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									Handsome Cab
Australian dispatch, security, charging and interactive advertising systems for taxis and related fleets have already made
significant inroads into international markets. There are numerous Australian companies that are active in this field with
significant competition occurring with dispatch systems in the domestic market. This article provides a snapshot of these
intelligent transport systems (ITS) technologies and the companies that created them.
by Phil Sayeg, Asia-Pacific Correspondent


Opportunities for private sector involvement in ITS-          Close Call
type technologies in Australia’s small market have
                                                              Mobile data, dispatch, and GPS-based vehicle
been limited in the past. Large commercial fleets
                                                              location systems have transformed the taxi industry
have always offered scope for application of
                                                              reducing missed calls, allocating jobs to drivers more
technologies to aid efficiency in dispatch and
                                                              equitably and reducing down time and dead running.
management. Now with the convergence of
                                                              Typically a dispatch system provides the following
computing and communications, and the emphasis
                                                              features:
on in-vehicle safety, electronic payment and
navigation systems for business applications, a wider         ! Taxi company control centres consisting of a
range of opportunities for intelligent transport                 series of networked computers into which
systems (ITS) is now possible.                                   operators may enter customer call requests;
Taxi fleets that tend to be fairly concentrated if not        ! In-taxi Global Positioning System (GPS)
by ownership, but by day to day management, have                 receivers to determine taxi locations;
provided readily definable business opportunities for         ! Data communications to allow the taxi company
the companies profiled in this article. The                      to monitor and manage fleet operations and to
Australian taxi industry is fairly strictly regulated            allocate jobs in an equitable manner;
with high performance standards. Collectively, the            ! In-taxi screens and touchpads to allow drivers to
requirement for high levels of service and the                   indicate availability and acceptance of jobs;
competition among Australian technology companies
                                                              ! Emergency call facilities for drivers are usually
for this business segment, has fostered the
                                                                 provided.
development of Australia’s leading taxi-related
technologies. However, the overall Australian                 Hailing taxis on-street is now almost a thing of the
market is quite small by international standards with         past – drivers on the move would normally be
a total urban taxi fleet of the order of 15,000 taxis. In     travelling to pick up a passenger. Even if the driver
addition, taxi fleets operate on small margins and            has not got a job allocated, and he or she is travelling
technologies adopted must be cost-effective                   to their preferred taxi rank, they may be looking at
providing low margins to suppliers. Hence, there has          their in-taxi display showing job and related
been a move by many of the profiled companies to              information and not see a hailing passenger.
extend capabilities to other fleets (eg couriers) and to      There are three leading Australian firms that offer
export product overseas. Overall, Australian ITS              these technologies: Raywood Communications;
providers to the taxi industry are offering a great           Sigtec and Expertech. Raywood Communications of
variety of niche applications.                                Melbourne (www.raywoodcomms.com.au) is the
Table 1 profiles some of the leading Australian firms         largest. The company is also active in the USA, UK,
and their technologies under five headings:                   New Zealand, and the Middle East. Other major
! Dispatch and Security – mobile data, dispatch,              customers outside the taxi industry include Mayne
   satellite GPS and AVL systems, digital camera              Nickless couriers, Royal Automobile Association of
   systems                                                    South Australia, COMCAR, and Yellow Couriers,
                                                              Adelaide.
! Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
! Charging including electronic payment
! In-vehicle advertising
! Vehicle dispatch algorithms
                                                                                                           Sayeg – Handsome Cab              Page 2

                                           Table 1 – Snapshot of Australian Taxi ITS Capability
Main Application                    Company                              Products                             Markets
Dispatch and security – mobile      Raywood Communications,              • Dispatcher III for taxi industry • Australia and New Zealand (24
data, dispatch, Satellite GPS and   Melbourne, Victoria                  • SnapShot (digital video security) sites)
AVL systems, digital camera                                                                                 • Italy
systems
                                                                                                            • UK - Glasgow, Dublin
                                                                                                            • United Emirates
                                                                                                            • USA
                                    Sigtec, Melbourne, Victoria          • Automatic dispatch, AVL and      • Australia (7 sites)
                                                                           security systems for taxis       • Singapore
                                                                         • Australia’s only designer and    • China (Shanghai)
                                                                           manufacturer of GPS receivers
                                    Expertech, Sydney, New South         • “Advantage” Dispatch System & • Australia (12 sites)
                                    Wales                                  “Autotrack” Satellite GPS for
                                                                           taxis and other fleets
Interactive Voice Response          VeCommerce, Sydney, New South • Natural Language Speech                   • Gold Coast, Queensland,
                                    Wales                            Recognition (NLSR) taxi booking              Australia
                                                                     system -TeleCab Express                  • Auckland, New Zealand
                                                                     automated booking system
Charging including electronic       Cabcharge, Sydney, New South  • Taxi Management System –                  •    Australia (96% of all taxis)
payment                             Wales                           payment and accounting system.            •    New Zealand
                                                                                                              •    UK
                                                                                                              •    USA
                                                                                                              •    Singapore
In-vehicle advertising              Interactive Advertising, Gold Coast, • Interactive Taxi Vision (iTV) -    •    Gold Coast, Queensland,
                                    Queensland                             networked, mobile, computer             Australia with active interest
                                                                           system utilising interactive            throughout Australia and Asia.
