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Yellow Cab Hopes Dispatch Tweak Will Encourage Cabbies to Play Downtown

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, June 11, 2009, at 04:21PM
Passing Fares Ed Fuentes

A Yellow Cab waits at a Bunker Hill taxi stand in this 2008 file photo.

Los Angeles' largest cab company has approved a new program designed to encourage its drivers to take more short trips from Downtown's bars and restaurants.

By tweaking the rules on how incoming calls are dispatched, the company hopes that it can remove the penalty associated with accepting a lower-fare local ride.

Yellow Cab Senior Director of Sales and Marketing William Hebler explained the program to an eager crowd of nightlife operators this afternoon at a meeting of the Downtown Hospitality Forum.

Once month ago, Hebler had attended the forum meeting only to be met with news of issues venues were having getting cabbies to accept short trips from their patrons.

This afternoon, he explained that drivers were reluctant to accept short trips because in doing so they would lose their place in the company's dispatching queue. Yellow Cab runs a high-tech "digital dispatch" system that uses GPS to route calls to drivers located in zones around the city. When a driver enters a zone, he is placed in the queue for incoming calls.

Until now, any trip accepted has sent that driver to the bottom of the dispatch queue, meaning that accepting a $10 local fare could mean a long wait for another call to come in.

To figure out a solution that would encourage drivers to accept the short trips, Hebler looked at a program Yellow Cab had implemented five years ago. The company, which represents 1/3 of Los Angeles' taxi fleet, was receiving a high number of complaints from grocery store shoppers who wanted a ride back home with their bags.

To encourage drivers to pick up these shoppers, Yellow Cab implemented what it calls "market trips." Drivers who accept a call from a market shopper are returned to their position in the queue after delivering a short-trip fare.

Hebler told the group that complaints from grocery shoppers have disappeared since the program was implemented, and that he thinks the new Downtown nightlife program has the same potential.

To implement the program, Hebler used Yellow Cab trip data to identify the twenty drivers who do the most nighttime business Downtown. He will be meeting with them in small groups to explain the new rules and encourage them to take advantage of the program. Since Yellow Cab's drivers are all owner-operators, the co-op company cannot simply dictate they behave any certain way.

"L.A. deserves really good cab service," Hebler told blogdowntown after the meeting. He feels that the Hail-a-Taxi program and this new nightlife effort will help create a foundation for making Los Angeles a taxi town.


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