In this day and age, the rules of business are changing, especially in service industries. Now, the customer has become much more discerning and demanding in what they expect from a service. Before they part with their cash, they want to be sure that it’s of sufficient quality, worth what they are paying, and reliable.
In the taxi industry, the disruptive changes involve factors typical of many other industries, such as technological advances. Nevertheless, that isn’t to say there aren’t opportunities for the entrepreneurial spirit. So, how you can start, run and optimise your taxi business so that it will be as profitable given the effort you and your drivers put into it?
Finding out about the specifics when starting your taxi business is clearly the key to your research. Firstly, write a business plan. Even if you aren’t borrowing money to help you start up, it’s a very useful exercise to sharpen your mind and identify why you want to do it in the first place.
Do you want to be a Hackney Carriage or a Private Hire Vehicle taxi service? The first allows you to pick up fares anywhere, without prior booking. These only operate in large cities, where the passing trade makes it worth their while like London.
Private Hire Vehicles, on the other hand, cannot pick up fares wherever and whenever they like. They are only authorised to collect customers who have pre-booked their service.
Before you start your taxi firm, you’ll need to:
Putting a figure on the cost of setting up a taxi business is, therefore, dependent on the various factors above. One online article puts the average cost at ‘more than £10,000’, giving a breakdown of the various cost sources.
In many respects, a taxi business is like any other business. It’s as profitable as you want it to be if there is a latent demand for your service. In business terms, you need to be aware of the following factors:
Have you got the appropriate taxi fleet insurance for your specific business model and operations? It could make the difference between success and failure for your business, given the higher-than-average degree of risk when driving so frequently, as well as relying on the safe driving of your other drivers if you have a taxi fleet. It’s a fundamental question and as it’s a significant regular cost, you need to make sure you compare quotes to get the cover that’s right for you.
It’s certainly the cheapest way of starting up on your own and getting your company up and running. Many sole traders choose this as the most economical option but take into account the effect it’s likely to have on your home life. If you have a family, they have to commit to accepting the impact of the inevitable change in lifestyle it will cause for you all. If you are using your home number as the booking line, it also means having someone on the other end to take the bookings.
You also need to think about the impact on neighbours and the surrounding community if you are operating from home, as there are certain legal requirements you need to observe. Once your business grows, using your home as your business base begins to be less practical.
All licensed taxis have a fully regulated taximetre, updated and controlled by your local authority (or Transport for London). It’s easiest to take London as an example, as what you will be able to charge is determined by which part of the country you want to set up your taxi company.
In Greater London, for licensed Hackney Carriages, the minimum fare is £2.20 - from then on, the metre clicks over for the duration of the journey.
In general, taxis offer very good value for groups, as up to five passengers can travel at the cost of one – there’s no extra charge for other passengers or luggage. One of the reasons why taxis are becoming more popular is that compared with public transport (buses and trains, largely) they are cost effective for the passenger and they offer a door-to-door service.
In this article about London taxi fares, there’s a good example of the savings possible for a family of 5 travelling to Heathrow (as opposed to using the train service). Of course, in large cities, if you are competing against the likes of Uber and other well-funded companies, you are going to need to be more inventive about marketing your service, or establish a niche service (such as airport connections or special occasions).
At the end of the day, the question of how much you can charge for fares using your taxi fleet is academic. You need to be licenced as you need that credibility. There is simply too much competition around to survive as the typical ‘minicab’ company.
You should always greet the passenger as soon as they get in the cab. A warm and friendly welcome sets a positive tone (and makes a difference if you are wanting a tip!) However, judge the mood and if your passenger isn’t particularly chatty, there’s no need to be overly friendly for the sake of it.
You need to be attuned to your passengers’ needs and make them comfortable. It comes down to communicating in an appropriate way and keeping the conversation light if they seem chatty. Show an interest in them (without probing too far) rather than talking at them with an endless list of taxi anecdotes. If working in hot conditions, some drivers keep bottled water to offer to passengers – a small gesture but appreciated. Never mind if they refuse, it’s the thoughtfulness that counts.
