spanglish.

People who use “hashtag” in conversation. “My blind date thought I was so immature. Hashtag stuck up.” #lame #getalife

And closely related but from a slightly older crowd, air quotes. Anybody dumb enough not to understand your sarcasm, irony or clever innuendo will probably just think you are snapping at mosquitoes anyway. Go back to the wild gesticulations and leave the air quotes home.

Anything Kardashian. I know the show has a huge following, but consider this. If “Keeping Up” went the way of the Kristof D would anyone really be put out? Other than Rob Kardashian of course. I don’t think so.

Travis Kalanick, or “The High Kalanick” as he is known to his employees. We get it. You want to be somebody. You want the 30 something crowd to like you. You have to be “disruptive”. But your own customers and investors wouldn’t really mind if you just clammed up for a bit and let your product speak for itself.

Movies that last more than two hours and thirty minutes. Maybe it’s just me and my rapidly receding 50th birthday, but there is no way I am going to sit through a three hour Leonardo Di Caprio Movie In a theater. I’ll wait for cable thanks. Anybody going to miss “Waterworld”?

Retail car salesmen. Isn’t it about time we said “No Mas” to the bait and switch, the nebulous price, the “Let me check with my manager in the back?” Vending machines. Put in a credit card, select your options, it gives you a firm price. No haggling. Put your credit card in the slot and drive home.

Borough Presidents. What exactly do they do anyway? After they run for office I mean. Has anyone ever looked back and said, “ Helen Marshall! Now there was a great borough president.” Or a bad one for that matter. Does anyone care?

Coming soon to a blog near you, top things we actually do want to see in 2014. Stay tuned “airquote.

Physician Heal Thyself

So we close out the year 2013, almost 18 months after my last post, with the taxi world in a panic. “Rogue”apps (mind you, they are not red, so rOUge apps would be inappropriate) are everywhere. Green cabs cruise the outer boroughs of New York City (but never midtown manhattan because that would be illegal) and the New York Knicks look like the ’62 Mets. So who’s to blame for the mess that we are in? Knicks aside, take a look in the mirror.

We have always been a short sighted industry as a group. “How can I keep my fiefdom?” Status quo was the rallying cry. In my 20s I would sit in rooms of fleet owners who paid lobbyists to keep the city from adding medallions to the New York City fleet. I asked why and I was told that it would be bad for business. The fact that service was sketchy didn’t seem to bother anyone. So instead of 500 new taxicabs we wound up with 70,000 new liveries and black cars. Good business decision. For the past 20 years I have been asking my fellow owners in New York what we are doing to supply transportation to the outer boroughs. I even testified at the city council once that New York would be a heck of a lot better off with 25,000 taxicabs with dispatch equipment than with 13,000 silent taxis and 60,000 radio only liveries. Again, the status who reigned until this year. Now we have up to 20,000 more vehicles coming that can pick up off the street, and if you think when things get slow on west 97th street that they are not going to sidle down to 84th street you are sadly misinformed about the enforcement capabilities of the TLC.

Now look around the country, and at your own little kingdom. How many calls a day go unanswered? How many calls do you accept which later get dropped by uncaring drivers? All these missed calls are food morsels for the bottom feeders. In the past these transportation hyenas have always been gypsy cabs, with little political clout and no public sympathy. So we kept dropping morsels, until there was enough food to feed not only the hyenas but the lions as well.

So now the fire alarm is raised and everyone is running out to get their own app because they think that what the public desires is a good solid app. But you cannot build an app that competes with theirs. You cannot maintain an app like they can. So you hire a company to do it for you. But that company can’t afford to advertise and market their app, so basically all you are doing is moving your old loyal customers to a new dispatch system, and paying for the privilege. In the meantime, the ride sharing companies and electronic transportation companies are rolling up all the customers you were never able to satisfy.