                                                                           multimedia technology to create
                                                                           digital advertising.
Vehicle dispatch algorithms         CSIRO, Canberra                      • L2sched - a dynamic fleet          • Gold Coast, Queensland,
                                                                           scheduling system                       Australia

                                                                         monochrome photographs for security purposes.
Raywood commenced developing automated
                                                                         SnapShot may be used as an active deterrent device
dispatch systems in 1987 as a fairer way of
                                                                         or as a concealed surveillance device. Since 1997,
allocating jobs amongst taxi drivers who tend to be
                                                                         when the product was first introduced, some 8,000 of
individual business units. The systems were fully
                                                                         these cameras have been installed throughout
automatic and customer addresses were grid
                                                                         Australia, the USA, Norway, Canada and the UK.
referenced to the street directory. Cities were divided
into zones into which drivers could be allocated their                            Figure 1– Raywood’s SnapShot Security Camera
work. Peter Elton, Special Projects Coordinator of
Raywood said that “When prices of GPS units
dropped to A$ 1000 (ie US$ 500) then we could
afford to add the information on the taxi location”.
This occurred in 1994. Raywood has continually
refined the system since that time. Most taxi systems
rely on two-way radio with digital data transmission
as being the most cost-effective system for
communications for sending the messages which
appear as text on the driver’s screen. It is now
common for many larger taxi companies with a large
installed two-way radio transmitter base to offer
bureau services to smaller companies without the
capacity to develop their own networks.                                  Sigtec (www.sigtec.com.au), the second major
Raywood’s latest product is the SnapShot digital                         player, also focuses on the taxi industry and
security surveillance system. It consists of an                          dominates the Sydney taxi market. It has
integrated infrared light source and camera combined                     successfully exported its system to Singapore and
with digital storage techniques to capture
                                                                                  Sayeg – Handsome Cab      Page 3
Shanghai, China, where some 3,000 taxis are now            establish their own extensive transmitter networks
equipped with their dispatch system.                       but the on-going cost of communications is likely to
                                                           be high.
Andrew Mowat CEO of Expertech
(www.expertech.com.au) the third player in the             Naturally Speaking
domestic taxi dispatch industry, says “ we entered
                                                           “Speaking to computers is hardly natural. But 20
the taxi industry with our dispatch systems some 15
                                                           years of experience with voice and technology
years ago. We are arguably stronger than Raywood
                                                           applications allows us to automate many routine
or Sigtec with dispatch applications in other fleets
                                                           transactions providing a better level of service to
such as couriers. All three firms can lay claims to
                                                           users and delivering significant efficiencies. Savings
different technological capabilities and to different
                                                           of up to 80% over traditional means is possible” said
aspects of the market. Some of this is historical
                                                           Paul Magee, Managing Director, of VeCommerce
rather than through technological superiority”.
                                                           Limited (www.vecommerce.com.au, Sydney.
       Figure 2 – Expertech’s In-Taxi Display Terminal     “VeCommerce has developed the world's first
                                                           natural language speech recognition (NLSR) taxi
                                                           booking system. The TeleCab Express automated
                                                           booking system went live in October 2000 with the
                                                           Gold Coast’s Regent Taxis Limited installing it to
                                                           take bookings for their 200 taxis. It is now also
                                                           installed in the major taxi company in Auckland,
                                                           New Zealand. VeCommerce sees transport and
                                                           ticketing applications as a major growth area even
                                                           ahead of financial services, utilities, government
Although there are several international firms             services and waging and gaming.