You can have training for managing passengers with physical disabilities, so make sure that you put that learning into practice. If you have, for example, a people carrier, you have space to store equipment like wheelchairs or crutches, and you will know the appropriate way to help someone into your car. You’ll find some tips for transporting disabled passengers here.
Passengers with physical limitations need to feel, above all, safe and secure in their environment. If you want to go the extra mile, you could equip your taxis with wheelchair ramps, and if you are regularly collecting elderly passengers, offer them a special discounted fare rate. After all, in a sense, they are a ‘receptive’ target customer and you know they are likely to use you repeatedly.
You spend time and money keeping your taxi spotless, inside and out, but how about your appearance? Make sure you take pride in your appearance – keep yourself well-groomed and smart while you are on duty. Some taxi fleet owners choose to use a uniform for their staff – that’s up to you. Just remember, it’s common knowledge that we form a visual impression of someone within the first ten seconds of seeing them!
Be a good, safe driver – presumably, that’s what you think you are, as you wouldn’t have chosen to enter this profession otherwise! But bear in mind that what might constitute ‘good’ and ‘safe’ to you might not correspond to your passengers’ definitions. Observe road rules to the letter, especially where speed is concerned.
This might not be a game-changer, but when the traffic is bad, or there’s an unexpected snarl-up, passengers appreciate drivers with enough knowledge of the route to have a ‘plan B’. Timing is very important to many passengers. If you give a time for pick-up, make absolutely sure you respect it.
We’ve covered certain success factors, but there are a few others which could give you a greater competitive edge and, thus, chances of being successful.
There are now several taxi management systems on the market – here’s an example of the kind of package these systems provide. Essentially, they are there to help you and your business save time and reduce costs. You are able to process more bookings by phone, website or apps. Many of these systems are cloud-based, so you don’t need a costly investment in hardware and servers. They are also subscription-based (monthly normally), so that is a cost you can spread throughout the year.
This company’s system, like many others available, offers the following range of functionalities:
Ghost booking and dispatch system - an automated application which means you don’t need a person to manage routine tasks which can be done by software with elements of artificial intelligence.
Passenger app - this allows your passenger to geo-locate your taxi as you are approaching the pick-up point and also estimates your journey time based on traffic conditions in real time.
For your business needs, analytics tools use data collected by the system to inform you about factors like popular routes, peak and quiet times and your team members’ driving activity - the aim is to optimise the efficient use of your resources.
These all-in-one systems may also provide:
If you become so successful you want to expand to a taxi fleet, you’ll need to
recruit the right people to work in your vehicles. Make sure the applicants have the relevant licence, can work in the UK and don’t have a criminal record. Non-compliance could put you or your employees in legal jeopardy.
Use training organisations so that your drivers keep to a high standard and are conscious of best practices in the industry. Your drivers will probably thank you for this as well because investing in training is a sure-fire sign that you are committed to running a reputable and professional company.
When it comes to the maintenance of your taxi (or taxi fleet), there are routine tasks you can carry out:
Servicing - as you are doing a lot more mileage than average, you should have a thorough service every 6 months at a minimum.
Valeting - doing a quick vacuum of the car and running over surfaces with a cloth isn’t really sufficient when you have so many passengers passing through your cab on a daily basis. Invest a few pounds and take it to a professional valeting service every few days. It will cost you the equivalent of an average fare for a short journey.
Whether you want to start as a one-man-band, or you are thinking about expanding to a taxi fleet, it’s well worth emphasising the importance of taxi fleet insurance.
After your car(s) and your reputation, it’s the most important ‘safety net’ for your business offering the assurance that if anything goes wrong, you know you are protected. We are specialists in taxi fleet insurance, so get a quote today from us so you can find the insurance coverage that best suits your particular needs.