Nelson Muchekeni puts on his turn signal and looks both ways before he pulls out of the Monkey Tree Gas bar on Range Lake Road in Yellowknife. That’s when the dash-mounted tablet in his cab lets out a chime.
Once he's pulled out into traffic, he glances down at the screen.
"Shall I take it?" he jokes. "We’re pretty full. I’d have to kick you out."
Nelson’s showing off City Cab’s new dispatch system. The tablet in his vehicle lets him know when he’s first up for a customer, while the GPS in the unit lets dispatchers keep track of where he and other drivers are located.
It’s all being tracked on a computer via a web-based system at City Cab’s office.
"We are able to see in 'real time' where the cars are, where they are driving and exactly what they are doing," says City Cab general manager Nero Mohamed.
When a customer calls in, the dispatcher enters their address into the system. Then the system decides which cab is closest and sends out a message to that driver’s tablet.
Mohamed says drivers like Muchekeni received training before the tablets were handed over. The dash-mounted devices are being installed at a rate of about 8 cars a day in the nearly 100 cabs in the company's fleet.
"Basically, right now we are in the implementation process," says Mohamed. "Customers may see tablets loose. But we are encouraging drivers, until it is mounted, not to keep it on their lap or their hand, that will distract them driving."
Distracted cab drivers?
That was Miranda Currie’s concern when she first saw the tablet in a cab earlier this month.
"It was sitting in their lap. The concern I had was that it initially was a distraction and it made me feel less safe."
Currie says she has some mobility issues, so she uses cabs 3 or 4 times a week and knows a lot of the drivers by name.
Since the new tablets were introduced, she’s twice had drivers so distracted by the new system that they forgot to turn on the meter.
She says she’s since been in a cab which had the dash mount installed.
"It does seem less distracting," she says. "I’m much more comfortable with [the dash-mounted unit] than on their lap. I hope their goal is reached in terms of a better service to the customer and it’s not a distraction."
She's also pleased the new system will accept debit payments, because that will save her having to go across town to the bank before heading to appointments.
Yellowknife’s municipal enforcement manager Doug Gillard says he was a bit surprised when he realized the cab company’s new dispatch system involved the use of a tablet. He said they’ve had a couple of inquiries from the public.
However, Gillard says as long as the tablet is mounted correctly on the dash, the system meets Department of Transportation requirements.
"From what I’ve seen it actually would probably be better than the other system," says Gillard. "The information on the tablet is clearer than the other system. And it’s very simple to use. A couple touches on the screen and then they get their trip sent to them and where the location is."
Gillard has the same message for cab drivers as for all drivers:
"If they’re actually seen driving holding the tablet it’s considered under the distracted driving laws."
Mohamed says the company would also like passengers to report back to them if they see the tablet in a driver's hand while the vehicle is in operation.
"Call us," he says. "Call dispatch or even the office. We will make sure we deal with that. Nothing has changed in terms of our policies, the way we want our drivers to drive."
Mohamud says they’re also introducing a new smart phone app in the future that will allow passengers to get a cab with just a few taps on their own mobile device.