Taxis, The Austin Capital MetroRail and Freezing Cold

I had to make a trip to Austin, Texas, for 3 days of meetings at Dell headquarters.  Much to my chagrin, there were no rental cars available anywhere in the greater Austin area on Wednesday, December 8th.  Amy at the Driskill Hotel tried valiantly to find me a car rental but to no avail.

A round-trip limo or executive car would have been about $200 round-trip, not very appealing at that price point. Amy told me about a fairly new train service—the Capital MetroRail—from downtown Austin that would get me near the Dell campus where I could grab a cab and be on my way.  The last train north was to leave at 7:17 a.m. and get me to the Howard stop by 8 a.m.  What did I have to lose?

It was cold on that Wednesday morning—about 38 degrees with a brisk wind downtown. Rather than walk from the hotel to the train station, I decided to grab a taxi at 6:45 am.  I showed the taxi driver the map of where I needed to go carefully drawn by Amy.

My Haitian cab driver—someone who had lived in Austin for 18 years—couldn’t find the train departure point.  He stopped and asked other cabbies what they knew and they were unable to offer any assistance.  One guy sent us on a wild goose chase.  Long story short, my “4-block cab ride” cost me $20, got me to the train with one minute to spare.  Not fun!

I tried to purchase a round-trip ticket but the ticket dispenser didn’t seem to work.  I told the train driver I’d buy a round-trip ticket later and he said,  “Jump on.”  I had nearly missed the last train from Austin heading towards Round Rock.

Another woman who just happened to work for Dell Financial Services got on the train with me.  It was her first experience on the Capital MetroRail as well.  The train was terrific:  clean, efficient and on-time.

Much to my chagrin, there were no cabs waiting at the train station.  The wind was blowing about 20 miles per hour and we were freezing to death in the cold.  There was really no wind or weather shelters at the Howard station.  We tried not so successfully to hide behind the ticket dispensing machine but it offered little relief from the swirling winds. My light sports coat and slacks offered no relief from the cold.

The Dell employee tried to get us cabs via Austin Cab.  The dispatcher had no idea where to pick us up.  She said we had to provide a street address—there was no street address for us to find at the Howard train station. We searched our smart phones looking for an address and finally gave that to her.  We needed 2 cabs.  She could offer no insight about when the cabs might arrive.  It was cold—really cold!

After about 45 minutes, the first taxi arrived.  A city bus appeared and, because I still had no commitment about when a cab would arrive, I decided to jump on the bus to anywhere just to get out of the cold.  The driver told me he would take me to a major shopping center where I could find a place to get a cab.  I had to walk probably one-half mile in the cold.

The first place I came to was a Chili’s restaurant.  I knew it was too early to be open, but, I thought I might be able to persuade someone to let me in, get a street address and some shelter from the cold.  I was wrong. The lone worker must have thought this nattily attired guy was a robber.  I’m stuck in the cold with the swirling wind.

I called the dispatcher at Austin Cab, told her I’m standing outside a Chili’s restaurant at a major mall called the “Shops at Tech Ridge.”  The dispatcher has no idea where I am.  She asks for a street address.  I see a street number on the building but have no idea of the actual address.  I’m stymied again.  Did I tell you it was cold—really cold?  She finally finds a cabbie who knows where I am and, 45 minutes after leaving the bus, I’m in a cab and on my way to Dell.

I left the hotel at 6:45 am and arrived at 9:35 am at Dell for my 10 a.m. meeting. $40 in cab fares plus a $6 round-trip train fare.

So, what are the lessons learned about this business execution failure?

o         The Austin Capital MetroRail needs to make sure it has visible street addresses at all of its stops.  This is critical for cab companies, emergency dispatchers, etc.

o         The Austin Capital MetroRail needs to provide shelter from the weather for its customers. I really suffered in the cold that morning.

o         The Austin Capital MetroRail needs to reach out to any support systems, e.g., cab companies, etc., to make sure those support systems know where the stops are.  It would be great if contact information was available at each stop for any support systems that might be useful.

o         Cab dispatchers need to know the area they support.  The traveling public doesn’t know the area well.

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting http://www.gardnerandassoc.com

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