High-tech taxis

High-tech taxis

Staff Writer  |   October 09, 2006

Before the late '90s, the way to book a taxi in Singapore was via an archaic radio-based, manual booking system. Manual handling of bookings could take a maximum 120 jobs an hour, and many callers faced jammed telephone lines or were put on hold for extended periods. While this was happening, as many as 30% of taxis cruised without customers, and nine out ten people who reached an operator did not get a cab.

That was then. Today, Singapore's five taxi operators now use some form of wireless and GPS satellite tracking to instantaneously track passenger calls and pickup locations, reducing any misunderstandings and increasing service levels. ComfortDelGro, the country's leading taxi operator with two-thirds of the market, boasts a fleet of about 15,800 taxis using some of the most advanced transport automation systems anywhere.

ComfortDelGro drivers use CabLink, a booking system that sports an in-vehicle 7-inch TFT mobile display terminal with GPRS data, GPS satellite tracking capabilities, text-to-speech location prediction, voice streaming capabilities and built-in intelligence, allowing software and fare information to be updated over the air. In addition, drivers can access location-based mapping and routing, view taxi statistics updates, use voice browsing commands and accept various e-payment options.

One interesting feature of the CabLink system is its ability to mine existing data records to find the two most frequent taxi pickup addresses based on a customer's travel pattern, says Tammy Tan, group corporate communications officer for ComfortDelGro.

'Repeat customers can bypass the operator to book a taxi. Once the pickup address is confirmed, the system dispatches the booking job to the nearest available taxi and announces the taxi number once the booking is successful,' she says.

Positive results
Tan says investments to upgrade the booking system have yielded positive results. CabLink now handles up to 75,000 calls a day and the average waiting time for phone bookings has been cut from ten minutes to six. Manpower savings have exceeded $1 million.

Earlier this year, local IT firm ST Electronics Info-Comm Systems (STEE-InfoComm) was awarded an $8.5 million contract to implement Comfort's new wireless GPRS-based taxi telematics system, called the Integrated Transport Management System (ITMS), which supports multiple taxi and other fleet operations and enables multiple service providers to operate from a single call center.

ComfortDelGro's biggest rival, SMRT Taxis, has invested more than $6 million since 1995 on an automatic cab location and dispatch system called Skytrek. An SMRT spokesperson says the GPS- and IVR-based system had increased the efficiency of its 50-person call center to about 2,500 calls a day. Improved accuracy in tracking enables a passenger to be picked up within five to ten minutes from the phone booking, the spokesperson says.

While both taxi operators contend that technology is crucial for providing fast and efficient dispatch of their services - a critical differentiation factor in the taxi business - surges in demand during peak periods and rainstorms can still impact response times. Luckily, says ComfortDelGro's Tan, CabLink has a feature for that, too: a 'call waiting' feature to inform commuters of the length of the waiting time when call volume is heavy.

'Commuters may therefore choose to hold on or call back later,' Tan says.


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