Instead of seeing AI as a replacement for human endeavors, try to see it as an enhancement of them.
This year would have to be dubbed the chauffeured transportation industry’s “Year of the iPad.” The sheer simplicity of use and ability to multi-task at low cost are persuading an increasing number of operators to invest in the tablet computers. Operators are free to ditch communication devices rapidly becoming old-school and the reams of newspapers and magazines cycled daily through chauffeured vehicles.
The benefits of iPads and tablet computers are most noticeable at the chauffeur-level: You can hold it up as a sign with client names, use it to communicate with dispatch, and hand it to a client to read publications or browse the Internet while in the vehicle.
The best thing about the iPads is access to all the information,” says Sami Elotmani, director of affiliate relations for Destination MCO, a 58-vehicle company based in Orlando, Fla. “[Chauffeurs] no longer stop by the office to get paperwork. They have access to reservations, their trips and signs, notes, flight information, and types of jobs. They have access to everything.”
Destination MCO is using about 40 iPads among its chauffeurs. The iPads also help meeting planner clients and their greeters avoid paper manifests. Planners can update manifests in real time as attendees arrive and depart, Elotmani said.
At Allaire Transportation in Farmingdale, N.J., the iPads were being implemented in the 35-vehicle fleet throughout September for a rollout, President and COO Jeff Hitt says. Allaire will place 30 iPads in its sedans and SUVs; its five buses will offer Wi-Fi hotspots for clients to use their own devices. The iPads are integrated with a Livery Coach mobile app that enables chauffeurs, managers, and employees to access the company’s software system at any time.
“The iPads have a dual purpose; we’ll use them as a chauffeur tool and as something we can give to customers to use to enhance their experience,” Hitt says.
Tablet computers provide far more flexibility and capability than cell phones, smartphones, Blackberrys, and two-way push button devices, says Barry Beall, owner of Phoenix-based First Class Executive Limo. As of Sept.30, Beall had been trying out an HTC EVO tablet and a Samsung Galaxy tablet for two weeks on loan from Sprint. Each one is assigned to a chauffeur.
A key advantage of the Evo and Samsung tablets are their 7-inch screens. “The reason we are looking at these two devices is they are the smaller ones and fit in the inside pockets of the chauffeurs’ suit jackets,” Beall says. “The downside is in using them as signs at the airport because they are a bit smaller. We’re working through these things to see if we’re going to like them.”
Beall has been using his personal iPad somewhat for business purposes. He was planning to decide by the end of October which of the three tablet computers he will buy for his seven-vehicle operation. First Class runs on the LimoAnywhere software system.
“One of the things my guys are doing is they log onto dispatch system [via DriverAnywhere mobile device] and use their codes to update their statuses,” Beall says. “They get work assignments out of there. They can look at each run individually, or make a manifest for that day. It puts all their trips there and to see what’s coming up.”
Another feature the chauffeurs at First Class like is the ability to log on at any time to check their payroll summaries, which provide updated accountings of how much money they’ve made in the current pay period, Beall says.
Aside from saving time and sparing hassles, the impetus for using tablet computers of course is the cost savings. At Destination MCO, Elotmani estimates a full return on their investment in about two years. The prices and development costs of adapting the iPads to the chauffeured fleet amount to about $40,000. The iPads also are being beta-tested with Livery Coach software.
During the first six months of use (March to September), Elotmani calculated that the iPads saved the company 5-10% in fuel costs, 10-20% on chauffeur labor costs, 5-10% in overhead costs since the company doesn’t need as many dispatchers, and 30% in office paper consumption. Because the iPads provide a progressive high-tech luxury image, Elotmani figures the company is getting about 5-10% more in sales revenue.
Since all newspapers and magazines can be read via apps on an iPad, Destination MCO also cancelled all of its subscriptions to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today that were daily supplied to the vehicles.
The company uses a purchase structure in which the chauffeurs initially buy the iPads out of their personal funds, but the company then pays the chauffeurs for the iPads in installments over six months. At the end of the six months, the iPads are still owned by the chauffeurs. Destination MCO also pays for the software integration of up to $500 per unit. “This plan gives us more of a commitment from the chauffeurs,” Elotmani says. “Instead of us buying them off the bat, they are committed to us for six months. It gives [them] more pride working in the company and really boosts the morale of the chauffeurs.” Chauffeurs also pay the $25-30 per month cost of the data package from AT&T or Verizon Wireless.
At Allaire, Hitt says the cost to lease the iPads is $20,000, the initial cost of the Livery Coach application module is $2,500, and the monthly costs for Verizon connectivity is about $1,000. “We negotiated some substantial discounts with Verizon so there were no upfront costs. The rebates and discounts brought the cost to nothing.”
The iPads have enabled Allaire to get rid of its Nextel chauffeur phones and beepers and subscriptions to various publications. Hitt estimates that the company’s initial monthly cost savings is about $500, and will eventually rise to $1,200 savings per month based on the improving lease terms as time goes by.
Misgana Kebede, managing partner of Accent Transportation Services in Phoenix, has tested the iPads and is ready to buy them for his 12-vehicle fleet save for one key detail: Mounting the iPads in the rear passenger seat and keeping them secure.
“When the iPad came around, it was a no-brainer,” Kebede said. “You shred so many newspapers every night. I can have several apps that would interest people if I provided it. I can actually buy the cheapest version of the iPad with Wi-Fi and [make it] available to customers.” Kebede estimates the iPad would save him $160 a month on subscriptions to the WSJ and the Arizona Republic. “If I can subscribe to an app for all those things and get rid of paper, that will be amazing,” he says.
Kebede has experimented with two iPads owned by him and his office manager. His vehicles have Wi-Fi, with about 5% of clients so far using it. “To this day, we haven’t found a product to mount and swivel the iPad,” Kebede says. “With some you can put it in the headrest, but then you can’t move it up and down. That’s fine for watching a DVD, but you need the ability to swivel. I don’t want it to sit on the seat and be vulnerable to being stolen — not by the clients but from an auto break-in or if the chauffeur has to leave the vehicle briefly.”
After researching mounting equipment, Kebede found a potential swiveling device among a set of products made by Vogel. In particular, Kebede is looking at the company devising a product that combines its kitchen and vehicle mount versions that would provide a balanced swivel and tilt that doesn’t intrude on the client’s rear seat comfort and space. Website: www.ipadonthewall.com/ringo/
“For me, we sell productivity and peace of mind,” Kebede says. “From the time you call us to the time we drop you off, we want you to be at peace and productive. You can check e-mail, read the news, kick back and watch something on the iPad. That’s what we want to sell, and the iPad is the best tool.”
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