While the numbers are hard to pin down, the reality is drivers don't make much when factoring out overhead costs.
For all the benefits computers and phones offer a 24/7 transportation company, when they fail, you face one of the toughest challenges for an operator. If you don’t have backup plans, the fallout will only worsen. Hurricane Matthew just underscored this in early October. Let’s examine how you can create a plan to back up information, technology, and operations.
What Could Go Wrong?
Here are the three major considerations for failure: Electricity, computer systems, and phones. Take just one and your business will be severely crippled. Other disrupters include external events, such as urban riots and unrest, an extreme blizzard, a terrorist attack, or any number of natural or man-made disasters. You can’t control any of these events, so plan for the worst to minimize client hassles.
Electricity failures are by far the most damaging. They take down your phone, computer systems, and HVAC systems, and cut the lighting. Two years ago, Chris Vecchio, owner of ChiTown Party Bus in Chicago, endured a storm-related nightmare. The rainstorm knocked out power and his phones. The power utility estimated a five-to-seven-hour repair time. With 10 afternoon weddings and 40 evening trips on the books, Veccchio got creative.
For the next six hours, Vecchio’s car became a mobile command center for himself and three other staffers. Using a power inverter to provide juice and set up a hotspot connection with his cell phone, a laptop connected their cloud-based software. They could use Kinko’s (which had power) to print trip sheets. Working from the car, dispatchers could handle incoming calls forwarded to a cell phone and make confirmation calls to clients and chauffeurs.
Using an inverter for power from a vehicle is a cheap way to stay up and running and may work for a small to midsize operator, but not a large fleet company such as Reston Limousine, which serves the Washington, D.C. metro area with more than 200 rides per day.
Barry Gross, Reston’s business development manager, says the company has installed a natural gas powered generator that automatically kicks in when the power fails. There are gasoline, diesel and natural gas-powered generators, with the latter being the most reliable. If there is a massive power outage, gas stations will be unable to pump gas, but natural gas is piped in by the local gas or utility company.
Along with generators, computer experts recommend every critical computer is plugged into a UPS system (Uninterruptable Power Supply) producing a minimum of 750 volts. This will keep your computers running for 15-60 minutes while you switch to a generator and will also prevent a jolt of electricity from damaging your computer when power is restored.
Computer shutdowns can be broken down into two parts: Data loss and hardware failures. A hardware failure might create a temporary lack of access to data, where an actual true data loss would be catastrophic without a recent backup. Despite cloud-based software companies touting redundant servers in multiple cities, many in the industry recently learned a glitch from a major industry software provider denied many operators access to their data in the cloud.
Dianna Zanglin, owner of Cleveland Taxi Limo, was one affected customer who panicked upon realizing the problem. “I was unable to see current reservations, book future reservations or share trip assignments with drivers,” Zanglin said. This is one reason Gross says Reston Limousine backs up every reservation to paper.
Computer Contingency Plans
Your contingency plans for a computer failure will depend upon whether you use a cloud-based system or store your reservations on an in-house server. Cloud-based systems are the most reliable and trusted types of systems, as you can access them from anywhere using multiple devices in most cases. However, we now know they are not immune to widespread failures.
If you use an in-house system, you should strongly consider installing a “mirror disk,” says Trent Maas, owner of TM Systems, a California-based hardware company.
With disk mirroring, every change you make on your server’s primary hard drive is updated to a second hard drive as a “mirrored image.” If your primary drive fails, the data is still on the mirrored image drive typically inside the same computer as the primary drive.
However, this same principle can be used with an external drive that could be plugged into a computer at another offsite location. You also must have the reservations software loaded on the offsite computer and will probably need tech support to redirect where the program looks for the data, but you will be back in business shortly.
Offsite Data Backup
If your server is stolen during a break-in or you have a catastrophic flood or fire, your best protection against losing your data is an offsite back-up system. Many companies and pricing plans give you infinite storage capability and peace of mind. In a catastrophe, all your data would be safe and sound in the cloud, including documents, accounting systems, artwork and all the other pieces of business material kept on your server.
Telephone System Failures
Our phone systems are our lifelines. Without them, we are unable to conduct business in the way our clients expect. This includes answering the phone in a few rings and relaying vital information to clients and staff alike. Make sure each phone that requires electricity is also plugged into a UPS. When the power fails, the phones stay operating long enough for you to reroute incoming calls to another phone number or system. Advanced products from phone line providers and VoIP phone systems have made phone system failures one of the easiest to recover from.
Phone Backup Plans
The simplest way for a small- to medium-size operator to recover from a phone failure is to subscribe to a service called Remote Call Forwarding. This service is free with most local service or may have a nominal fee of less than $5 per month. Using this service, you dial a 7-digit number and follow the prompts to specify what phone number you want to have rerouted (it is pass code protected) and what number you want them to go to now. If you receive many calls, you can create a greeting that explains your temporary situation and prompts the caller to leave a name and number for an immediate call back. Return the calls using another cell phone.
Operators Dino Javas and Matt McHugh are examples of industry upstarts who see potential in luxury vehicle service.
eNews Exclusive: Operator Jodi Merritt has come to realize the value of offering a diverse fleet.
GO Puerto Rico Shuttle provided steady transportation for four months in devastating conditions.
Doug Schifter was waging a campaign to stop Uber from taking the livelihoods of black car drivers until he killed himself.
The West Coast region has the highest gallon prices in the nation, with California at $3.69. Connecticut and Pennsylvania round out the top 10 at $3.04.
The PSA done with the National Limousine Association is the fourth one from the actress-activist spotlighting ridehail faults.
Michael Campbell gives new meaning to recruitment efforts in his home state of New Hampshire.
The Houston school district doesn't have enough drivers to keep its fleet of yellow buses on the road.
SOFTWARE SNAFU? Sources say the system was set up to overlook objects it should have noticed.
eNews Exclusive: Being forced out of the chauffeur seat helped Brian Beaulieu expand his fleet from one to 40 vehicles.
VIDEO: These four steps that should be part of any driver training could spare your luxury vehicles from accidents.
AAA demonstrates how to adjust your side and rear view mirrors so they fully reveal your blind spots. Full safety tips here
MAY LCT: Two key operational challenges for motorcoach operators are preparing for roadside inspections and maintaining electronic logs.
MAY LCT: Manufacturers are advancing in the luxury transportation market as more riders prefer big buses.
The world's No. 1 online marketplace and trader for professional chauffeured and chartered vehicles, including all types of motorcoaches, buses, vans, stretch limousines, sedans, SUVs, exotics, and classics. New and used vehicles are available from sellers across the nation.
The best online networker to find quality affiliates worldwide and market your company.
Click on any state to see the latest industry news and events in that region.