operating providing similar technologies to global         The system is a sophisticated blend of technologies
markets the Australian firms are having reasonable         (voice recognition, data base) and psychology
international success. There does not appear to be         interfaced with human call centre operations to
any danger that these technologies are being               ensure that the technology can be used to its full
commoditised (even though the component                    advantage and that customer satisfaction is
technologies are to some extent commodities now eg         guaranteed. VeCommerce receives a transaction fee
GPS, two-way radio or private mobile radio (PMR))          for every call placed through its system. Regent
primarily because each application is different, due       Taxis receive approximately 220,000 calls per
to customers usually having their own special              month, with the VeCommerce solution expected to
requirements.                                              automate the majority of these calls. The solution
In Australia, while each of the firms can offer a wide     will deliver significant benefits within the Australian
range of communications technologies two-way               taxi industry, which takes more than 2.5 million calls
radio dominates because of its very low cost. Digital      each month in Australia” said Paul Magee.
network and Short Message Service (SMS) over               Expertech who today are better known for their
GSM networks are too expensive. “Australian                dispatch systems developed a IVR system in 1989
communications companies charge 20 cents (US 10            and still has about 20 systems installed throughout
cents) per SMS message. They are generally limited         Australia in various industries. But the capital costs
to 160 characters” says Andrew Mowat of                    of the system prevented it being taken up widely.
Expertech. Taxi messages would normally be three           Andrew Mowat of Expertech says that
time that size. The teenage SMS market is large and        “VeCommerce jumped the queue by offering a pay
due to the small volume of transactions of the taxi        per job option which makes it very easy for the taxi
and courier industries there is not expected that the      industry to take it up”.
telecommunications companies will be inclined to           Customer benefits include no waiting in phone
discount the calls to the taxi and courier industries to   queues to book a taxi and accurate entry of booking
something that would be affordable (less than one          requests. Above all they do not have to struggle with
Australian cent). SMS is also too slow for dispatch.       confusing push button menus, because the artificial
Higher cost digital data networks have the                 intelligence solution “understands” the verbal
disadvantage that they do not offer voice contact as       request from the customer's normal speech. For
well. Where communications technologies could              Regent Taxis the system reduces call handling costs,
piggyback off existing consumer and commercial             increases the ability to handle busy periods more
networks (eg GSM) then this would provide network          effectively, reduces the need for complex rostering
coverage for small companies without the need to
                                                                                Sayeg – Handsome Cab    Page 4
and enables the company to expand its booking           ! Two wide screen (16:9) Liquid Crystal Displays,
capabilities without increasing labour resources.         which are mounted in the headrest of the two
                                                          front seats of taxis, facing the back seat.
As part of the TeleCab Express implementation,
VeCommerce worked closely with Raywood                  ! A thermal printer, which is mounted in various
Communications to develop an interface to the             location in the vehicle depending on the internal
Raywood Taxi Dispatch system. VeCommerce also             configuration of the vehicle.
developed a special interface to Regent's Lucent        ! A computer that is mounted under the passenger
telephone system.                                         seat of the vehicle.
No free ride                                            ITV boots-up when the vehicle is started, shuts-down
                                                        when the vehicle is stopped and continuously plays
The Cabcharge system (www.cabcharge.com.au)
                                                        when the vehicle is running. ITV requires no
financed by a 10% levy on top of every taxi fare,
                                                        interference by the driver of the vehicle.
began in 1976 and is used by 96% of the taxi fleet in
Australia. It is now listed on the Australian stock                       Figure 3 – iTV in Taxi
market. It has spread overseas through subsidiaries
and franchises to the United States, the United
Kingdom, Singapore and New Zealand. The
Carcharge system is designed to make it possible for
a taxi company to streamline payments and
accounting records. The Cabcharge Taxi
Management System (written for MS Windows)
provides Cabcharge account customers with a
convenient tool for computerised control of taxi
travel expenditure.
Seated comfortably?
“No longer can businesses afford the luxury of mass
communicating their marketing message. Businesses
must now seek to bust through the clutter of existing
mediums and reach their target audience with rifle
shot accuracy” says Andrew Pollard, Chief
Executive Officer of Interactive Advertising Ltd
(www.interactiveadvertising.com.au).
                                                        When in operation, ITV continuously loops silently
Interactive Advertising is a Gold Coast based           through images of advertisers. Digital advertising
unlisted public company that specialises in the         space on iTV is sold to businesses. These businesses
creation and sale of “out-of-home” digital              have the opportunity to advertise their products or
advertising media. Interactive Advertising is           services in multiple languages in a cost-competitive
pioneering this new media frontier with the             digital interactive format on iTV.
development and commercialisation of its first “out-
of-home” digital advertising medium for the taxi and    Passengers in taxis are able to access content on iTV
public transport industry called iTV – Interactive      by interacting with the navigation buttons on iTV
Taxi Vision.                                            from the back seat of the taxi. When a passenger is
                                                        attracted to a particular advertisement in the loop
Interactive Taxi Vision (iTV) is a state of the art,    sequence, they press the More Information button,
networked, computer system that may be mounted in       which automatically displays more information
various mobile locations. It utilises interactive       about the advertiser. Simultaneously, ITV prints a
multimedia technology to create a digital advertising   contact docket containing specific information about
medium that can be viewed and interacted with by        the advertiser as well as any special offer the
audiences in multiple languages. Video and still        advertiser wishes to promote.
images can be displayed.
