Not their Crowning moment

Picture this: You’ve gone to the bank to take care of some business with a friend. The day is bright and sunny, but the temperature is hovering around 10 Fahrenheit. While your friend is finishing her banking, you decide to call a cab to get back home so you call the company you’ve been using for the past five years.

After waiting over four minutes for them to answer the phone, you ask for a cab at the bank branch at (and you name the intersection). Instead of the expected “that’ll be about ten minutes”, you get “what’s the street address?” You’re not from around here, so you don’t know and say so, then give them the location again. Again “I need an exact address”. Finally, in frustration you say “forget it, I’ll call someone else.” Your friend has finished her dealings and joins you then calls you an idiot because you can’t even call a cab.

She tries. Only three minutes waiting this time. She gets the same kind of runaround you did. Meanwhile you’re outside trying to flag down a cab. You finally succeed and she hangs up. The cab you’ve flagged is from another company and you immediately ask for a card, which the driver gladly supplies. In a weird ‘six degrees of separation” moment, the driver recognizes you because you both drove for the same cab company in the town where you live.

Not fiction or a bad dream. This actually happened to my friend and myself this past Friday afternoon.

Now, the explanation as I see it. First, keep in mind that I was a driver and dispatcher for a small cab fleet in Pickering Ontario for about 7 years, so have some knowledge of which I speak. About a year ago, Co-op Cabs, a large Toronto company, bought Crown Taxi, also of Toronto and about the same size as Co-op. They continued to run as two separate companies until about a week ago when they came up with the bright idea of a single, centralized dispatch. And like many cab companies these days, they decided to also switch over to satellite dispatch. Unfortunately for their clients, the new company, Co-op Crown (hereafter referred to as “CC”) hired new order takers who – from my telephone interaction – have no experience or knowledge of the city. An experienced or knowledgeable order taker would have known that an intersection is sufficient location for a dispatcher and a driver to find the place. It seems obvious by the insistence upon a street address when provided with the name of a business and a location that the order takers don’t trust the dispatchers’ knowledge either. Bad move. Rule number one for anybody working for a fleet is “Never piss off the dispatcher”. Many taxi dispatchers are former drivers, whose knowledge of the streets equals or exceeds that of the drivers. In speaking with drivers, I found they are not happy with the new system either.

When we returned home, both my friend and I called and filed complaints with the dispatch manager at CC.

By the way, being a dispatcher has to be the best job in the world because where else could you get paid for telling people where to go?

Cat.

Quality’s gone downhill

In every taxi fleet there are two kinds of drivers: there are cab drivers and there are those who just drive a taxi.  Every taxi dispatcher to whom I’ve expressed that knows instinctively what I mean, but if you’re not a taxi dispatcher, I’ll explain it.

Cab drivers are those people you want behind the wheel of any cab you call or hail.  They’re the ones who open the door, turn down the AM/FM, refrain from using their cell phones while you’re in the vehicle and are usually courteous.  They also know the most direct route from where you are to where you want to be.  Now, I think every taxi bylaw in existence has a clause that states the driver is to take the most direct route unless the passenger says otherwise, but I could be wrong.  These are the drivers who will help you with your groceries or luggage as well.  You know – the kind you don’t mind tipping.

Those who “just drive a taxi” are the reverse of that coin.  These are the ones who won’t do anything to help you.  They’ll do the bare minimum that might qualify as customer service. You want the door open – open it yourself.   If you ask, they will begrudgingly open the trunk so you can stow your stuff.  As far as anything else – sorry, that’s not in their job description.  And although they will just sit behind the wheel while you struggle with your burdens, they will grumble about getting a lousy tip.  Sorry guys, tips have to be earned, they don’t come automatically.

What prompts this posting is not one, but two cab rides I took about 24 hours ago.  As I’ve  probably mentioned before, I exist on a small government pension, which is always in my account three banking days before month end.  Frequently I will go out early to a 24 hour supermarket to pick up few things, which is what I did this morning.  I always call the same company for a couple of reasons.  The first being a sometimes misguided loyalty since that was the company I drove with when I started in the taxi industry.  The second is they are the largest fleet in town and usually provide fast service.

