John Boit has recently been appointed Executive Vice President of the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association (TLPA). We caught up with him to find out about his new role and what’s coming down the line for the TLPA - and it turns out we won’t be calling it ‘the TLPA’ for long!
Congratulations on your new role! What does it entail and what are your ambitions in your new position?
It’s a great honour to expand in my role with this 101-year-old association. I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the greatest people in transportation over the past 10 years in my public relations role. As part of my new role as Executive Vice President, we want to continue to add more and more value to our members with every year. For me, that means making sure we continue to serve the members we’ve had for literally decades, but also to be welcoming and open to new ideas and new members. Using the association’s convening power to broaden the tent to the many players in transportation is the key.
I believe this association can serve many needs: on-demand transportation, contracted services, micro-mobility, children and adults with special needs, transportation support services…you name it. If someone has to get from point A to point B, I think we have a role to play in that discussion.
What is changing at the TLPA, and why?
When I first started with TLPA 10 years ago, there were fairly distinct lines between the taxi, limo and paratransit operations. Today those lines have blurred—and that can be a good thing. It has meant that operators are diversifying into multiple lines of business. Contracting, for example, has become an important line for all of our members.
As for the association, we’ve expanded our offerings to members while reducing prices. Depending on fleet size, one can become a member for as little as $394, and you’ll have access to daily media roundups to stay current on industry news, several newsletters each month that discuss a variety of topics. We have even added a newsletter that is focused on innovation, for example. We have a podcast and have revamped our quarterly magazine, Transportation Leader. And we’ve really ramped up our game at our annual events—the Spring Conference & Expo and the big gathering every October for the Annual Convention & Trade Show. There’s no other place that has so much information, with so many amazing industry contacts, all under one roof.
Is the word 'taxi' still relevant?
It’s definitely changing in North America, and that’s something of which we need to be hyper-cognisant. The younger generation wants to take an unmarked car, rather than a taxi. They don’t seem to want lettering and logo on the side, or a roof light. At the same time, “taxi” is synonymous with safety, particularly among older generations. My father would never take a rideshare. He sees a taxi as a symbol of safety and reliability. So we are in a difficult period where the world is bifurcated.
What is the single biggest opportunity for fleets in the USA right now?
Contracting, in general, is big business. Currently, non-emergency medical transportation in the US alone is nearly $3 billion a year and growing, because we have a population that is living longer that stays mobile well into their 80s and 90s. A lot of fleets have diversified and are meeting these needs.
What's the biggest threat?
We’ve been saying it for years: Deregulation is a race to the bottom. There will always be someone who undercuts fares, but you can’t do that forever without sacrificing service and safety. If cities want to maintain standards, and if we want to have a knowledgeable workforce of drivers, then they have to be able to earn a decent living. Driving for a rideshare company and making less than minimum wage will not give us that reliable workforce. This is where regulation plays a key role.
Who is leading innovation?
Everywhere you look, there is something new. Our industry vendors are constantly working with fleet operators to lead innovation. There are in-vehicle camera systems that are helping lower insurance costs for fleets. A number of our members are using outsourced call centers located on the other side of the world. Many have moved their fleets to highly efficient hybrid vehicles. Others are rebranding their vehicles, in some cases moving away from the name “taxi” altogether, while others are effectively integrating TLPA’s “Ride Local” marketing campaign to remind customers to spend their money supporting local businesses. And then others, like zTrip, are creating ways for fleets to have a hybrid business of both taxis and TNC vehicles. The innovation is everywhere, and it’s all there for fleets to take advantage of it.
Where will the next disruptions come from?
One thing I know is that it won’t be from driverless cars. There was such hype around this promise two years ago. Now everyone has calmed down and realized that this technology is still a long way off from mass implementation. It’s one thing to put a driverless car on the sunny, relatively unclogged streets of suburban Phoenix. It’s another to navigate London or New York in a blizzard.
Can you share any examples of member successes in recent time?
I’ve seen some great success stories with traditional taxi fleets rebranding and diversifying. They are branching into paratransit contracting, or fixed route shuttle services and even school transportation services. Some are even talking to scooter companies to see how they could bring those into their operations. There are opportunities out there for creative people who stay in tune with what the passenger needs.
Any big plans for the TLPA you can let us in on?
Yes! The association has gone through an intense yearlong process of rethinking and realigning its branding with today’s industry. And now we are ready to unveil that process, which includes a new look and a new name, at our Spring Conference & Expo in New Orleans on April 24-25. I’ve been honoured to be a part of that process, and I truly can’t wait for this to happen. We can’t unveil it yet, but stay tuned!
What strength is there in an organisation like the TLPA?
The strength has always been, and will always be, in its membership. When you put operators and vendors together in one room, it’s incredible when you listen to them talk shop. They exchange ideas, contacts, failures and successes. I’ve never seen a group so willing to pick up the phone and help another operator.
What is the TLPA doing to support members on developments in EV, and AV?
We showcase electric and other vehicles at our Annual Convention & Trade Show every year. On autonomous vehicles, the important thing is for members to be able to separate fact from fiction about when these will be in widespread use. At the same time, we need to keep an eye on what new opportunities driverless cars will open up to our industry. Even a driverless car needs to be cleaned, fuelled and maintained by a human being. And millions of passengers need help getting themselves or their luggage into a vehicle. So it’s more than possible, I think, that a new industry of in-vehicle attendants will emerge. The question is when.
Three words to describe the future of the taxi industry?
Never stop evolving. Always keep innovating. Or, in other words, “Join TLPA Today.”