*File photo
*File photo

Government wants to make GPS optional for cabbies, but will this result in poorer customer service? 

Proponents of the systems say they enable dispatchers to match the closest drivers to customers calling a cab.

This not only makes dispatching faster but increases efficiency all-round, by saving on drivers’ fuel usage and giving them a quicker turnaround.

The dispatcher can also provide the customer with an approximate time of arrival, thus alleviating the frustration of waiting for a cab, not knowing when it will turn up.

Faster pick-up times mean happier customers.

However, GPS comes at a cost. In Bermuda, it costs up to $2,000 to install the system in each vehicle, plus operating costs of more than $150 a month.

Cabbie Michael Levon said: “Some drivers like it, and some don’t. They dislike the fact it was forced on them by Government. 

“Why would you force something on someone if it’s not proven you can make extra money on it, or make the industry more efficient?

“It’s also the idea of Government keeping an eye on us. We felt Government was being like a watchdog.”

Under the Motor Car Amendment Act 2005, all taxi operators were required to install a GPS device.

But many refused, saying radio dispatch was just as efficient.

Dr Ewart Brown tried to enforce the use of GPS.

He said GPS led to greater “efficiency and earning capacity”.

Failure to install the systems led to many operators having their licences revoked.

But on October 2, the OBA Government announced GPS could become “optional”.

Neli Outerbridge, co-owner/operator of Bermuda Island Taxi dispatching company, said cabbies disliked GPS as it “took their eyes off the road”.

“We have 200 taxis, about half of which have GPS, but none of them like to use it,” she said. 

“They prefer to use voice, because if they have to take their eyes off the road to read it, it’s like using a cellphone; they feel it’s dangerous.

“We have a lot of elderly drivers who can’t read or spell, so using these apps is a hindrance to them.

“But a lot of the young guys also prefer radio because it makes them feel more in touch with the world; it’s more personal. You can talk to them on the road.” 

She added: “As we are only 21 square miles in size, why do we need GPS?”

Backwards move

But George Scott, secretary of BIU Co-op Taxi, which operates 50 cabs, said: “The question is, where are we heading as a country? Where do we want to be?

“The rest of the world is using technology to advance business. Digital data makes it more efficient.

“If you’re a dispatcher you don’t have to write everything down now; a customer’s name may already be in the system, so it’s faster.”

It costs up to $100,000 for a dispatching company to install a data dispatch (GPS) system, and then charges of $1,000 per month or more — depending on the number of vehicle receivers — to an overseas GPS operator.

Mr Scott said a data dispatch system will pay for itself through efficiency savings.

“If you have voice (radio dispatch), then everyone hears it,” he said. 

“For example, if you have a job at the Fairmont Southampton, a number of drivers will run to that job, whereas with data, it’s private; you get it on an e-mail.

“We would only send the job to that one driver who answers and is in the ‘zone’. 

“So it’s not counter-productive, in that you don’t have drivers running all over the place wasting their fuel.

“No driver wants to be running for a job and then for another driver to get it.”