The expense for your fledgling taxi firm will not end with buying a few cars and hiring a couple of drivers. Modern cab companies have state-of-the-art radio equipment, with many splashing out on new technology such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS). If you are starting your private hire firm on little more than a shoe string, your options are narrowed, but you still must invest in radio equipment, and get it properly licensed too.
Almost all private hire firms have some sort of radio communication, ranging from simple hand held mobile devises to complex computerised systems that are able to track and interact with drivers. Before you consider your options, however, you must get a proper license.
The Ofcom licensing centre issues operators with licenses to be able to own and use radio equipment. You can either apply directly to Ofcom or leave it to your supplier to sort out. Applications usually take around two weeks to be processed.
“The cost depends very much on the number of cars in your fleet and the frequency you transmit on,” says a spokeswoman. “For example, if you were starting out and had one to eleven cars, the costs would be lower. If you are using a high density band needed in a congested area, such as a town centre, this is more expensive than if you were using a low density frequency in rural areas.
“So, the cost of the license can vary, depending on your circumstances,” she says.
You can contact Ofcom by calling 020 7981 3040 or by clicking on www.ofcom.org.uk
Small operators starting out go for the standard radio equipment – as long as you are able to communicate effectively with your fleet, there’s little need to pay over the odds for flashy devises.
Paul Farmer of a leading radio equipment suppliers says: “The most basic equipment you can get is just a fixed mobile appliance, which you can get with VHF (Very High Frequency).
“Back at the control centre, you can then have a desktop microphone to save you using your hands for the radio all the time. You need a power supply unit for that, and you also need an external antenna on your base.
“Bear in mind that you need planning permission to put this on a building and if you are just operating out of a residential house, you’ll have to put it at the gable end of the property, and not on the front of the house,” he says.
Make sure you get the right equipment for the area you cover. VHF is good for long range communication and is best over long straight lines, so if your private hire firm is in a small town or village, that would be best. Ultra High Frequency (UHF) is a shorter wavelength and it bounces well off buildings, so if you were operating in a busy, built up area, that would be the one for you. It’s important to get that right, especially as equipment doesn’t cost more or less according to the frequency.
“You can also use the Dolphin System, which uses a collection of mobile phone-like devices to link taxi cabs together by using group calls,” explains Paul.
“Saying that, the group call feature is very difficult to set up and although you can use the devises as mobile phones, they are very expensive,” he says.
Equipment costs can vary greatly according to your supplier, so shop around for the beat deal from a reputable radio communications firm.
To take the next step up to cover a wider area, you would need to lease a line on one of your area’s telephone masts. Space on these transmitters is owned by companies such as NTL and Crown Castle, who then lease out space to local operators.
However, although this option allows your firm to cover a larger area, it can be expensive for companies just starting out. Just setting up a lease on a mast can cost many hundreds of pounds, while you may have to pay tens of thousands a year rental on the airspace. Although these costs can be covered by increased custom due to a wider consumer base, it is usually only medium to larger-sized private hire firms that go down this route.
Once upon a time, the only way to keep in touch with your fleet would be to bark instructions down a microphone and hope your cars are roughly where they should be.
Luckily, with new technology you can track your cars as they roam around town using GPS, and keep in touch with them by simple text message.
Previously, GPS systems have been out of the price range for most start-up minicab firms, but luckily there is a new range of affordable options, with the Navman systems leading the way.
The best option for small firms is the web based system, which is accessible using just specialised software and the internet. Such applications allow you to log onto a restricted access website, and to track and communicate with your drivers, who have simple sister devises in their cars.
Once your fleet it wired up, you can talk to them as normal, but you can also send them text messages inquiring about pick ups and so on. The drivers have five or six standard responses that they can send back to you, ranging from ‘Picked up and on our way’ to ‘Help! I’m being attacked!’
Such services are charged on a monthly rate per car operating, although strict contracts mean that you are often tied into the service for up to five years.