It is all well and good to update you methodology, but if you don’t fix the problem you will still be dropping morsels and feeding the zoo. Bringing in more calls through an app when your drivers were unable to answer the calls you already had is like throwing kerosene on a fire and expecting it to go out. All you will do is convince you customers that, yes, apps are a good way to call a cab, but no, your company is not the one for me. You need to do both. Ungrade your systems, find an app that works for you, but redesign your program so that you can better service your customers. Don’t accept 17 time orders for 6:30 am going to the airport when you know you will only have 12 cars available. Don’t tell people you will let them know when a car comes available on a rainy Friday night when you know it will be an hour at least before someone even thinks about coming to get them. Then you can look at some more novel solutions.

Think about using the regulations that are already on the books and the tools you have available to lighten your peak load. If your municipality caps the number of taxicabs, but it doesn’t cap the number of liveries or limousines, then maybe you should start adding some part time liveries. It is generally easier for new drivers to get livery licenses than taxicab licenses, so maybe take a few of the cars you have replaced in your fleet, put the on as liveries, and get some part time drivers to answer the overload calls at peak times. Pay them as employees if you have to, but get the customers to their destinations. If you only give them the calls that are sitting on the board more than 10 minutes you are not really cannibalizing the calls of your taxi fleet.

Be novel. Think out of the box. Be the best and most efficient company you can be. Those should be your resolutions for 2014.

You Cant Make This Stuff Up

This must be an incredibly easy time to be a comedy writer. Every week we have another politician vying for the rights to be the week’s favorite target. Just recently we have had a European PM candidate and an influential banker both arrested on sexual assault charges. In hotels. In New York City. Where there are cameras everywhere. Last week I was in Chicago and asked for extra towels and they sent a swat team. And not to be outdone by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Anthony Weiner twitted his, well, weiner, to a twenty something college student and claimed that his account was hacked. This was just after his dog ate his homework. The most fascinating part about these scandals, especially the Weiner thing, is that they actually expect people to believe their story. Really.

And in taxi news, Chicago: Commissioner Reyes resigns as the new mayor begins his term. Hopefully not bad for the taxicab industry. We wish her all the best.

New York:  The taxi of tomorrow will be a Nissan minivan. Unless the accessible lobby wins their lawsuit. Or the city can’t come to a contractual agreement with Nissan for 10 years of production starting 3 years from now, or the industry doesn’t sue in federal court and win for the third time. Personally, I can’t wait to have taxicabs with moon roofs. That’s exactly what we have been missing all of these years.

And the outer borough debate rages on. How do we get legitimate, efficient taxicab service to riders in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and upper Manhattan? The taxicab industry has backed a city proposal to issue (issue means sell in municipal economic speak) 1500 new medallions. The new yellow medallions would come with a number of “outer borough” medallions attached to them. The outer borough medallions will each allow one vehicle to pick up street hails in the outer boroughs, but not in Manhattan. The theory is that the OBMs cannot be sold independently, only in conjunction with their yellow medallion. This would, also in theory, maintain the integrity of the yellow medallion license. These theories are patently absurd, as is the notion that the city should have 15000 yellow taxicabs with no radios and another 30,000 liveries with radios that cannot pick up on the street.  It just guarantees inefficiency if all vehicles cannot do all things.  Not that anyone has asked my opinion, mind you, but even if they did, I admit, all of my solutions would take a few years to implement and would force whole segments of the industry to reevaluate how they do business.

All that being said, the most comical part of the entire issue are the complaints from the livery drivers and base owners.  The legitimate base owners are complaining that adding vehicles to the boroughs will, necessarily, dilute their business. I get that. The livery drivers that make their living every day by illegally picking up street hails that, admittedly, the yellow industry is ignoring in the outer boroughs, are complaining that the new plan would put their illegal operations out of business and would be too expensive for them to participate in. Likewise, the sham livery bases that have no radio work, but who make money by catering to the drivers who operate illegally, are likewise up in arms. In essence the argument is, “You are putting our illegal operations out of business.” And some of the politicians from the outer boroughs are rallying to their cause. To me it’s a little bit like the drug dealer on the corner complaining when the pharmacy opens up down the street, or the guy who sells pirated copies of movies complaining about Netflix.

But then again, this is the same group of people that expected us to believe that it wasn’t Anthony’s Weiner.

