Cabbies: think of the customer

I use about 1.2 taxis per week.  The 1 is a given.  I have a meeting that runs a little late on a day I pick up my daughter from nursery.  The bus isn’t sufficiently reliable to get me there before closing, an option with which I fear that my daughter will be tied to the railing when I arrive to save her from walking away on her own, the nursery lights turned out and the place deserted.  (I have no idea what actually happens if you rock up after closing time—nor do I want to find out.)

The additional 0.2 is to account for one taxi I might use about five weeks, one that I get either out of necessity or out of luxury.  Rarely the latter.

Anyway, I was in a taxi recently, and was discussing with the very pleasant driver my ideas for how GPS could connect prospective passengers with taxis whose orange lights are burning bright.  He talked of some old system that used to be in place to alert people of pick-ups in their area, but that it died a death (a) because the taxi driver had to pay for the privilege of the introduction, (b) because the cabbie suffered a reduced utilisation owing to the drive to their prospective passenger’s pick-up point, and (c) because the cabbie often had to ignore a bunch of hailers along the way.

(My idea, btw, is to develop a free iPhone app. for prospective passengers to allow them to say exactly where they are trying to hail a London cab; and a sister, paid-for app. for cabbies to be made aware of this information.)

Not once in the conversation did the cabbie reference the customer experience.  It was all about what was good for the cabbie, or more to the point what wasn’t.  I was suggesting pairing a cabbie trundling along a deserted Charlotte Street with a prospective passenger on Whitfield Street (the next street along), who otherwise wouldn’t have encountered one another.  The cabbie might pick up a fare if they were quickest to the pick-up.  While the passenger would get home a few minutes earlier than they otherwise might have, possibly a little drier too (on a night like tonight).

It’s not an app. that I’d have much use for.  But I think there is some proverbial mileage in it, particularly if the cabbies start thinking about the customer experience, rather than solely the bottom line.


2 Responses to “Cabbies: think of the customer”

  1. Theo on November 23rd, 2009 11:45

    I thought The Knowledge test required 100% pass mark in Solipcism, you are expecting too much of them and their philosophy.

  2. slatfatf on November 23rd, 2009 15:53

    He is quite right. This service (cannot recall the name but it started with Z) allowed you to ring up a number and they took your location from the phone automatically and routed you through to a driver’s mobile who was close by.

    When it worked it was excellent. But it suffered some of the thing you outlined and more.

    1) The number of cabs that signed up was limited (large numbers but still limited by the total number of cabs). This led to a vicious circle, not enough cabs signed up meant the chances of getting one were lower when you needed one (they would be further away). So you use the service less because it was less effective and down the service goes.
    2) The second issue was that due to the low number of cabs on the system a driver would have to drive further and longer to get to you. They were allowed to switch on the meter up to 3.80 (if I recall). I never got a cab without the total being the max amount they could charge on this system which meant short journeys became quite expensive. So you use the service less, less drivers sign up, down it goes.
    3) Despite the 3 strikes and your out rule for customers who take other alternatives (other cabs) while the one you called gets to you, lots of people did. If you are standing in the rain and have been told your cab will be 10 to 15 mins (not an irregular occurrence with low cab numbers) many people jumped into the next cab if one came along. Don’t forget you only call these people because you could not find a cab on your own.

    So it is not the mechanism for calling or the app or lack of one that made the service collapse but the fact it never gained critical mass. Taxi drivers do ok, they work hard and earn a reasonable living (rightly so) and what they do not need is middlemen taking chunks of their earnings for complex arrangements.

    I think your idea is a good one but to make it work it has to be free to everyone and that is not going to happen.

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