Whistler Resort Cabs
In the fall of 2003, Jack and Carolyn Crompton and their business associates were busy putting the final touches on a business plan that would see the beginning of a new era for transportation in this bustling ski town, home to the largest ski area in North America. With over two million visitors streaming into Whistler, BC, each year, they recognized the market was in need of a high quality passenger transportation provider. They envisioned creating a modern taxi company, combining first class technology with clean, efficient, safe vehicles to ensure that customer service was second to none, while operating costs were as low as possible.
Going For Gold
Like nearby Vancouver’s winning bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, they knew that in order to be successful, they had to be different. They had to be better. As a result, their business plan included professionally trained drivers, all new four wheel drive vehicles to ensure passenger safety in heavy snow, web-site order-entry for advanced reservations and a computerized dispatch system. Pretty heady stuff for a start-up… Whistler Resort Cabs was going for the Gold!
While many well established, even much larger taxi companies throughout North America continue to operate manually with radio dispatch, Jack and his team recognized the need to commence with an automated dispatch right out of the gate. As Mr. Crompton recalls, “Our research determined that Whistler was a unique market, in that average trip length would be relatively short, as the majority of trips would remain within the Ski Village. At the same time, we anticipated that trip volume would be much higher than normal due to the heavy concentration of hotels within the area. The economics of manual dispatch just didn’t seem to work due to the anticipated high call volume.” Expanding further, Mr. Crompton recalls, “We knew that a modern dispatch system would allow reservations to be booked and dispatched much faster, while keeping 24/7 manpower requirements within a realistic budget.”
A Different Twist
Finding an automated dispatch system that would fit within their budget would prove to be a significant challenge. Whistler Resort Cabs approached all the leading taxi dispatch providers and obtained detailed quotations, however in all cases, costs were prohibitive, due to the high cost of the mobile data hardware. “At that time, explains Jack, “There really was no system available with the features we were looking for that wasn’t well over $100,000.00, which was just simply not feasible for our operation at the time. “However, through our discussions with Future Quest Wireless, expands Mr. Crompton, “they suggested a new concept for consideration, using Nextel-type cellular phones as the vehicle data device instead of traditional mobile data terminals. We found the concept appealing on three levels: First and foremost, it brought hardware costs down dramatically, to the point where the system fit into our start-up budget realistically. Secondly, it solved many voice communications related issues, as its built-in Direct Connect feature allowed voice and data in the same device, with private driver/dispatcher communications and coverage that would far exceed two-way radio in our mountainous region. Thirdly, unlike traditional mobile data terminals, the proposed concept would allow drivers to send and receive messages and trip offers even while out of their vehicles helping customers with their ski equipment.
Future Quest President, Gord Walsh remembers, “My entire career was centered around wireless communications, so at the time I was intimately familiar with the iDEN technology that Nextel in the US and Telus, (Mike network) up in Canada were using. In fact, we had been using these recently released GPS capable Motorola iDEN handsets on the vehicle tracking side of our business for entry level vehicle tracking systems, so we were aware of their capabilities. It occurred to me when working with Whistler, that utilizing these handsets as a mobile data terminal might make a lot of sense. We worked with our engineering people on the concept and they were 100% behind it, so we proposed it to Whistler …and the rest is history.”
Patience Has Its Rewards
Further expanding on the launch of the system, Mr. Walsh explains, “The whole proposition was more than a little scary, as we had committed to a system that really hadn’t been built yet. There was no issue with the core dispatch system, which already had over 10 years of development behind it. However, integrating it to the Motorola phones using packet data had never been done before. The iDEN network was really the very first widely available cellular network with packet data capability on the market, so there were many new tripping points. Although we were already integrated to many different mobile data terminals, they all used private radio systems as the data backbone.”
“To be honest, integration to the iDEN network and these handsets may not have been possible, were it not for Whistler Resort Cabs”, explains Mr. Walsh. “They not only took a big flier by giving us the order in the first place for something that really didn’t exist, but they went through a lot of pain during the development process, while we got things right. They were basically our live testing ground, so the first year was a little rough, to say the least. But, I remember how proud we all were, when Whistler completed over 1,000 automatic dispatched trips in a single day, during their first New Year’s Day in business! The system was so fast, we were all amazed.”
Move Once, Age In Place
Fast forward several years and the system has successfully automatically dispatched well over three million trips and Whistler has become the area’s premier transportation provider! Adds Jack Crompton, “There were some trying times in the beginning. Its certainly given us an appreciation for the incredible complexity in the communications aspects of a dispatch system, with the myriad of what-if scenarios and all the handshaking thats going on back and forth. Looking back now, I can recall that Future Quest stayed right on top of it daily and kept digging at it until they had it right. Now, the system is rock solid and unbelievably fast and reliable. A new trip reservation can be entered in a matter of only 3 or 4 seconds. Then, by the time you can count to two, its already been accepted by the closest driver.”
In 2010, the wireless dispatch component of the system underwent another generational shift, migrating from iDEN (Nextel technology) to open architecture Android technology. The original concept of leveraging consumer technology to bring costs down for users remains intact and Whistler was one of the first taxi fleets to realize its benefits.
In 2015, Whistler Resort Cabs is still going strong and continues to take advantage as new system capabilities are rolled out. General Manager, Mr. Garri Parhar explains, “We’ve been with Future Quest for 13 years now and its hard to overstate just how reliable they have been as our dispatch providers. When we call for support, they are always available day or night and whatever the issue may be, its resolved quickly. More often that not, its something on our end that’s the issue, such as our internet.”
Summarizing the experience, Mr. Parhar goes on to explain, “Future Quest has constantly improved the system over the years and we never have to worry about being left behind. Last winter, our riders began to book trips by app and this winter, we’ll roll out the kiosk app for our bar, restaurant and hotel clients, allowing them one-touch trip booking. There is always a steady stream of improvements and enhancements. In 12 years, we’ve seen 3 completely different platforms and this year, we’re looking at a complete migration to the new Taxi Commander cloud system.”