From the moment founder Jim Beck put his first transportation vehicle into service 51 years ago Beck Taxi has been an integral part of the Toronto community and beyond. Much has changed in Canada’s largest, most progressive city since 1967 and Beck Taxi has been there serving the public through the many decades of municipal growth.
Identifiably designed with an unmistakable orange and green branding pattern on every vehicle, Beck Taxi is ready and able to serve 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is by far the largest taxi company in Toronto and in fact all of North America, which is quite astounding considering it’s a continent that includes such prodigious urban centres as New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Beck Taxi Operations Manager Kristine Hubbard, granddaughter of the late Jim Beck, about the company’s sustained success as well as its day-to-day operations. With just over 2,100 taxis in its fleet and about 200 people working in the main office, Beck Taxi has managed to continue a pattern of robust growth in spite of increased transportation competition. Last year, the dispatch and call centre fielded about 10 million trips for processing and that doesn’t include independent hailing or flagging down on the streets. Corporate contracts also represent a significant portion of Beck Taxi’s overall success.
“We have 13 radio frequencies and 13 dispatchers and on the floor we would most usually have about 20 call takers,” reveals Hubbard. “As the fleet continues to expand we take on more office workers to accommodate the contracts and operations.”
At no time are there less than 35 people working in the main call centre, which would be a combination of dispatchers and call takers. The company also unveiled new technology including a state-of-the-art dispatch system.
“At the time the City was trying to decide what to do about the so-called Uber problem we were designing and developing our own dispatch software. We just didn’t see anything on the market internationally that really was going to give us what we wanted so Beck became a tech-company at the same time,” explains Hubbard.
Now equipped with its own apps for the iPhone and Android taxi driver, Beck Taxi went from complete radio dispatch to having all the necessary apps and it was all carried out within the traditional safety standards and bylaws. However, the dispatch is still very much a part of the overall system.
“We are very proud to have been able to do all this technology and keep drivers as a priority,” adds Hubbard.
21st Century Challenges
It’s a given that intense competition will always be at the forefront of any business industry. Since 2015 the City of Toronto has introduced regulation to allow for different types of ground transportation, namely ride-hailing companies to operate with an unlimited number of vehicles. With the new regulations an unlimited number of vehicles are allowed to cruise our streets – private hire may be the best way to describe them.
“At last count, I heard there are 50,000 active drivers on this platform on our streets to look for fares,” laments Hubbard.
The excess number of vehicles for hire has created numerous challenges for the traditional taxi cab company. Hubbard says the resultant regulations that were meant to level the playing field have not done that at all, which has left owners and operators frustrated to no end.
“The City decided that in order to accommodate companies like Uber, after their very vigorous lobbying effort, that nobody should be trained,” she says.
There is a crisis on the city’s streets. Traffic congestion in Toronto was just voted the worst commute for any large urban centre in all of North America. At this juncture, Hubbard has stopped lobbying for fairness due to the consistent frustration in getting nowhere after the bylaws were enacted in the summer of 2016.
“We continue to succeed despite having virtually no voice that is heard by City Hall,” she remarks.
What makes it even harder for Beck Taxi to be heard is that many of its traditional competitors from years gone by are no longer even operating, having been unable to sustain a profitable enterprise in this new era of transportation with a plethora of options available to commuters.
Calgary and Edmonton were among the first large urban Canadian cities to introduce bylaws and regulations surrounding ride-hailing companies. Hubbard also points to large American cities such Boston and New York City that have done their due diligence and reviewed the impacts of the services and how much in conflict with what had been promised.
“Toronto has fallen far behind in its due diligence and monitoring,” continues Hubbard.
Statistics would indicate Hubbard is accurate in her assessment. It is generally acknowledged there should be a ratio of one taxicab vehicle for every 1,500 residents. However, by the end of 2015 there was one licence for every 500 people. Since then, the ratio has gotten progressively worse with even more licenses being issued. The latest figures indicated there was one licensed taxi for every 450 people in Toronto.
“It is shocking to me that this is happening in a city that is completely choked by traffic and congestion and is trying desperately to develop mass transit, which is so essential to living in a large city. But while taxi companies must comply with environmental regulations many of the ride-hailing services are not doing so,” says Hubbard.
50 Years of Excellent Service
In 2017, Beck Taxi celebrated its 50th anniversary of service in the City of Toronto, which is an incredible achievement. Beck has traditionally stated it has two customers: the passenger in the back and the driver in the front. For Hubbard it’s about being recognized as a responsible, strong and positive corporate partner. The vast majority of the Beck-branded vehicles are now hybrids. The City has implemented a number of requirements so if a vehicle is not a hybrid it must meet certain requirements of fuel efficiency.
“We’re present ourselves as a company that is made up of people who use technology as opposed to technology that uses people. At this point we have expanded that because we see the impact and responsibility when it comes to making sure that we are operating safely on our streets for all road users,” says Hubbard.
“We were built on taking people grocery shopping and their medical appointments. That part of our business has really been the backbone of our being able to stay relevant in this market,” notes Hubbard.
At Beck Taxi, there is a firm belief that training is of vital importance. In fact, Hubbard says she would not work in the industry with untrained drivers. To that end, Beck Taxi has partnered with Centennial College and helped to design a course that is delivered on campus. It includes sensitivity training, customer service and road safety and an in-car defensive driving component. All individuals must have the certificate from Centennial College prior to being able to drive a Beck-branded vehicle. To date, about 800 drivers have now completed the college training course.
A taxi driver has an incredible amount of authority and responsibility. It is their job to not only keep passengers safe, but also ensure pedestrians and other vehicles don’t come into harm’s way.
“We were hoping to see that our industry as a whole would come together and realize the importance of that training and how imperative it is in a city like ours to know the needs of the people who live and work here. It’s disappointing that never happened,” laments Hubbard.
Beck Taxi does whatever it can to be at the forefront of the innovation curve and was recently involved in a hydrogen vehicles project whereby Hubbard met with local MPPs and other like-minded individuals along with experts in that field to see what could come of it, because they are 0% emission vehicles. However, the City of Toronto was not willing to provide issuance of special licences for that and Hubbard hasn’t heard anything since that time.
“I would be very happy to work with anyone who would want to work on a pilot project,” she adds.
Through all the many challenges that now face the taxi industry, Beck Taxi has managed to continue to thrive and for that reason Hubbard remains extremely positive.
“Our last marketing campaign was #DrivenByPeople. I live here and am raising two daughters in this city. My neighbours, friends and family are picked up by Beck Taxis,” Hubbard proudly says.
Every day brings new experiences, both positive and challenging, but that’s life in virtually every business industry. In terms of fleet size, Hubbard believes Beck Taxi is where it needs to be and now wants to focus on acquiring more regular business for the existing taxi drivers to ensure they are able to make a living.
“These are very hardworking people. I gauge our success based on their satisfaction. Happy drivers make happy customers,” states Hubbard.
Beck Taxi is widely regarded as the industry leader in taxi cab transportation in Toronto and it’s a title Hubbard expects to keep for many years to come. She says some of the keys to success will be offering continued excellent customer service along with alternative servicing options such as new technology, which will not only maintain the business but help propel it forward.
“For example, with our app you don’t have to put your credit card in if you don’t want to. Flexibility in our business is what attracts people. We’ll be adding new features to our app that will further differentiate us from our competition,” she says
“I want Beck Taxi to continue to be seen as a strong community partner and that taxi driving is a respectable, professional career choice,” concludes Hubbard. “We are also donating to causes that are important to us. We sponsor community projects and events and Beck Taxi will continue to be an integral part of the fabric of this city.”