In a previous post I argued that safety could be considered a matter of cost, not of argument. With that in mind I am now going to argue the safety case for TEXXI ; thankfully, the irony does not escape me. The reason will become apparent later on. In the case just mentioned, we were talking about safety as related to accidental damage. In this case we are going to discuss safety as related to the sad occurrence of intentional personal damage done to one party by another. When we talk of safety in this blog post therefore, we are talking of degrees of this type of safety. After all, a pedantic person might point out that, statistically, we could be more likely to come to some form of harm in our own kitchen. But, might then go on add the caveat that , as occurs in the insurance market, this conclusion is based on the grouping and simplification of information and that a person’s behaviour in the kitchen might act to reduce his or her own chance of calamity. Hopefully, they would then retreat to write a fairly boring thesis on chance, probability and systemic analysis and leave us all in peace. Doubtless, they would forget, as is often the case, to consider the imperfections in the data capture process itself, a subject we will touch on shortly.
As you might have already noted, this particular post is not intended to be the equivalent of a smooth beer to be easily quaffed. Instead, it is a steady journey through the steps of safety consideration, splitting what might be considered less reasoned perception from what might be considered more reasoned perception, but still recognising that ultimately everything is a matter of perception.
There are two messages that have become firm favourites when articulating the safety case for TEXXI. They have sprung forth from the experience obtained through many meetings. Firstly, TEXXI is at least as safe, if not safer, than existing transport options and secondly, fellow passengers and the driver may not be known to you, but they are known to TEXXI. The two messages offer a highly distilled summary of both the case and the normal responses which it generates. I will expand upon the case here.
TEXXI started operations with the Evening and Night “mode” for various reasons. One reason was that, in hours of peak demand in the evening after going to the pub, bar or club, we saw that people were waiting a long time for licensed taxis. If they were not prepared to wait for this period, which could be hours, then they would either walk long distances, often drunk and in the dark, or possibly, if one were available, they would decide to use an unlicensed vehicle. In some locations there were subsidised night buses. Further options were: to not go out, to return very early or to designate a driver; although sometimes for the latter option you would need a taxi to reach the car. This second set of options, while supposedly safer, was not very useful to the pub, bar and club economy or for enabling people to do what they wanted.
Prior to commencing operations we did research; we asked people whether they would share. Firstly, you have to remember that, when conducting our research, we were in the UK and it was 2005. This is important, because our social network group mask is something which is understood far better today with the arrival of Facebook et al. Looking through this 2005 lens, which obscured the background understanding of online social networks they would have today, people understood some of the safety and networking preferences with varying degrees of acuity. We explained that you could go online to the TEXXI website and configure groups and preferences or travel anonymously by just sending a text message (SMS) with no pre-registration. An interesting pattern in the responses was that young women said they wouldn’t share in the described anonymous form, whereby they understood they could be placed with anyone ; the ratings system was difficult to explain and in any case could not deliver any advantage on day one. A few of them did say that they would share if they could apply these other additional ‘group’ preferences. However, their actions were soon observed to be something different entirely. As an example, our film crew, arriving in Liverpool to make the infomercial, had spent the day fretting about people, and in particular young women, sharing a for-hire vehicle at night. On the way back to their hotel they alighted from a taxi to allow a friend to continue his journey onwards. At this precise point, two young women jumped in the back of the taxi through the still open door, put their arms around the friend , who they didn’t know, and asked if he wouldn’t mind sharing with them because they couldn’t get a taxi. Each group of people departed their separate ways, smiling for one reason or another. One anecdote would not seem to make a very strong business case. However, combining this event with enough other incidents and observation points, we arrived at an understanding of what people said they would do and what they actually did when faced with the limited travel options available to them. We concluded that the pressure of limited transport options, in this night scenario, would provide the lower barrier to entry we might need to insert the beginnings of the transit exchange. I must note here that if the young women had been travelling with TEXXI on that occasion then the mobile phone numbers of all of the passengers, their destinations and information concerning the assigned vehicle would have been stored away in the system*1 By comparing what actually occurred with what would have occurred if TEXXI had been used, you can see how both of those key marketing messages emerge. If the young women had been travelling with a reputable private hire firm, as opposed to a taxi hailed on the street, it is also likely that their journey would have been monitored through a GPS system and that the driver would have been in radio contact with a despatch office, where records of the trip would also be stored. TEXXI allows one of these vehicles to be ‘hailed’ as easily as a hackney carriage. It is also worth pointing out that, purely in terms of safety, there is everybody to consider. Other groups that are often highlighted with respect to these issues, in the locales where it is relevant, are university students.