                                                        ITV captures full operating statistics, including hours
iTV has been specially designed, engineered and         per day ITV is in operation, the number of times a
manufactured to be installed in hostile environments    language is selected, statistics on total number of
and be operated by the general public. iTV consists     Scroll Image impressions, Scroll Image hits and the
of three main components:                               number of dockets printed for each advertiser. Under
                                                        the business model, taxi owners and drivers benefit
                                                        receive benefits. The system was rolled out on 6
                                                                                  Sayeg – Handsome Cab     Page 5
June 2001 in the first of 50 of Gold Coast’s Regent       (www.cmis.csiro.au/or/) has been active in
Taxis. All initial advertising space has been sold        developing transport technology applications for the
indicating that the system has been a great success.      last decade. CSIRO’s l2sched system embodies a
Andrew Pollard says “To date, there have been             number of innovative dynamic-scheduling and
numerous serious inquiries from taxi companies and        dispatching algorithms. It is designed to manage the
advertising firms in Asia which wish to introduce         deployment of fleets of taxis and other demand-
iTV to their home markets”.                               responsive passenger vehicles. Mark Horn of CSIRO
                                                          says that “L2sched has been tested extensively
The hardware and software which drives iTV was
                                                          within a simulation framework, and it is intended
designed by Brisbane company Intellidesign Pty Ltd
                                                          that commercialisation and development will be
(www.intellidesign.com.au).       Dr Chris Bishop,
                                                          carried out in collaboration between CSIRO and a
Managing Director, of Intellidesign says that
                                                          commercial partner. We are talking to major industry
“Products like iTV have demanding requirements.
                                                          players at present”.
The hardware has to be robust, not only able to
                                                          L2sched may be regarded as the central hub of a
handle the rigors of constant vibration but to also be
                                                          radio-based dispatching system, supported
able to survive a significant level of abuse from the
                                                          (optionally) by location-finding technologies such as
user, as the taxi environment can be fairly hostile.
                                                          GPS. It includes dynamic scheduling procedures that
The software has to be similarly robust and
                                                          seek to maximise the efficiency of fleet deployment
foolproof. For iTV we have used an operating
                                                          over time, while acknowledging the practical
system that is commonly utilised in mission critical
                                                          exigencies of real-time operation (eg the
medical devices and industrial control systems. In
                                                          impossibility of global optimisation when demand is
addition, iTV had to be attractive, easy to use and
                                                          revealed only incrementally). Scheduling plans are
easy to install.”
                                                          made as far in advance of travel as possible, thus
Interactive Advertising has recently commissioned         helping to ensure reliable service, while providing
Intellidesign to integrate wireless capability into the   flexibility for optimisation, and consistent with the
next generation iTV. This will allow regular, simple,     (possible) provision of discount fares for "early-
automated uploading of new digital advertising            booking" passengers.
material, and downloading of operating statics, while     The vehicles managed by L2sched may encompass a
the taxi is on the move.                                  variety of operating modes, including traditional
             Figure 4 – Close up of iTV Printer           phone-booked or "step-in" services; multiple hiring;
                                                          special services for elderly and handicapped people;
                                                          and "smart shuttles" adhering nominally to
                                                          timetables but run on demand. Each vehicle can offer
                                                          one or more such services at any given time, and the
                                                          set of services on offer can vary during the course of
                                                          the day.
                                                          Thus L2sched should be of value in handling both
                                                          taxi and specialised passenger-transport operations,
                                                          and perhaps also in augmenting conventional bus
                                                          services where demand is highly dispersed or is
                                                          subject to significant time of day fluctuations.
                                                          End of the Ride
                                                          The innovative companies profiled here are all
                                                          relatively small by international standards but have
                                                          developed high quality, leading-edge products. They
                                                          are, or are capable of, achieving a success outside
                                                          Australia that belies their size. Having developed
                                                          creative combinations of technologies, software and
                                                          business models they are able to offer customised
                                                          solutions to clients in the taxi and courier industries
Good Times                                                world-wide.
Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific Industrial
Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Traffic Technology International Aug/ Sep 2001

								
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