Exploring Strange New Cities – Just Not on A Segway

From the museum of the “You Just Can’t Make this Stuff Up”. Apparently the owner of Segway Corp died Sunday after driving his Segway off a cliff on his property and into a river. While this is truly tragic, one must wonder what will happen when Saturday Night Live finds out about it. And speaking of SNL, New York’s Governor Patterson made a cameo appearance alongside Fred Armison’s parody of him. While his delivery was suspect, he had one of the greatest lines in political cameo history, “You’ve poked so much fun at me for being blind that I forgot I was black.” Katie Perry has been showing up pretty much everywhere lately, from Extreme Makeover  to SNL, where she gave Elmo a whole new look. I’ve seen her so many times on TV that I checked my son’s bar mitzvah video, and damned if she wasn’t right there on the lit up risers sporting a fake feather boa singing Sweet Caroline.

And getting on to business. I was considering the market in Minneapolis, because it is relatively close to Chicago, and former incarnations of our company have history there. What I turned up in the google search was not only informative, but it was downright entertaining.

To give you some history, the taxicab market in Minneapolis was heavily regulated and licenses were capped until 2006. At that time the city adopted a new set of oridinances designed to improve service. The net result was that the number of cab licenses was to increase by forty five per year until the year 2010, in which the market would become an open entry system. Additionally, new companies would be required to have 10% of their fleet be accessible vehicles and 10% fuel efficient vehicles, although I am not sure how the latter was defined.  Existing fleets would have to have 5% of their vehicles qualify in both categories. The constitutionality of these percentage requirements were held up in state courts, and affirmed in the court of appeals,  according to another article. Existing medallion owners also sued based on deregulation , claiming that the city was taking their property without due cause. In other words, the $25000 medallion they bought on the secondary market was now worthless. A new company, New Star Limousine and Taxi Service, intervened claiming the case was groundless. The court agreed and threw the case out, and that result was confirmed on appeal. Ok. That wasn’t the fun part. Just the basic background.

As I continued to read articles, I found “Muslim Taxi drivers imposed Sharia Law in Minneapolis”.  According to the page, posted in July, there have been over 5000 incidents where Muslim cab drivers in Minnesota have refused passengers who have been carrying alcohol. It didn’t specify whether the alcohol was open, or if it was a bottle of wine, or a beer, or whatever.  All I could think of was, “The people carrying alcohol have got to be the best tippers.”

Then I came across a 1983 federal case, Yellow Taxi Company of Minneapolis v National Labor Relations Board. Granted, this was over a quarter century ago, but it gives one an idea of the tenor of the town.  The decision overturns a NLRB ruling that Suburban Taxi, then a subsidiary of Yellow Cab Chicago, despite having all lease drivers who were independent contractors, should still be subject to a prior collective bargaining agreement that Suburban had with its former commission drivers. The Federal Court overturned the NLRB ruling, declaring the lessee drivers to be true independent contractors.

While I have not made any decision yet as to whether to explore this market further, it is clear that Minneapolis is certainly an INTERESTING taxi market. Quite frankly, who would have thought that so many key taxicab issues would have been fought in Minneapolis rather than Chicago, New York or LA? Deregulation, independent contractor issues, hybrid vehicles, accessible vehicles, and control of drivers, and it’s all in the Twin City baby. Whether it can be a PROFITABLE taxi market is another question.  I will keep you posted.

Looking for the Pedi-Cure

The lead story today in Sherman’s Travel Blog  (yes, not only was it a slow day for Sherman’s Travel, it was a bit slow at my house as well) relates how the Elysian Hotel in Chicago is offering its patrons complementary pedicab service  in and around the Gold Coast shopping area. I am personally a big fan of the Elysian Hotel. If you are ever in Chicago I highly recommend their spa. I can personally vouch for the fact that it is enormous, and I have second hand information that it is amazing in other ways as well. I do not know whether they own the pedicabs, as the cabs are branded with the hotel’s name, or whether they contract out the service, but I hope they did their homework and weighed the risks before offering this service.

