Save money and save the planet. Travelling from the airport.

The first thing you learn in logistics is to minimise ‘Dead Heads’. That is an empty journey. A truck, carriage or other vehicle travelling someplace with nothing in it. If you have a delivery to make from Birmingham to London, then ideally you want to pick something up in London to take back with you to Birmingham.

One of the things that always drove me nuts about taxis is the UK is their extortionate racket at Heathrow airport for fares to the suburbs. Only ‘London taxis’ are allowed to stand in the airport ranks. If you have to travel 9 miles from Heathrow to a local suburb like Slough, the price is £39. This is based on the London rate of 20p for 135 metres (to choose the common ‘Tariff 1’ M-F 6 am – 8 pm rate) which is about twice the price of meter fares for suburban taxi companies not to mention an array of surcharges (eg. £5 for Terminal 5) that they apply.

Aside from the financial rip-off of this system, what has recently irked me even more is the ecological impact. Travellers regularly hire local licensed cabs to their airport for their outbound flights. But those cabs can’t join the ranks and pick up a fare. Instead, they are forced to return home empty. Dead Head. What is means is an extra car journey for the return trip that is totally unnecessary. The Slough cap takes a traveller to the airport and returns empty, and the Black Cab in the Heathrow ranks takes another traveller to Slough and returns empty.

But aside from the Heathrow ranks restriction, the primary obstacle avoid ‘dead head’ trips is logistics. Finding the traveller coming home to the same area that your taxi company is coming from.

A while back I thought that a web site could solve this problem. Ride share sites for hitchhikers and commuters are quite well established.  Suburban travellers and taxis could register and then the site could provide a sort of match-making service. Matching incoming arrival with taxi cabs from their area that were going to be dropping off a fare around the same time. Suburban taxis are allowed to come to the airports to pick up ‘pre-booked’ fares. This service would, in essence facilitate that pre-booking capacity. But web sites are complicated and expensive. How would one manage the transactions, the registry database, the security, market it to get critical mass of taxis and travellers, etc.?

Dead Head match-making seems like an ideal use for Twitter. And here’s how – the ‘#deadheadcab’ hashtag.

Here are the key components of the Tweet…

  • Mon – Investing 3 characters for the day of the week is a useful checksum to help guard against date typos and confusions. If someone types a date that doesn’t match the day, then the taxi can Reply with a clarification request.
  • 1 Aug 18:25 – Date and time of arrival. Use of 24-hour military time precludes having to expend 2 characters on ‘am’ or ‘pm’.
  • LGW N BA2042 – One could argue that the ‘LGW’ (‘N’ for ‘North Terminal’) is extraneous because one can look up the BA2042 flight to see that it comes into Heathrow. But including ‘LHR’ in the Tweet is a low (3) character help to the recipient to quickly assess whether that is an airport they will be near at the time as well as another sort of useful check sum (ie. if flight# and airport code don’t match, then likely a typo has occurred).
  • SL7 – The ‘outward code’ (first 2-4 characters of the full UK postcode) which pretty much corresponds to town.
  • £25 – This is the amount you propose paying for your journey. It is sort of a Priceline-like reverse auction. I would propose that it is in the neighbourhood of half the price of what it would cost to simply pre-book a local cab from your hometown. I would normally have to pay about £50 for a taxi to Heathrow from my home. But if a taxi has already travelled to Heathrow with a £50 fare, then picking up a £25 bonus fare for the journey back home would seem like a pretty attractive proposition. Splitting the benefit down the middle between taxi and traveller seems a pretty reasonable starting point, but of course anything can be negotiated.
  • (optionals) – You could always add some special codes for additional considerations like ‘van’ (if you need a bigger vehicle for lots of luggage), or ‘prem’ (if you would prefer to only ride in a nicer vehicle like a late model, higher-end sedan.
  • #deadheadcab – …and of course the DeadHeadCab tag itself

The Tweet snipped above is my field test of this concept. It is an arrival I am actually making in a few weeks. We’ll see if it can percolate through the Twitterverse before then for some SL7 area (Maidenhead/High Wycombe) taxi to pick it up.

Follow Maldives Complete on Twitter at @maldivescomp.

2 Thoughts on “#deadheadcab

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