THE computer age has come to Baltimore taxis, and boy...

salmagundi

September 06, 1994

THE computer age has come to Baltimore taxis, and boy, what a difference!

Residents of neighborhoods where a half hour's wait or longer after calling for a cab were not unusual now can find them at their doors in less than 10 minutes. The Yellow Cab organization, which has absorbed the old Sun and Checker cab companies, has installed a $1.25 million computer system which is supplanting the old voice radios for dispatching taxis.

Each of the company's 500 cabs has a computer terminal mounted next to the driver. The driver can punch in the number of the zone in which the cab is located. A call for a cab in that area is automatically routed to the first in the electronic line. If no cab is in that zone at the time, after 10 minutes the call goes out to adjacent zones. No turning down calls if the driver doesn't like the sound of the address.

A small, very unscientific survey indicates drivers mostly like the new system. They get their directions on a readable screen, instead of having to decipher a dispatcher's instructions over a sometimes screechy radio. And cynical drivers who believed dispatchers played favorites in assigning calls find no fault with the impersonal computer. It's faster for the customer and the company. A good dispatcher could handle perhaps 100 calls an hour. The computer can handle 100 a minute.

What's more, the computer remembers customers. A first-time caller gives the cab company operator the originating telephone number, then the customer's name, address and destination. On the next call, the customer's telephone number recalls for the cab company operator the previous data -- even special instructions like coming to a side door instead of the front.

Still to come are features like payment by credit cards, the ability to call a cab directly from a touch tone phone without human intervention and a list of frequent customers who could be given special attention.

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