Daily among 119 bright green ladies

How Corolla Verso came to be a taxi

Text: Antra Veļķere, photo: Vineta Ozere, r/a Bulterjers
 
We are meeting Baltic Taxi financial director Juris Ērts on one of the last days of the just spent summer. 

He takes care not only of the financial issues of the company, but also of maintenance of the entire car fleet with mainly Toyota cars. He is responsible for car purchase, servicing and operation.
During our conversation, a tiny but self-confident creature proudly walks by the glass wall of the meeting room – Yorkshire terrier Ēriks. “Our company’s talisman,” says Mr Erts with pride and takes the small lucky charm carefully on the lap.
How many cars did Baltic Taxi car fleet have at the beginning of its operations two years ago and how many has it know?
We began with 50 cars. At that time, we ourselves were only learning what it meant to work in taxi business, what it meant to operate a car fleet. We gradually gained experience, and at present we are thrice as big. In our car fleet, now we use 147 cars for passenger transport. Thereof, 119 are Toyotas, and of the 119 Toyotas 50 are the mentioned Corolla Verso model, others are the new Verso. We have also several Peugeot cars because at the moment when we had to urgently expand the car fleet models of other brands, including Toyota, were not available as fast and as many as we needed. The car fleet has also two Toyota Hiace mini-busses.
Does Corolla Verso suit for a taxi?
I can say that Corolla Verso is an ideal model because it combines three features necessary in taxi business: capacity, reliability and price. These models are not too big, not too small; they are easy to get in and to place the baggage. Moreover, purchase and operation costs are very acceptable. Kilometrage of the first Toyota cars already exceeds more than 200 thousand km. In our opinion, both Corolla Verso and Verso confirm the correctness of our choice; it has been verified in cooperation with all authorised dealers of Toyota in Riga.
What preconditions were taken into account in setting up Baltic Taxi car fleet?
One precondition – my personal experience with Toyota cars. I have had six cars of this brand and I have a good, positive impression. I would call the second condition as coincidence of fate. The company started its operations in 2009 when the crisis was at its peak and Toyota was the only car producer that could supply 50 cars at once. Also the price was very acceptable. Moreover, taking into account that the producer planned to issue a younger Corolla Verso generation, we obtained the cars of previous make with very good equipment, for example, cast discs, dual air conditioners, toned windows (windshield) and other supplements.
How many kilometres a taxi driver covers a month on average and how would you describe taxi operational conditions?
The average run of a taxi is from 8 thousand to 10 thousand km a month. Operational conditions for cars are the most severe. In comparison with a daily car, the workload that a taxi must endure must be multiplied by three normal workloads. Here, various circumstances are summed up – both the taxi driver’s style of driving and the speed because, as we know, time is money for a taxi driver.
How can one think of saving fuel in such rough operational conditions?
All the Baltic Taxi cars have gas equipment installed. In the beginning we were slightly worried because gas was not typical for these engines. At first we installed gas in one car, watched how it reacts. Results were good, and we installed gas in all cars. Of course, we chose the most expensive equipment to be completely sure about the quality and security. The gas equipment was installed by company Intergāze. The gas tank is in the place of the spare wheel and does not affect capacity of the car. If a longer ride is expected, the driver puts the spare wheel somewhere else. Furthermore, the new Verso models do not have the spare wheel at all, thus the gas tank has enough space. The gas allows sparing, and it also is environment-friendly fuel, which is important. I should ass that installing gas on a petrol engine is cheaper than buying a completely new car with diesel engine. The gas price (approximately 0.40 LVL/litre) is almost half the price of petrol (~ 0.90 LVL/litre), and economy is notable when calculating in figures. Therefore we can offer the clients a service for a more favourable price being by 10% lower than our competitors’ price.
Do the taxi drivers themselves like this petrol-gas system?
Yes, very much. We have even a disciplinary penalty implemented: if a car has been harmed, then as a penalty, the driver is moved to a car that does not have gas installed (there are some new Versos that have no gas yet installed). Then the drivers are very sad (Laughs).
What is the average gas consumption?
On average, 10-11 litres of gas are necessary for 10 km. Everything depends on driving style and conditions. In the city the consumption is larger, outside the city – smaller. For filling the gas, Baltic Taxi mostly uses Statoil and Lukoil gas stations all over the Baltics.