Now, let us branch out quickly to another point: safety perception versus safety ‘reality’. At the start of the post I said that everything was perception and now I have, in an apparently contradictory fashion, introduced a safety reality. Although, you will note that I did it with the significant caveat of single quotation marks. What does this really mean? What it might mean is that after the scheme has been running for a while somebody would be able to look at various statistics of incidents and draw conclusions. What it might also mean is that someone believes that, if the information about what people are doing, or about to do, is presented to them in a different way, most probably their specific way, then they have concluded that people would take a different course of action because they perceive it to be unsafe. This is important because, in marketing the service successfully to the consumer, the perception argument is the only one to win. It doesn’t matter to a customer whether something really is or isn’t safe enough for them, as presented in a different light, provided they have understood it in a light in which they conclude that it is. However, it matters to us that people best understand, it might ultimately matter to them and it matters to those who have experience of educating people on how to behave in a responsible way and to reduce exposure to unnecessary risks. I have deliberately expressed the previous comment in this way; it is not for others, in my opinion, to tell or, as otherwise expressed, to dictate to people what is or is not safe enough for them. It would however, seem fair that they be able to counteract what might be a biased marketing message with their own education. Actually, I don’t believe there is much bias in the case of TEXXI because, due to the arrival of a technology enabled era of dynamic preference consideration, you can actually vary the product on-the-fly: women-only taxi for the night, friends-only for the day, groups-only for the pub and so forth. This could imply that any useful opinion on the safety of TEXXI might be held by somebody who has availed themselves of a greater level of understanding when compared to the average customer, of the options on offer, and wants to ensure that other people understand how the options available to them actually work, as presented in the light of the educators choosing. But, in the end, that is up to others. And what the consumer actually does is their business also.
One such beneficial way to engender greater understanding has been to address the fact that, when you introduce the idea of a shared taxi, regardless of whether or not there are advanced social networking masks controlling fellow passengers, people tend to think of a taxi and then build on this idea to arrive at the idea of a shared taxi. However, you can come at this from another direction: that of comparison to a bus. In a meeting in the United States we could exchange the term bus for shuttle. The bus could be considered to be a shared taxi that goes point to point and presents a situation in which you have no control whatsoever as to who your fellow passengers might be. This path of understanding comes even more easily if you hold up a picture of a smart Mercedes Vito type MPV taxi, which looks indistinguishable from a small bus. “Oh yeah.” seems to be the mental response to that argument.
Without wishing to be too anal about it, let us go step by step through illustrative cases of a night bus, hailing a taxi cab, and using TEXXI. In each case and at each travel point, we should look at the people in the surrounding environment. We will use the Evening and Night case, because it is in this case in which the perception of the importance of safety seems to be at the highest level; School Run is planned to function differently.
To shorten the narrative, I think we can say that at each highlighted point we would either be : alone, with friends only, with strangers only or with a combination of friends and strangers. In the vehicle will be the driver, who is likely to be a stranger. In the case of TEXXI you could, in the worst traditions of social networking and business buzzword babble, assume that strangers who we meet in this context are in fact described by a new word: strends*2. This merely tries to highlight the fact that TEXXI could retain some information about them, and that the amount of information they hold on the strends that you actually meet will depend on your configured preferences at the time of ‘booking’.
First, we consider the bus. We walk to the bus stop (A). We wait at the bus stop for the bus. We get on the bus (B) and the driver issues us a ticket to our destination. The driver has no written or electronic record of us being on the bus, nor does anyone else. We travel to the destination. We get off the bus at the stop (C) and we walk to our real final destination (D). It is night and therefore dark. In this case of the bus then, unless we are sleeping on the street for the night, (D) will not be the same as (C).