On the surface pedicabs seem fairly innocuous. They are environmentally friendly, they offer passengers fresh air with no horse smell, although I cannot vouch for the smell of the bikers on a muggy day, and they seem like a fun way to get around. When you analyze them further, however, they not only take business away from legitimate transportation operations, but, more importantly, they pose significant risks to unsuspecting passengers. If you get into a taxicab in the City of Chicago you are covered by up to $300,000 of insurance, and you are entering a vehicle that has been inspected and licensed, and which is driven by a driver that too has been licensed (if not inspected), fingerprinted and drug tested. Pedicabs in Chicago are, to date, unregulated, and most are uninsured.

A serious pedicab accident on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City was the impetus for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to enact pending legislation regulating the pedicabs. The pedicab was completely at fault in the accident, and both the driver and the passenger were injured. The vehicle hit by the pedicab was a taxicab.  A similar pedicab accident  in San Diego in 2009 left an Illinois tourist dead.

The city has been working on pedicab regulations for over a year, and the lack of regulation has led to a boom in the pedicab industry.  In an article on pedicabs in Wrigleyville in Chicago Now’s online page, Roger Rickshaw, a pedicab driver and pedicab company owner, was quoted as saying, “Since a pedicab driver in Chicago doesn’t need a business license or insurance to cover rider injuries like pedicabbers in other cities, out-of-town drivers are flocking to the Windy City.” And there you have it from the horse-substitute’s mouth. You have no idea who is driving you around.

At the end of the day we all hope that the Elysian’s project works out well, that they do their due diligence, and that their passengers do not need to worry about whether or not the pedicabs are insured. Given the now mainstream nature of the pedicabs in Chicago, it may be time for the city to get those regulations in order.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

        We in the United States have always had a love affair with the incredibly large.  Why get a Wendy’s (my all time favorite fast food) single when you can have a double, or even a triple? Why watch Katie Couric when you can watch Oprah? Twice the woman for the same low price, and why go to the corner grocery store for  a package of American cheese when you can go to Costco and buy a brick large enough to carve a live size version of the Venus de Milo?  But in today’s conservative fiscal climate, and in an era of social responsibility that applauds greenness and conservation, is bigger always better?

         Sadly, Mayra Lisette Contreras found that bigger is not always safer. She died after a silicone injection in her butt caused a respiratory reaction. The women accused of injecting her have fled, authorities think, to Mexico.  Bigger was also not better in “Supersize Me”, where the subject of a documentary ate at McDonald’s for an entire month and wound up looking a lot like Al Gore. Ok, the picture is actually of Haystacks Calhoun, for all you closet wrestling fans, but you get the idea.  And the auto manufacturers all discovered that not only were bigger cars not necessarily better, but bigger companies were an issue as well.

 And that affects me how, you might ask? Well the obvious answer starts in New York City.  The taxicab commission is looking for the Taxi of Tomorrow.  I will date myself as I say that whenever I here that I think of Jackie Gleason and the Chef of the Future (you can watch the video if you click), and I just crack up. The problem with the Taxi of Tomorrow is that the city wants a car roomy enough to make large passengers happy, and yet feul efficient enough to make Susan Sarandon happy. Meanwhile, operators want a car that stays upright when it operates, and doesn’t spend 25% of its time in the shop.  So far there are no takers, but suppose we reduce our size requirement, remove the partition, and try, say, a Hyundai Sonata, a Toyota Scion, or even, dare I say it, a Ford Fiesta? All of these vehicles would provide huge increases in gas mileage, and all would greatly decrease greenhouse gas emissions from those produced by the fleet of cabs in the city today. Furthermore, if you reduce the footprint of the vehicles in the city by a foot or more you necessarily improve traffic flow as well. While if given a choice most passengers would hop into a roomy Crown Vic if it were empty and sitting next to a Fiesta, but if all the vehicles were smaller yet more economical and more fuel efficient, I think everyone would eventually be okay with that.

For all of you who have not heard, by the way, the Federal Court of Appeals has upheld the ruling of the lower courts in finding that the City of New York could NOT lower the lease cap for fleets who did not purchase hybrid vehicles. Go us.