Shortly – how does the gas engine technically work?
The car is started by petrol, the engine warms up to a definite temperature – approximately 38 degrees above zero, and then the car automatically switches to gas. It is a mistake to think that petrol is not needed and it could be at the minimum level in the tank. The new modern cars have the gas pump in the tank and the pump keeps working when the engine already works on gas. If there is little petrol in the tank, the pump works in full gear because it lacks load and the pump may be damaged sooner. If there is too little petrol, the pump is not being cooled, it is dry, overheats and problems may occur.
How many tyres a taxi wears out each season?
For the winter season, the cars obtain new tyres that are completely used by the beginning of summer. Then we have new summer tyres installed to be driven until the winter when new high-quality winter tyres are installed. We have a good supplier offering „maximum quality for minimum price”. In turn, by taking care of car technical security in cooperation with the insurance company BTA Insurance company SE we have concluded the so-called “pothole KASKO”. 
Baltic Taxi also performs a strict training of taxi drivers.
Yes, the training is an obligatory precondition for everyone who wants to work here. For example, notwithstanding the fact that a person has a driver’s licence and he has been driving for a long time, the test of road traffic regulations must be passed again. It turns out that 10-20% of the future taxi drivers have problems with this test. The driving test is obligatory, there an experienced driver accompanies the new driver and follows all processes – starting from receiving an order, finding the address, arriving at it and the like.
Do the cars use navigation systems for finding addresses?
We rely only on maps, own experience and mutual communication. We cooperate with State Land Service that provides the most recent information, we also use the maps issued by the publishing house Jāņa sēta. A taxi driver cannot rely on electronic navigation because each such system develops routes according to its algorithms and not always it is the best route for the taxi driver and client. Most often, the driver also asks the client how he usually drives to the destination and tries to observe the client’s instructions.
The farthest place where a Baltic Taxi taxi has driven?
So far the farthest trip has been to Madrid, also Nice, and Rome. This was last year in spring when airports were closed due to Iceland volcano eruption. We regularly rode to Tallinn and Vilnius. Our company also delivers the passengers delayed baggage, and in this regard, we often have to drive all over the Baltics.
A taxi driver encounters also funny incidents.
Various tiny misunderstandings, incidents occur often, for example, a successful attempt to loan money from the taxi driver and run away without paying. Once there was an event where upon arriving at the house the client promised to fetch the money and left the bag as a pledge. The taxi driver waited, but the client was not coming, later it turned out that the bag was full of wooden logs.
Taking into account that you serve the airport, which days are “empty” and which are the “busiest” days?
This also depends on several circumstances, for example, if the weather is bad, the number of taxi orders grows. In the middle of August, when it was raining massively, we received and serviced a record number of orders a day – approximately 1500 orders. Mondays, during the day, tend to be emptier, but the night to Monday is very busy because many ride to the airport to manage to get to the destination before a working day begins, for example, those who work in Brussels. On Fridays they usually fly back. Tuesdays are less busy, Wednesdays – partially.
How many employees work at Baltic Taxi?
We have more than 400 employees. The company develops and expands, we are ready to employ 50 more taxi drivers but that is not a simple job. Apart from excellent driving skills, stress resistance must be high, health and communication skills must be good. Upon training the new employees, I usually say, a taxi driver must have a sense of smell as a dog – when he walks out and smells the air, he must immediately feel whether this will be a happy day or not. We have had boys and girls who never had problems – wither with telephone, or the car, or clients – they work and everyone is satisfied. And there are drivers with whom something happens every day – the car breaks down, the phone is not working, or the client was quarrelsome.
How do you use your leisure time?
Since the spring of this year I can finally enjoy Sundays – not to come to work (Laughs). On Saturdays, I keep working though. I relax when I change the activity – those are various house works. Once a year I try to break loose to some place across the world where I cannot be reached by phone or otherwise “caught”.
 
AMSERV MOTORS ZIŅAS. No 2/2011 <33>