The taxi industry has no shortage of long-term characters in its ranks, but few could say they started in the business as young as Jaspreet Hayer.
Jaspreet was only three years old when his father, Joginder Singh, bought a taxi licence in 1987. Jaspreet would spend as much time as he could with his father, and being around taxis soon became second nature to him.
“My dad used to drive and then he ended up buying his own licence. It’s been a family business ever since.
“When I was young I used to help him clean the car and as me and my brother got a little bit older, we used to help him with the paperwork.”
Perhaps inevitably, when Jaspreet turned 21, he got a licence to drive taxis and started driving part-time at night while he was a university student.
“When I was at uni, it was flexible for me to drive night shift back then,” he says.
When Jaspreet graduated from university in 2006 with a Bachelor of Business majoring in risk management, he continued to drive for his father on weekends until he seized the opportunity to buy his own licence. He operated that licence himself for three years before leasing it out.
Today, almost 30 years after Jaspreet climbed into his father’s taxi as a little boy, his connection with the industry is going strong. He has been company secretary of Dandedong Taxis since 2009, where he has been instrumental in driver training, complaint management, and call centre operation. Although he works full-time as a project co-ordinator, he still owns his own taxi licence.
And he continues to drive every Sunday for his father, who still owns and operates his own Silver Service taxi.
“I drive to help Dad out and for a bit of extra pocket money for me,” Jaspreet says.
“I love the flexibility of driving taxis. For me, it’s always been a secondary income to help me pay my bills and now, to help pay my son’s schooling.”
But it’s not all about the money – Jaspreet finds driving taxis extremely rewarding because of the people he gets to meet. He particularly likes spending time with older customers.
“Some of the stories they tell you are fascinating,” he says. “A couple of weeks ago I had a lady in the cab who I was driving to see her daughter. We were talking about life in general. She raised six children after her husband had passed away. Now, she’s happy that her kids have gone on to be successful in their various lives.
“Stuff like that is really good to hear. Obviously, elderly customers have been through a journey themselves and hearing their life stories is great. It’s certainly one of the aspects I enjoy. And I think they appreciate someone listening to them as well.”
It’s not just being a good listener that makes Jaspreet popular with customers; if there’s one thing a lifetime of working with his father has taught him, it’s how to deliver superior customer service.
“I’ve got a very high standard; I always make sure I’m properly dressed and the car’s immaculate,” he says. “I always provide good service and pride myself on that, and I like it when customers give you that appreciation back. I think the initial contact you have with the customer is the crucial part.
“If you speak with them nicely and ask them how their day’s been, assist them with getting in the car or help them with their luggage, that is one of the core elements required to be a good professional driver. The first contact definitely sets the tone for what the rest of the trip is going to be like.”
Jaspreet believes it’s this kind of ‘old-school’ service that customers truly appreciate and what leads to regular repeat business.
“I get a lot of people asking me for my direct number and I always give it out. I tell people I only drive on Sundays, but if they do need a cab another time, I can organise for my ∂ad to pick them up as well.”
Jaspreet’s advice to new drivers is twofold: customer service is paramount; and keep the meter ticking.
“My philosophy is when you get into your taxi, get as many customers in your car as you can and always have the meter ticking,” he says. “When a customer’s only going around the corner, I’m not fussed or concerned. This can lead to bigger and better things. Sometimes a customer that only wants to go somewhere local might say, ‘can I get your number? I want to go to the airport tomorrow’. So, treat every job as it comes and try to maximise your earnings for the limited time you’re driving.”
As for his future plans, Jaspreet intends to remain in the industry, although he is aware of the obvious challenges it faces.
“The government really needs to step in and sort out the issues at hand, because at the moment it’s very difficult for taxi operators to compete with other service providers that are out there,” he says.
“The government needs to create a level playing field, but until that gets done there are major challenges ahead. I think the taxi industry will adapt; we are adapting. But it’s going to be interesting times ahead.
“For myself, I will continue to drive as long as my Dad’s still got his licence. I still work elsewhere, but this is the family business.”