I will actually be attempting to shrink myself in the next few weeks just to keep in the less is more theme. I will keep you posted.

No Limits

It appears that even Playboy has their standards of decency. After finding out that Jesus posed on the cover of their Portugal edition with a naked woman (you should click on that one) Playboy broke ties with its Portuguese partner, Frestacom-Lisbon Media Publishing claiming a “shocking breach of our standards.” Standards? This from the company that brings you “Nude College Girls”, “Big Butt”, and “Nude Milfs” (sorry, no click throughs).

And apparently Ann Chapman has hers as well. She is suing her ex-husband for selling topless puitures of her to a London tabloid, and making false statemnets about Miss Chapman’s family. So it is okay to send government secrets, but family secrets are off limits. Well, if she took anything away from her time in the US it was that you can never have enough good divorce lawyers.

On a more personal note I am still getting over Tuesday night’s viewing of “Twilight, Eclipse”.  No, it was not particularly scary or gory, but packed in between the 3 minutes of action sequences was 120 minutes of badly portrayed teenage love angst, from which I have not yet fully recovered. And why doesn’t Edward have any lips? Is this a new vampire thing? No lips?  The only good thing to come out of that movie was the valedictory speech that one of her friends gives, basically saying that graduating seniors should have no idea of what they are going to do. Take it as it comes, make mistakes, have some fun. This was great advice when I was graduating high school. Not such great advice when my daughter is graduating.

Have a great summer.

It’s Better to Keep Quiet and Let Them THINK You are a Fool…

I am not a Democrat. I am not a full time registered Republican, but I am certainly not a Democrat. I voted for Bush. Twice. My wife voted Democrat if for no other reason than to cancel out my vote. I may be the only admitted Republican in the New York metropolitan area, aside from Rudy Giuliani, and he doesn’t count because he would be a communist if he thought it would get him elected. That being said, it was embarassing to Republicans everywhere when Joe Barton R. Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, apologized for the White House demand of a $20 billion claims fund to reimburse losses after the gulf oil spill. Now, I know that Texas was never known as the state where politicians and Mensa meet, but really. Count to ten before you open your mouth and think about what you are about to say. Actually, the most absurd part of this whole episode is that this was not an impromptu interview, or a comment in passing. This was most likely something that was preplanned, thought out and reviewed by staff members and political advisors. Does anyone have the guts to tell there boss that perhaps he might want to wait on that? That the Emperor has no clothes? Had he been alive then one wonders if Barton would have congratulated the White Star Lines on their new ship the Titanic as 1517 people sank in the ocean. My wife, a former attorney (she’s okay, she never worked the negligence racket), used to always say, “It is better to keep quiet and be thought a bad attorney than to open your mouth and prove everyone right.” Apparently this goes for congressmen as well.

So now that I have eliminated any possibility of doing work in any regulated industry in Texas, we can try to relate this to our own business. There are times when it just does not pay to open your mouth.  A vehicle is involved in a bad accident and the press wants a statement. Can there possibly be any upside to giving them one? No one is going to care that the injured pedestrian, who was an honors student, worked overtime at the grocery store to help her mom make ends meet, and saved endangered wildlife in her spare time, and you know they all do, blew a .15 and was crossing in the middle of the block between two parked trucks at 3am.  No upside. Save it for the jury. That does not mean that there is NEVER a time to give your side of the story, but when you do, be terse, have the statement prepared in advance, and try not to answer questions afterwards. Only the parts you do not want to hear will show up in the final edited version of the interview.

