or more than a decade taxi man Vinnie Kearns (pictured)has been on a mission to set new standards in the Irish taxi industry in terms of the needs of passengers and drivers.
A chance meeting, he recalls, with O2 Ireland CEO Danuta Gray at a Dublin Chambers of Commerce breakfast meeting set in motion a chain of events that led Kearns to consider setting up his own business. Kearns then has raised €3.8m from investors to create Ireland's first hi-tech taxi fleet, Xpert Digi Taxis.
"Ireland was lagging way behind in terms of technologies and standards used in taxis, but by taking on board best practice and the best technologies we can make a difference," Kearns says.
The fleet of taxies rolling on to Dublin streets by Xpert Digi Taxis will be equipped with in-car CCTV cameras, emergency panic buttons and an integrated global positioning system (GPS). The company will operate initially in the Dublin area and has 200 taxis on-board. A nationwide rollout of the service is on the cards and the company expects to have 2,000 taxis on the road within the next three years.
As well as the uniformed drivers, CCTV cameras, panic buttons and GPS, the new taxis will feature a chip and PIN credit and laser card terminal. The in-car CCTV cameras will use Bluetooth technology to interface with an in-car Xda device and images will be stored for 48 hours and may be examined in the case of complaint. The Xda will also be used by the drivers to receive job notifications from the dispatch centre. It is understood after signing a deal with Conduit the new company will become the first taxi firm in Ireland to have a dedicated call centre. Conduit will deploy 16 staff to operate the call centre.
Using software by Finnish company MobiSoft, the call centre at Conduit will receive calls from the public and by typing in the order the GPS allocates the nearest available taxi to make the pick-up. Kearns says this has the obvious benefits of convenience for customers but also for taxi drivers who no longer have to wait at taxi ranks to collect business. "But there are also inherent security advantages," Kearns stresses, "that ensure peace of mind for passengers and drivers alike. Every card is fitted with an in-car security camera that takes digital shots every 10 seconds and downloads the information on to a hard drive behind the dashboard that the driver can't get access to. Every 48 hours this video loops over itself so within that time frame if there has been a complaint against a driver the hard drive can be accessed.
"For protection, in order to prevent attacks on drivers, there is an emergency button, which instantly sets to getting the camera recording images every two seconds and sends images via GPRS into the call centre servers, sends a map to the Xda of every driver in the fleet and the gardaí are notified and we can pass on the images to the gardaí," Kearns says.
As well as added security and efficiency, the use of the various technologies includes the first deployment of GPRS-based chip and PIN in taxis in Ireland. "There are no wires and it's the most secure way of using your credit card. Because the signal is digital and being sent over GPRS, it is encrypted and therefore impossible for anyone to intercept the detail," says Kearns.
In conclusion Kearns says: "We have changed the way the taxi business functions in Ireland and effectively have turned it on its head. We have professionalised the sector and raised the standards for the betterment of the customers and the drivers themselves.