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Comfort Invests US$1m In Taiwanese Transport Services Provider

Comfort Transportation, Singapore's largest taxi operator, has invested S$2 million (US$1.1 million) for a 15 percent stake in Taiwan's Transportation High Tech (THT), and will offer its consulting expertise to help the latter set up call center operations to cater to a targeted fleet of 10,000 taxis in Taipei.

With the 15 percent equity, Comfort will be THT's fourth-largest shareholder behind automotive wholesaler SerTrack Technologies; diversified conglomerate Shin Kong Group, with more than 20 subsidiaries in the banking, property, energy, insurance, telecom and security sectors; and THI Enterprises, THT's holding company.

THI Enterprises, which specializes in transport-related consultancy services, has handled projects that include management and consultancy services for an airbus express service for the Taiwan airport, and smart card development for the transport industry.

For its investment in THT, Comfort, which has more than five years of experience in managing satellite-based taxi bookings for its own fleet of 11,000 taxis with its Comfort CabLink system in Singapore, will review the operational design of the Taipei call center, transfer fleet management expertise to THT, and train the Taipei call center staff.

Apart from providing the blueprint for the call center operations in Taipei, Comfort's strategy in generating revenue from its diesel sales, and taxi advertising and vehicle maintenance businesses, has also provided a business model for its Taiwanese partner.

"The Singapore experience is replicable in Taiwan. Comfort looks forward to help kick-start the application of global positioning technology for the taxi industry in Taiwan," said Goh Chee Wee, Comfort's group managing director and chief executive officer.

"At the individual level, the benefits that both cabbies and commuters can reap include a more efficient taxi service and a reduction in empty cruising. For the city, it would mean a more efficient transport infrastructure."

Taipei is a city of 7 million people and 65,000 taxis. About 19 percent - or 12,000 taxis - are linked to small radio network services managed by 40 call centers, each serving a fleet of about 300 cabs, according to Comfort officials.

By setting up call center operations in Taipei, THT intends to tap into satellite dispatch technology and enhance taxi booking efficiency for what it hopes to be a fleet of 10,000 taxis within the first year the call center starts operations. The start date is targeted for mid-May 2002.

To become part of the satellite-linked taxi fleet, taxi drivers in Taipei will need to subscribe for the call center service and have their vehicles fitted with the satellite-booking terminal. Taxi bookings will then be broadcast to these vehicles and drivers will be charged a commission for each booking that is successfully arranged by the call center.

With such a system, commuters and drivers in the city can look forward to quicker and better matching of passengers with the nearest taxis, and the resulting decrease in waiting time. The global positioning tracking ability will also enhance driver and passenger safety, a concern of Taipei commuters and drivers, Comfort officials said.