Magazine article Management Today

MT People: The Sharp End - Doing a Fare Day's Work

Magazine article Management Today

MT People: The Sharp End - Doing a Fare Day's Work

Article excerpt

The life of a minicab despatcher is not the low-tech one it once was, found Dave Waller.

I'm off to flex my phonetics as a cab despatcher - foxtrotting and tangoing down the radio with the taxi drivers at Addison Lee.

The first thing that strikes me when I arrive is that Addison Lee is not your typical minicab company. It has clearly moved up a gear from those old-school, nicotine-stained cab offices where at 2am a wan, stubble-bedecked bloke barks into the radio and a motley line of ancient Toyotas and Nissans lurks outside. Its Euston HQ is more like the lair of a Bond villain, full of uniformed minions plugged into banks of screens showing rolling databases and London maps. The latter are submerged under a sea of coloured dots, as if Blofeld is planning to suffocate the city with skittles.

In fact, each dot represents one of their 1,381 minicab drivers: red means they're busy, blue they're en route to a job, green they're ready for work and yellow they're reading the sport pages.

'In the old days, controllers would do everything themselves, allocating jobs, telling drivers where to go and sorting out their problems,' says VIP manager Paul Regan. 'They could only do the job for an hour at a time it was so stressful. Then someone else would take over while you went for a walk. You'd be burnt out by 40.'

Sounds horrible. Now the computers do all the job allocation, keeping tabs on drivers and dishing out work to those best placed to do it. The aim is to avoid the scourge of dead mileage. For a 10.30am booking, it will allocate the job to the nearest driver at 10.20, sending the information straight to a handheld XDA device. It means the company can now handle 1,000 jobs an hour, up from 60 or 70 jobs an hour 10 years ago.

Paul's VIP work involves looking after Addison Lee's 16,000 corporate clients, a roster that includes 50% of the FTSE-100. 'As a car service we're only 0.1% of a client's day,' he says, 'but if something goes wrong we become 10% of their day.' The likes of Barclays Capital, Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank are among today's clients.

It turns out this lot are earning a tasty pounds 35,000 to pounds 40,000 a year, and if I'm not going to witness chain-smoking and caffeine addiction or a short-wave meltdown, I feel I'm owed at least some swearing. …

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