There should be one person in your company that is the contact for all the press. In my company it is usually me, but ocassionally I pass things on to members of my staff whose experiences make them more qualified to answer some specific question. Witness a recent article in the Sun Times by Mary Wisniewski regarding plaintiff’s attorneys having trouble getting huge judgements in Chicago. The reporter, who by the way has always been very fair to our industry, was asking why it is more difficult to get a large judgement paid now than it was 10 years ago. Well, 10 years ago I had not yet entered the Chicago marketplace, so for me to answer, even though I knew the answer, would not have been appropriate. I referred the reporter to Jeff Feldman, our fleet director, who has been operating in Chicago since I was in college. We discussed an answer, and voila:  “Jeffrey Feldman, head of Taxi Medallion Management and former president of Yellow Cab, said the industry has changed “tremendously” because of a change in city policy. For decades, Yellow and Checker owned most Chicago cab medallions, and the companies needed layers of insurance to protect their assets. “We were the perpetual deep pockets,” Feldman said. But to break the monopolies, the city made it illegal for one company to own more than 25 percent of city-issued medallions. Feldman said the business changed from large companies with fleets of cabs to a system where medallions are held by many different owners.” Jeff made the point that it was a change in city policy, not some nefarious scheming by taxi companies, that altered the status quo.

I see this getting long here, but I would also recommend that even smaller operations have a public relations firm available, either on retainer or on a case by case basis, to help handle the disasters, and to help roll out your sucesses. We use Melwood Global, as does the Taxicab Livery and Paratransit Assn. (TLPA), and we have been very satisfied with both their work and their fees. With some educating on our part, they now understand the taxicab market fairly well, and they have been instrumental in rolling out our programs in the press.

Final note: TLPA summer leadership conference  will be in Vancouver on July 14-17, 2010. I know Al hopes to see you all there.

Hall of Shame II, or Just be Happy Anyone at all Is Buying Your Car

Sometimes I get writer’s block and I sit here and stare at my computer waiting for ideas to hit me.  Sometimes I have an issue that just ticks me off, and the post writes itself. And sometimes, when I have no idea at all what to say, someone does something really stupid and does my work for me.

If Hertz was the company that put you in the driver’s seat, then Toyota is the company that put you in the driver’s seat then pushed the accelerator to the floor until you crashed.  Given the slack sales of automobiles due to the current recession, and the scary proposition it has become to put a key into a Toyota and turn the ignition, one would think that Toyota would be greatful for any sales at all.  One would be wrong.

At the New York Auto Show in 2007 there was an exhibition, albeit relegated to the underground entrance to the Javits Center, called the 100th Anniversary of the Taxicab.  The exhibition was supported by the city and the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which was, and still is, searching for the “Taxi of Tomorrow”. Unfortunately, the search changes direction depending upon which way the wind is blowing. But that is another story. The Taxi show at the Javitz Center included some iconic vehicles of the past, early Checkers, a current Crown Victoria, and some potential taxicabs of the future, including the Standard Taxi (now the MV1), the Kia Rondo , and, if memory serves me, a Toyota Scion taxicab.

Given that background, and the fact that we began to see a few Scion taxicabs in Chicago, we decided to try them for ourselves. We tested about ten Scions as taxicabs with very favorable results. The vehicles were inexpensive to purchase, they were virtually problem free, they were easy to repair after accidents, and they were comfortable for both drivers and passengers. Add to that 20-25 actual mpg as a taxicab. Having finished our testing we found a dealership and enquired about buying the vehicles in bulk. We were initially told that they could possibly find us one vehicle per week (we change about 150 vehicles per year, and we add another 50), but after the markets crashed it became, “How can we help you?”. Now, mind you, this was a local dealership, not Toyota central that we were dealing with. In fact, we have a very solid relationship with the dealership. We are currently purchasing on average four Scions per week, and other fleets have begun purchasing both new and used Scions in Chicago as taxicabs as well.

Now we are up to date. So last week I get a forwarded copy of a memo sent by the Chicago Regional Office to the local Toyota dealers. The memo comments on the “influx in xB sales to Taxi Cab (note the spelling) companies during recent months in the Chicago market.”  It goes on to state that using the Scion as a taxicab “takes potential sales away from our core customers and degrades the brand.” Degrades the brand. How do you degrade the name of a company that is most known for killing owners and passengers with uncontrollable acceleration? And as for taking potential sales away, are they running out of cars to sell? What a good problem to have. According to her letter, “April YTD the median age of the Chicago Region Scion buyer was 36 and 72% of the customers were new to Toyota.” We have been using the vehicles for over two years. It doesn’t sound as if the buyer market has “degraded”. In fact, I would venture to say that the visibility brought to the vehicle by being on the road in plain sight every day has helped sales tremendously.