Now, let us consider hailing a taxi in the truest sense. We have the same set of possibilities concerning our companions at each point. We either hail a taxi from outside the club (A) , we walk to a better point to hail a taxi (A), or we walk to a taxi rank to “hail” a taxi (A). We get in the taxi (B). There is no written or electronic record of us being in the taxi. We go to our destination. We are likely to only have a very short walk , maybe a matter of metres, to our real final destination (C).
Now, let us consider TEXXI. We “book” the taxi from inside the club. When we are informed the taxi has been despatched, we walk outside to a nearby meeting point (A). We wait, only briefly, at (A) and then get in the taxi (B). TEXXI hold an electronic record of the mobile phone numbers of those primary people who booked the taxi. If you have disallowed spontaneous groups in your travel preferences then they will hold *all* the mobile phone numbers of everyone who is in the taxi. A boarding ID ensures the person boarding is the person who booked. The destination, also stored, ensures TEXXI know where people intend to alight from the vehicle. We go to our destination. We are likely to only have a very short walk , maybe a matter of metres, to our real final destination (C).
Most sales meetings or meetings with a stakeholder will generally arrive at the point where a participant will lay out the case for a social hack of the system. That is not how they refer to it, but that is what they are doing. What if, they propose, someone steals a phone and immediately , prior to the phone being reported as stolen, they book a trip home with TEXXI? Fortunately, before I can make a response, it is normally noted by someone else in the meeting that attacking someone by means of stealing a phone, turning up in a shared taxi where, almost counterintuitively the fact that there are other people means you will be more easily identified, might not be a good method. And wouldn’t it be better to lie in wait outside the scheme ; the scheme not being the weakest link. Part of this realisation was distilled into another marketing message on one of the campaigns: There’s Safety In Numbers. In such meetings this seems like a good place to draw a line under the discussion, whilst we are ahead in the reasoning stakes. However, others might benefit from observing that even if such a convoluted event did occur, which it might well do, then that still might not contribute very much of use to our perception: you could think of a multitude of such convoluted circumstances for anything you do. Thrown casually into the mix here we also have the oft quoted fact*3 that people are more likely to be attacked by those they know rather than strangers. Although, the very fact that they perceive less threat from people they know might lead to fulfillment of this in the first place. In addition, we could throw in the fact that, according to some studies, men are more likely to be attacked and beaten up by strangers than are women*4. Although, whether this is classed as being as serious as other incidents I do not know. Personally, I would find it awkward to start to classify such events. Fortunately, as the Secretary of State for Justice recently found out, there are plenty of people out there who are gifted to talk in such universal absolutes and who will guide us on our path.
If you are confused at this point then you are not alone. This is because I am deliberately highlighting the problems, which I started to allude to in the first paragraph and then mentioned again , of simply looking at statistics to define the safety ‘reality’. This is just a different angle of perception. So, having started on a journey to break down the steps involved in these various travel scenarios I am going to stop. I will make no further comment, save to suggest humbly that you could look at the scenarios in as logical a fashion as you care to muster, research the considerable number of tools that have been made available to the customer via the scheme and see what you think. Also, that the marketing message might need to focus on how people can best use the service to get the most benefit and enjoyment from it. However, behind the scenes, the safety angle has been considered carefully.
Now we come to the final piece and the raison d’etre for the blog post. After all, the consumer can see the distilled marketing message as it arrives at them on-the-street and specifically tailored to that location. Personal safety concern groups might benefit from seeing a higher level analysis of the issues and a pointer to the considerable toolkit that the consumer has at their disposal. They can then avail themselves of greater levels of knowledge which they can pass on. But they can obtain that at the time of deployment in a locale. No, the real reason is that of the existence of the licensing authorities. Why? It is because the licensing office is designated considerable authority to define both a quality reality and, the major concern of this post, a safety ‘reality’.
In my limited experience, authorities support and subsidise night buses and control the taxis via licence but they have qualms about supporting a well-considered taxi sharing scheme, with social network overlays, in anything but the most cursory fashion. Even whilst, in some cases it must be pointed out, organising taxi share schemes that are more manual in nature and which have none of these benefits.