As I said, I drove a cab for seven years and yes, I was a cab driver, not a taxi driver. So obviously I not only know my way around I and, I’ll admit perhaps unfairly, judge the service I receive by the kind of service I provided my customers.  I must have been doing something right for although it’s been seven years since I drove, every so often one of my now former customers will say “I wish you still drove”.

The first cab ride, from my home to the supermarket, was a taxi driver.  When he arrived, he stopped about two car lengths from me and expected me to walk to him.  I’m standing at the edge of a curb by the drive in my apartment complex, so there was no reason he couldn’t pull up.  From his later actions, I know why he did it.  Had I in fact walked to the cab, he would have turned the meter on, then gone around the turning circle.  At current rates, that would have added thirty cents to the fare.  I live on a side street, one block from the main thoroughfare.  When there is traffic, such as during the day, it is usually faster and much safer to turn right from my drive and go to the stoplights if you want to go east.  But at four in the morning, in my town, about the only thing on the road are police cars and other cabs.  Most drivers will turn left from the drive and go the other way to a second side street that leads to a stop sign controlled intersection with the thoroughfare.  It’s usually much faster.  This guy of course took the traffic signal route.  These signals are controlled by a sensor under the roadway.  He stopped short, then slowly inched forward.  Another forty cents.  There were emergency vehicles coming the opposite way.  This is a four lane road and the only vehicles are the taxi I’m in and the fire truck.  He pulled over to the curb and stopped.  Not just stopped, but waited until the fire truck had reached the intersection a half-block behind us.  When we arrived at the intersection where the plaza with the supermarket is located, he made to turn onto the north/south route.  Because the plaza was built around existing buildings, the entrance is about 100 yards up the street from the intersection and the internal roadway runs on a diagonal back toward the east/west thoroughfare to a point about 50 yards from the thoroughfare.  Again, a way of running up the meter.  He didn’t seem happy when I told him to proceed straight to the next set of signals and turn there.  By the time he finished his foolishness, what should have been a fare of less than eight dollars cost $9.70.  I usually give the driver ten bucks and that’s just what he got.

And of course, once I finished my shopping and called a cab, I got another taxi driver.  He could see I’ve got my hands full of shopping bags but made no effort to open the side door of the van.  When I got my foodstuffs and myself into the cab, I noticed he had the meter on even before I had the door closed.  I made note of the cab number and later that morning called the owner, whom I know, and told him of this.  He apologized.  On the trip home I was serenaded with loud heavy metal music and for some reason, even though it was 60 degrees out, he had the heater on full blast!  If he’s cold now, what’s he going to do when winter comes?  And of course, all the windows were closed and since it was a van, I couldn’t open the window beside me.  My requests to turn down both radio and heat were ignored.  This driver was priceless.  Between the supermarket and my home there are exactly three traffic lights, one of which is again controlled by a sensor on the cross street.  He managed to hit every single light red.  Once he pulled into the drive at my complex, if I hadn’t told him to stop right there at the entrance, he would have gone around the turning circle which would have meant, considering his stunts with the lights, the fare would have been over ten dollars.  Again, this is a run that usually is less than $8.  And of course, he ignored the fact I had all these groceries to get out of the van.

The reason so many people remember me from the cab is that I would open doors.  I would help with groceries and, although I’ve forgotten it now, knew what speed would see me sail through non-stop because all the lights would be green.  I turned the radio down if someone was in the cab.  Unless is was twenty below, I rarely had the heater on high, the exception being that I was just starting my shift and the cab was freezing.  And I never used my cell phone for personal calls when I had a passenger.  I was always polite and knew where I was going.

Yes, there are still some good drivers out there.  I’ve got the phone numbers for four of them on my cell phone, but I knew they wouldn’t be working at four in the morning, so didn’t call them.  But based on yesterday morning’s experiences, I really have to say that the overall quality of customer service with that cab company has really gone downhill since I drove.

So, if you get a cab and the driver is polite and helpful, tip him well.  If you get a man who “just drives a taxi”, ask for all your change back.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and good taxi service) too.

Cat.