I am not an expert at vehicle marketing. If I was I would be working for a car company, and I would probably be out of a job right now. But I can’t help but think that if I were in their position, given the push in Toyota commercials to assure the public that they are once again diligent in their design and production, that I would jump on the chance to get affadavits from large and well know taxicab companies that have put hundreds of thousands of miles on these Scion xBs with no mechanical issues. But that’s just me. Instead, the Scion Manager (and I do not release names here because, as she told me on the phone, it’s not personal), “wanted to make it clear that Scion does not support selling vehicles to Taxi Cab (again, cute spelling) companies”, and reminded dealers that “all Scion sales are subject to Covenant compliance review at any time. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like a threat to me.

Our dealers have assured us that the flow of vehicles will continue unabated, and indeed, the letter from the Tsar of Scionia admits that “Scion cannot dictate who a dealer chooses to sell a vehicle to.” But really. Get a grip.


Never Bring a Knife to a Gunfight

I remember the famous scene in Crocodile Dundee where Paul Hogan is accosted by a bunch of men who pull a knife, and he replies “That’s not a knife, now THIS is a knife!” , whereupon he pulls out a huge Bowie knife. Harrison Ford took it  a step further in Raiders of the Lost Ark. When cornered by a large man in a turban wielding two menacing swords he simply pulled out a gun and shot him.

In my travels between cities the last couple of weeks I have encountered a number of cab companies, some small, some quite large, who were considering moving to some form of computerized dispatching system. I have personal experience with the Mobile Knowledge system, and I know quite a few people who have experience with the DDS system as well. Both are fairly robust, and both have some major flaws. The flaws are not necessarily in the programming itself, but in the ability of the companies to adapt their systems to what your individual company needs. Both also require you to use only their own terminals, which eliminates any bargaining position you might have when it comes to replacing equipment. Be that as it may, what we have found Mobile Knowledge to be quite good at is integrating their systems with the various other technologies out there that we have opted to take advantage of.  Whether we are working on credit card processing solutions, text or iphone app based dispatching, or any other functionality, they have been, albeit sometimes very slooowwwwllllyyy, able to adapt their dispatching systems to meet our needs. In truth, the purveyors of the new technologies generally go to Mobile Knowledge and DDS prior to launching their products, so that they are “pre-integrated”.

There are some very solid operators who have developed their own operating and dispatching systems. As long as you are large enough and savvy enough to have your own programmers on staff, this can be an interesting option. If you have to go outside for programmers, on the other hand, be prepared for a lack of availability and a drain on your funds, as everything will be charged out hourly.

Wireless Edge, and Verifone, among others, have been touting their own dispatching systems in markets where they believe that credit cards will flourish. The compelling feature of their dispatching systems is that they are free, as long as you let them take 5% (or whatever percent you wind up agreeing to) of the credit card totals. I have not seen any of these contracts, and I do not know anyone that has actually used either the Wireless Edge system, or the Verifone system. I therefore cannot discuss the flexibility, robust nature, or accuracy of their dispatching systems. The cautionary tale here is this. Make sure that whatever system you choose can handle all of the peripheral technology that you will be adding to your fleet dispatch in the next couple of years. If not, your competitors will have a huge edge, and the money you save on free dispatching equipment will be lost in revenues.  Your competition will be paying for the proverbial gun while you show up with the “free” knife.

Once again, I will state that I do not know anyone using either of these two systems.  Both companies are experienced in the taxi market, so I would assume that the basic dispatch functionality will work in both cases. Do your homework, speak not only to companies that use the dispatching systems in question, but also to other technology companies to see if their products are compatible.

And when you speak to someone who uses the system make sure that their interest in dispatching is the same as yours. In the case of Veriphone specifically, they won the contract to dispatch all of Philadelphia. The contract was not with a company, however, it was with a city. The city’s interests will be far different from your own.

Happy hunting.