(TNS) -- In their continuing battle against ride-sharing apps, local taxicab companies have joined in an effort to make hailing a ride quicker and easier.
Yellow Checker Star Transportation, Whittlesea Blue Cab, Henderson Taxi and Desert Cab teamed up to operate a universal dispatch system, using a button called a "kabit" placed at participating businesses.
An employee at the business presses the kabit, which is hooked up to the business’ Wi-Fi or 3G cellphone connection, and an alert goes into the dispatch center. The computer system at the dispatch center then sends an alert to the closest cabdriver that a customer is waiting to be picked up. The system is autonomous.
“By using the button, you have access to more than 50 percent of the cabs in town,” said Jonathan Schwartz of Yellow Checker Star. “We did this to improve service and reduce the wait times it takes for customers to get cabs.”
The system eliminates the need to make a phone call to the dispatch center, which reduces waiting time. The button changes colors to let patrons know the order is processing. Multiple customers at the same establishment can push the button to initiate service simultaneously.
There are two kabit button models, one powered by rechargeable lithium batteries and the other by four AA alkaline batteries. The devices are installed at businesses free of charge.
More than 200 businesses, including the National Atomic Testing Museum, Range 702 and Eaglerider Motorcycle Rentals, have had the button placed in the first three months of the program, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People absolutely love it,” Schwartz said. “They like the fact that when a customer asks them to order a cab, they don't have to waste their time getting on the phone, going through dispatch. They literally have to touch the button, that’s it. It’s that simple.”
Cesar Urrutia, assistant to the director of the National Atomic Testing Museum, says it has made the cab-ordering process less of a hassle.
“Before we would have to call a couple of times to get a cab,” Urrutia said. “Now we press the button and it takes about five minutes, instead of 30 or 45 minutes like before. It’s a lot easier.”
In the first few months of the kabit button, Yellow Checker Star Transportation said that the average wait time for a cab using the system was just less than eight minutes.
Urrutia said he was skeptical when he first saw the button but changed his tune after using it.
“I’m very impressed by it now,” he said. “They plugged it in and about five minutes later, we had someone asking for a cab and they were gone in another five.”
To make this program possible, a number of changes had to take place not only in the cabs but in dispatch.
“It’s been a huge investment in order to get this done,” Schwartz said. “We bought every one of our cabs a new meter, and we had to merge our dispatch operations together. We got a new office space, took our very best dispatchers, put them in there together and bought a new dispatch system.”
Although the kabit button system is self-operating, the dispatchers still take calls and ensure the system is operating correctly.
Technology among the multiple cab companies, with more than 1,800 vehicles, is the same now, which allows them to work in unison, Schwartz said.
“The significance of this is that we’re not competing with each other anymore,” Schwartz said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure the customer is serviced as fast as possible.”
The next step in the program is to expand the use of the buttons to more businesses, tie a mobile app to the system and add more cab companies, Schwartz said.
“We’re competing every single day with Uber, and this is just another way we can compete and get people a cab as fast as possible,” he said. “We have an open invitation to any other cab companies which want to join.”
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