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This article originally appeared in PHTM Magazine here in November 2016
In case anybody out there doesn’t know it, Manchester is a big place. Yes, really, a huge metropolis! Greater Manchester is made up of ten local authorities for a start; the city centre is a booming commercial, entertainment and property development hub for all walks of life.
This area of the North West has enjoyed some of the most dramatic growth rates in the UK over the last quarter century... and so has one of its premier transport providers, Club Cars. They opened their doors in 1992 with just one car. From the very first day they opened they have been a family run business, starting off by purchasing a set of old disused public toilets on a council estate called Wythenshawe.
In those days they were known as Wythenshawe Private Hire; since then Club Cars has grown to be the largest private hire and taxi company in Manchester, with a fleet of over 650 cars – with uniformed drivers - covering the whole of Greater Manchester and Cheshire. Over two-thirds of the fleet are owner/driver; the rest are company owned, and together they cover between 30,000 and 35,000 jobs per week. Their accounts portfolio makes up over a third of their business.
They offer the full range of saloons, estates, MPVs and minibuses, plus executive cars; their sister company Executive Cars Manchester has 15 prestige vehicles. Headed by Managing Director Peter Georgiou and General Manager Gary Bregan, Club Cars has a staff of over 60 operators, telephonists and admin/secretarial staff, plus six managers.
Interestingly, Club Cars now have six booking offices: in addition to their head office in Wythenshawe, they also have offices in Man- chester city centre in the Gay Village, Chorlton, Didsbury, Levenshulme and Stretford.
If you’re wondering how this forward looking company copes with such a workload,
shared amongst six offices, you’d better look up in the clouds. Yes, really. Club Cars has gone with iCabbi, the premier up and coming cloud-based dispatch sys- tem in the industry.
And just why would they want to do that? Where do you start! The pure simplicity of the system tops the list; being cloud-based, there was no hardware installation as access is via a browser. Customers love the app, text back and web booker options. The company loves the live driver tracking, better control over the system, and the sheer flexibility iCabbi offers for their multiple office setup.
Managing Director Peter Georgiou states:
“We needed a system that offered flexibility, more control in our hands, ease of use and ultimately, a system that would allow us to grow and operate from multiple sites. We were restricted from doing this with our previous provider. We searched the market and since switching to iCabbi, we have got all of this and more. What surprised us was how quickly we began to experience and benefit from increasing levels of automation. We regularly hit 50 per cent automation now and the app is fantastic – better than Uber.
“We’re making it easier to book a cab in Manchester and giving a better user experience to our base staff, our drivers and our passengers. Above all, by seeking out and embracing the right technology, we're grow- ing – supporting local jobs and the local community in a challenging market. We couldn't have done this without iCabbi.”
Another reason Club Cars is glad they’ve hooked up with iCabbi is the appeal of their app amongst younger customers, which make up a large proportion of their customer base especially around the universities. This is why Club Cars has offered their very own Student Safety Scheme for some considerable time: It’s late, the buses and trains have stopped running, and a student is stuck with no money. They can ‘pay’ their fair by giving the Club Cars driver their student card in lieu of payment; they are then asked to sign a docket and leave their student card with the driver. They can then collect their card back by repaying their fare at Club Cars’ city centre office.
Club Cars maintain that students should never walk home alone after a night out; they put their safety first – and further, offer students the biggest discount in town when they show
their university card to the driver. Can’t be bad! This is undoubtedly one of the reasons that Club Cars’ relationship with the licensing department at their councils is a good one; “both Manchester and Trafford Councils have been a pleasure to work with.”
In this day and age, where everyone has to work harder for a customer’s business, being the biggest isn’t good enough. The winning taxi company needs to have the best technology, as well as competing on price and of course offering the best and most professional service that meets the customer’s needs.
The Chicago partnership that owns Chicago-based 303 Taxi and Flash Cab (companies established in the mid 1940’s) was looking to expand and develop a multi-state dispatch system and in early 2007 bought All State Cab, a small company with service in both Phoenix and Tucson. The company was rebranded as VIP Taxi using the same company colours used in Chicago. In 2011, Dave assumed majority interest from his partners in VIP Taxi and brought both sons, Brandon and Jason, in as partners.
''We began looking at alternative dispatch systems when our customers left feedback requesting features that we simply could not provide. Features such as SMS notifications, texted links, private recorded two-way driver calling, a better taxi app, and web based tools designed for our commercial customers. There has also been a change in the technology landscape. Rideshare companies spoiled customers with great technology and we knew we had to step up our game.''
''We compiled a spreadsheet with over one hundred individual features and functions that were very important to us. We wanted a system that would text customers an ETA when the driver accepted the order, a system where the driver can navigate to the pickup address without typing anything in, and a system that engaged in more automation when given the opportunity, among dozens of other requests. Most importantly, we needed a system and provider that used a newer and more effcient technology and could provide changes and customisation that would allow us to regain some of the market share lost to Rideshare and other competitors. We had a list of over 100 functions and features and iCabbi ticked all the boxes.
''We looked further into other dispatch providers, but it seemed they either did not have all of the features we needed and/ or iCabbi was able to o er those same features with the in-depth complexity and customisation that we felt was important. And where customisation was required, iCabbi could make any changes we needed.
''We knew Kyle Summers at Alexandria Yellow Cab for some years and Kyle had let us know shortly after moving to iCabbi about his experience. We talked several times and in mid 2015 he invited us out to Alexandria to bring key sta and lots of questions.
''iCabbi won our business by not only having a great product to begin with, but by showing us the different processes to address most of our long list of needs. iCabbi shared how proactive they are with making updates, improvements to the systems, as well as how they resolve any problems that arises. That was a key factor in our decision.
''Our system automation has more than doubled when you look at the Web, App, and IVR numbers, but we’re also spending less time working on driver issues because the driver tools are so much better and many drivers have been given the ability to call their own customers through a blocked and recorded interface. We’ve also sent approximately 700,000 text messages keeping customers informed along the way which they really enjoy.
''The Cloud has been dependable with very few and short interruptions, the immediate benefit is less equipment and support expenses. Continuous development, iCabbi wants to be challenged with process challenges, new ideas and feature requests. A large portion of these are processed in short time. All regular releases and feature requests are tracked through the road map. Many of our feature requests have been finished already while others we track for progress.
''Since we made the move, the experience has been very positive. We’ve reduced sta ng costs by 30%. We’ve reduced sta numbers - sta have had to look busier than they actually are. We significantly reduced external communication with drivers and customers. There is so much that iCabbi does on its own that we can now focus on improving other areas of the business.
''Based on current trends the demand for transportation will continue to increase, TNC’s will enjoy the benefits of deregulation and reduced costs of operation until enough people with friends in high places get hurt, Taxicab companies will have to implement better technologies, improve the quality of the drivers and market to the younger consumer to hold onto a market share.