Friday, April 1, 2011

The current Tucson Yellow Cab system crash

At 7 pm last night, Yellow Cab in Tucson lost a server that drives dispatch services through a transmitter servicing the east side. It's now 12 pm the next day, and the system is still down.

What does this mean? Cabbies east of Country Club can see calls on their computer screen, but cannot log into the system or bid on (ask for) calls on the east side via their mobile data terminal (MDT). After the system first went down, the dispatchers dispatched calls using the voice radio, but sometime after 4 am this morning, stopped doing so. Drivers are now being instructed to drive back to a small zone within a couple of miles of Yellow Cab (near 18th & Park) where they can communicate on their MDT's via the radio tower located at Yellow Cab, and bid on calls while near the yard. If they wish to accept a call on the east side, they then have to drive to call, service it, then drive all the way back to Yellow Cab so that the MDT clears the call correctly before they can bid on or accept another call.

What's happening as of right now? Passengers are waiting up to 2 hours to get a cab. When calling into Yellow Cab, they are not being told that there is system issues. They hang up after placing their request, thinking the cab will arrive shortly. After waiting for some time, they call Yellow Cab back, only to be told that their cab will be shortly, then they wait, and wait some more. This includes AHCCCS voucher passengers, who have enough trouble getting a ride as it is, due to the fact that many drivers are unwilling to service their rides due to insufficient reimbursement rates. And this is the 1st of the month, when many senior are out grocery shopping today. Would you want your 80 year old mother or grandmother waiting for 2 hours for a taxi?

A simple solution to this problem would be for Yellow Cab to continue to voice dispatch all calls throughout the city until the problem is resolved. This would allow drivers to efficiently service all customers without wasting fuel or time by having to travel back and forth from Yellow Cab's vicinity to use the computer dispatching system. This is the current scenario: A cabbie is at 22nd and Kolb. He has to travel 5 miles and 15 minutes to Yellow Cab's area so as to accept calls via his MDT. Let's be generous and says he gets a call with 5 minutes. The call is back at Fry's at 22nd and Kolb. So he travels back to Fry's, 5 miles and 15 minutes later. It's a $7 grocery run. It takes 10 minutes to service. Then he has to travel back to Yellow Cab to clear his meter, another 5 miles and 15 minutes. For $7, he's spent 55 minutes invested in the call, and at least 15 miles. With gas at $3.35 per gallon, and the cabs getting 12 miles per gallon, his net on the call is about $3.65, and that's before he has to pay his lease. The average driver has to gross $25 per hour.

I've already spoken with several drivers this morning, and the story is the same: most of them have grossed maybe $50 in the past 6-7 hours. And yet, Yellow Cab refuses to voice dispatch calls so as to ease driver and passenger pain. Why?

Hopefully someone in the media will read this post and call Yellow Cab seeking some answers. This happens too often, yet Yellow Cab feels they are accountable to no one.

More updates to follow as appropriate. I'm going to try to get some photos of MDT messages that show how long customers are waiting for service.

1:30 pm update: Yellow Cab finally decided to go to voice dispatch - there's a large backlog of calls holding. No word on what's being done to bring the system up.

5 pm update: Yellow Cab apparently was able to raise the power on the downtown transmitter to provide coverage for most of the outlying areas, including the east side, until they can get the east side tower (actually located on Mt. Lemmon) back up. This is workable, but some shadows exist in coverage. Let's hope that the downtown tower/server doesn't go down, too. They need to get the Mt. Lemmon tower up, because I believe the raised power on the downtown tower causes interference with other users.

8:45 pm update: East side transmitter still down - at least Yellow Cab continues to dispatch by voice. Call volume has subsided for the night, and hopefully some drivers will be able to make some money tonight after a horrendous day.