On continued examination, this reluctance seems odd. The limiting of licence numbers by the authority, either directly*5 or due to the artificial standard they have introduced, could be seen as one of the reasons that there are limited transport options at this hour. A knock-on effect is that young women, and other people for that matter, do sometimes opt for unlicensed mini-cabs. The justification is, to my mind, a rather warped logic based on responsibility. Having centrally planned the resource availability and decided what is safe enough and what is not, anything that happens outside this safety net could possibly be a little bit embarrassing. This is if it were not possible to ‘explain away’ with the ‘not my responsibility at least’ pseudo-logic. The interpretation might be that whilst it is horrific that someone should be attacked, ultimately the person should not put themselves at that level of risk. Such people tend to assess anything new that is offered to them based on an impossible 100% safety criteria, because there is no benefit to increasing responsibility, however marginally, by significant association. They do this, one presumes, because they fear being chastised if any single event does occur. However, I believe I have shown comprehensively how any such argument could be appropriately treated. No transport method is 100% safe and this is clearly a preposterous, and some might say monstrous, argument to employ.
But wait. Under some possible interpretations there is at least one apparent inconsistency in what I have said thus far. However, I find it is always best to ask, because another few words and the set of correct interpretations available can change. I am complaining about an authority defined safety reality, or quality reality for that matter, but that is for another blog post, whilst highlighting that another offered option, the unlicensed vehicle, might be less safe. However, it turns out that this is not inconsistent because the authority not only defines a safety reality, but it prohibits activity outside this reality. The options that spring up outside it are currently unable to offer anything on the trust and safety side which is of benefit to the customer. There is no information that can be provided to me about a random vehicle that comes to pick me up and wishes to charge me for the privilege, because it is not legal to do so. What is a conscientious person who is providing an unlicensed vehicle service going to do? Are they going to create a transparent online web trust mechanism for customers to interrogate, so that they can be arrested more efficiently? It seems unlikely.
Finally, will someone ever intentionally damage another party and it be associated in some way, however remotely, with TEXXI ? It seems ‘probable’. Will this be a pleasant day for the brand? No. Or, more importantly, for the seriously affected parties? No. Do these questions have a different answer when asked of any other mode*6 of transport? No and provably so.
[ Having seemingly chastised the authorities for a perceived lukewarm involvement, I will examine in a follow-on post: why they should involve themselves at all and if in fact they are already involved (other than in defining a safety reality) and if that level of involvement will likely change in the future and when. The link will be here when it has been posted]
*1 There have been a couple of businesses launched more recently, with some endorsement, that capture this particular registry of the association between the traveller and the vehicle they boarded. SaferTaxi is one of these.
*2 I was going to go for frangers and, if we ever made it further onto the radar, risk a mildly playful rebuke at some point from Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times. However, thank goodness for Google. Wikipedia, via Google, reveals this urban slang: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/franger . Nobody has hijacked the non-word strends for Social Trends or anything else that I am aware of at this time; remember, if it is not on the first five pages of Google it doesn’t exist yet. I am resigned to the fact that this point could gather more discussion than, what I consider to be, the important content of the blog post itself.
*3 “We may be afraid of strangers, but it is the most intimate of strangers — a husband, a lover, a friend — who is most likely to hurt us. According to a U.S. Justice Department study, two-thirds of violent attacks against women are committed by someone the woman knows. Can we ever be too wary?” via http://www.pbs.org/kued/nosafeplace/articles/nightmare.html and via http://geekfeminism.org/2011/01/13/creepy-means-something-different-for-men-and-women/
*4 With reference to: “Sampson, R. J. (1987). Personal Violence by Strangers: An Extension and Test of the Opportunity Model of Predatory Victimization. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), 78(2), 327-356.” via http://standyourground.com/forums/index.php?topic=15077.0
*5 Taxi Licensing: Review of Local Authority Quantity Control Policies http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/regional/taxis/taxilicensingreviewoflocalau3785?page=1
*6 Mode, as we discovered a little while after starting out, is a label chosen by the majority of the existing transport community to mean exclusively: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_of_transport. We started using it, entirely separately, to talk about what we might describe differently, to avoid confusion if and when talking to this community, as applications. This being part of an intentional marketing approach in order to best ‘force’ a set of situations which will allow the transit exchange to get off the ground.