Canterbury tales: An interview with Longleys Private Hire Ltd director, David George
Telematics can transform a business.
It certainly did for Longleys Private Hire, which installed a system and found its business crippled as a result.
The Canterbury-based private hire cab company has been owned by father and son team, Stephen and David George, since 2007. Comprising a fleet of 25 vehicles, Longleys offers a 24-hour private hire taxi service for the local community and large student population, and a few years ago the directors authorised an upgrade to the existing scheduling system, with disastrous results; “We switched to the next generation of the rather rudimentary system we were using and it crippled our business for a month. It was appalling,” reveals David George.
“We spent about a year searching for a platform that could better meet our needs, and one day I thought, “Addison Lee must have a good scheduling system to manage so many vehicles; I wonder what they’re using?” So, I made a couple of phone calls to their office, and was pointed in the direction of Magenta Technology.
“Our early approaches were met with a fairly guarded response, as they were only used to dealing with enormous businesses like Greentomatocars and Avis Car Rental. After a few conversations however, they came to understand the unique challenges we face as a local taxi hire firm, and agreed to work with us to adapt the Echo system to meet the needs of our more modest fleet.”
Longleys adopted Magenta Technology’s Echo scheduling software in July.
The system is fully automated, and only jobs involving potential complications are addressed by controllers back at base.
David George’s enthusiasm for the system is palpable: “The scheduling capabilities are so good, within six months of using Echo, we were dispatching more than 95% of work automatically,” he explains. “Our fuel usage has dropped, our efficiency has gone up across the entire fleet, our drivers are averaging two minutes early for jobs and we get more bang for our buck out of all our resources.”
Advantages for drivers
As a much smaller – primarily cashbased – regional firm, Longleys had very different requirements of a scheduling system than large, account-based businesses like Addison Lee. Whilst a driver in London may complete one or two job in an hour, drivers in Canterbury can complete up to six or seven short journeys in that time, so high turn-over scheduling capabilities were a must for the firm.
Longleys’ 60 self-employed drivers work double-shift patterns and set their own hours to suit both the needs of the business and their personal work/life balance.
Echo’s ‘dynamic response times’ functionality manages, in real time, the routing of online drivers, matching them with incoming jobs while maintaining commitments to pre-booked customers. By allowing the forecasting of where and when drivers will be available after completing their current job, the technology provides a realistic response time for incoming ‘on demand’ queries. This allows drivers to improve their punctuality, reduce wait times, improve customer satisfaction, and ultimately maximise their earnings. Driving hours and accurate mileage are recorded digitally, and paperwork is automatically filed away for future analysis.
In terms of recruiting drivers, Canterbury City Council acts as a regulator, and it is their responsibility to check that drivers are both fit and proper to hold a
Alongside punctuality and a variety of vehicle options, Longleys also prides itself on the safety and security ofpassengers. Longleys was one of the first adopters of Echo’s new booking app, which allows passengers to book a cab and share the details via a secure web link, enabling friends and relatives to track the journey in real time. “This new tracking app is really useful, as more than 20% of Canterbury’s population comprises students during term-time.
Enabling tracking by a third party brings real peace of mind,” George explains.
The fleet of 25 vehicles is a mixture of saloon cars and eight and nine-seater MPVs, which are particularly popular with the student population. “All our saloon cars are Skodas, and are one to three years old,” says George. “We also have two long wheel-base Mercedes-Benz Viano minibuses and four Ford Tourneos for transporting larger groups.
“We buy all our vehicles using hire purchase, because when you do as many miles as our drivers do (the fleet covers in excess of 12,000 journeys a month), leasing vehicles is just not cost effective.
Skoda warranties in general we are quite happy with; it’s 100,000 miles or two years, whichever is sooner, so all servicing and consumables are done in-house. Once the cars are out of warranty we pick up all the maintenance costs ourselves.”
Longleys has its own workshop, with a full-time mechanic employed to work exclusively on the fleet. “Warranty work goes to the nearest Skoda dealer that’s capable of handling it, and outside of warranty we deal with everything inhouse,” says George. “The main motivator behind keeping the workshop is reducing downtime – our cars are inspected on a daily basis, and any faults or concerns are reported immediately to the workshop.
“Our mechanic can get a vehicle back out on the road in a matter of hours, whereas booking into a Skoda dealer and waiting for a slot means that that car is not earning any money while the fault is being fixed. We’ve had a few issues with our new Skodas recently, so it’s all to do with convenience and keeping our drivers working.
“There’s the trust factor as well – we know our mechanic is going to do a superb job and casting no aspersions on other workshops, you really can’t put a price on reliability,” he adds.
Looking to the future
Longleys does not currently run alternatively fuelled vehicles, but has trialled hybrid vehicles in the past; “We’ve found that the hybrid vehicles are not really suitable for us – we’ve tried using a Prius but we tend to find that the MPG is actually very poor when you make them work for a living,” reveals George. “With four people and suitcases the fuel economy is much lower than a diesel Octavia, for example, which is disappointing.
“We are very keen to get on with finding an alternative fuel vehicle that could work for us though, as we’re interested in where the technology is going,” he adds. “We are soon going to be the first private hire operator in Canterbury to run a fully electric vehicle. We will be working in partnership with our local Nissan dealer and a local environmental trust to put a LEAF on the road as a private hire vehicle to trial it.
“We’re excited about that trial, and what we can learn from it – the taxi and private hire market in the UK is really big, so it could be a huge growth sector for the manufacturer that gets it right,” he says.
Breaking new ground
Longleys is currently in the process of acquiring a small taxi company in Dover, and will be applying the Echo software to the management of the new business. “Our intention is to sophisticate the new business with our telephony and telematics system to measure the impact, and the speed at which the technology can help the new business develop,” explains George.
“The business in Dover is about 20% of the size of the Longleys business currently, so we’re really positive about the potential for expansion there.
We’re sure that implementing Echo is going to have the same positive impact on that business as it did for Longleys – for us to make a profit we need to be as efficient in our operations as possible, and using a telematics and scheduling solution gives us the ideal tools to achieve that.”
Transformed by Telematics
Other businesses that have benefited from technology:
Savings on fuel spend
The RAC installed RAC Telematics on each of its 1,500 patrol vehicles in 2015. Improvements cited include a 25% reduction in wear and tear across the fleet, contributions to £1.5m savings on fuel-spend, and all-round safer driver behaviour.
Security of vehicles
Bolton-based utilities provider Aptus Ltd has fitted Quartix Vehicle Tracking to all its vehicles since 2013. Positive gains include an immediate reduction in insurance premiums and the quick recovery of stolen vehicles; often within one hour of a theft.
Natural and green gas supplier SGN has invested in TomTom Telematics’ WEBFLEET platform for its 2,000 commercial vehicles.
Improvements include a 68% reduction in idling time, 11% improvement in average MPG and a 15% reduction in speeding events.