During ATCO’s #BackToBasics Transport Conference, Oana Paval of Airport Transfers made the trip from London to conduct a Q&A session with us. This session focused on how their business has benefitted from having better access to local authority contracts.
Here, you will find a transcript of the Q&A.
Welcome to ATCO Oana, can you please begin by explaining a little bit about Airport Transfer Cars, your role and how you work with local authorities?
“We started out as a minicab company about 7 years ago and we have grown quite a lot during this time, introducing new services and constantly improving our procedures, equipment and services.
About 3 years ago we started providing child and adult services for the local borough councils.
At the beginning, there was only one local borough we provided services for. We started with a handful of routes and grew steadily from one year to the next to ensure we could provide quality services within our capacity. This sustainable approach to growth has enabled us to keep our quality score high. At the same time, we’re able to offer competitive prices for journeys.
I have been in the company for 5 years now and only one year ago I was promoted from Controller Supervisor to Account Manager. As an Account Manager, I handle the day to day activity on the routes, recruitment and training of staff; as well as any administrative issues that may arise and basically manage all the activity on the school runs that we do.
To give you a short description of what the I did as a Controller Supervisor, basically I was tasked with overseeing the activity of the controllers on a day to day basis. This involved checking their reports, investigating what happened when difficult situations arose. I was also in charge of applying various penalties to the ones who did not follow the procedures that we have. On top of that I did the training for new controllers, weekly meetings with them and overall management of a team of 7-8 controllers. I also liaise with the other departments to ensure everyone is up to date and carrying out the work according to our standards.
Initially, I took on this role on top of my daily activity before it became a principal part of my activity. I was already doing bits and pieces, like giving the prices or handling the documents part for the staff on the school runs; but we decided to transfer almost all responsibilities and centralising them through myself and Ionel Tanasa, the General Manager. Currently, he handles the bidding part and I manage the rest of the activities relating to the school runs, from day to day management of the routes, allocation of the jobs to the drivers, to recruiting new staff, training them, organising the training, updating documents, managing contracts and overseeing payment”.
Am I right in saying it used to be quite a challenge trying to work with local authorities, especially as an SME provider?
“From not-so-transparent processes which were made even harder by all the taxes we had to pay as enrolment fees and all the paperwork which had to be sent by post. To what is now an online easy-to-use system, which provides a clear picture of what the request and need is for transport. I would say that this is a huge improvement, a ‘Big-Foot’- size step forward.
And yes, it used to be a very slow, very inaccurate and a very difficult challenge.
So, we worked on our internal procedures and processes for about a year. In this time, we obtained accreditation’s (ISO9001, ISO14001 and Investors in people) and we managed to improve the quality of the services we provide according to the standards of the local authorities”.
Why and how is it so different providing services to local authorities now?
“We now have a place where all the local boroughs can place their requests for transportation. They can do so in a very clear way, stating all the needs of the children and adults. They are able to place all the information in that initial requirement for us to see and analyse so we can determine if we are capable of providing that particular transport.
We place our price, we wait for the competition, they place theirs, then we continue the bid until one of us is the winner. The council gets the best possible price, thus significantly decreasing their costs and we get the steady work that we need to keep our staff happy. Then, the payment process is simple and easy, predetermined and clear.
So, from my point of view it is a win-win scenario that was created by having a place where all this could happen”.
Can you tell us more about the services you provide to London Boroughs?
“We are currently working with 7 local authorities and we are committed to increasing that number significantly in the near future. Out of the 7 London Boroughs, 5 are using the Digital Commissioning Technology from adam and it is clear to us that our job is made easier by having such an easy to use system to get our contracts and manage them. This is because we have everything we need in one single system.
From the accreditation part, when we input the documents related to beginning the collaboration with that specific council, going through to the moment when the council puts out a new bid. As well as the bidding process itself, the service agreement, and then the actual provision of the service, to payment. Having this process in one single system is much easier and much more transparent for us than the alternative approaches (other systems or manual enrolments) that the 2 other boroughs use.
At the moment, we are constantly recruiting and training new staff and generally are prepared to handle any situation which may arise.
Most of our routes are SEN routes, only a couple are with vulnerable adults. Some of them are with passenger assistants especially trained on certain aspects, such as Diabetes, Epilepsy, First Aid, Safeguarding, and we also provide routes for wheelchair users and minibuses.
The biggest difference between the ones placed through adam and the ones placed through other systems is the ease of managing the administrative parts (documents upload, payments, change orders, etc)”.
What was the key turning point enabling the business better access to local authority contracts?
“For us, it was the councils using the technology from adam. The more councils that adhere to this approach to commissioning, the happier we are because we will have more chance of working with other authorities and the process will be much easier all round. Because of that, we would highly recommend this approach to any local authority who wants to make their life easier and cost effective.
Plus, as a provider, we are getting a greater experience with the services the councils may need. This means our standards of provision of service have improved considerably following the work we have done so far with other councils using the technology from adam”.
How has the business grown since these changes? Are you better able to plan strategically and ensure you have the resources required to carry out work?
“In the first year, before adam was embedded across those local authorities, we had only a handful of regular routes. Since these local authorities started using adam, we have over 30 daily routes and over 10 term time routes, along with numerous ad-hoc routes that we do for some of the councils. We have about 150 drivers ready to take on a run and more than 50 passenger assistants trained in PATS, Paediatric First Aid, epilepsy, diabetes, etc.
Since most of our routes are with children, we have a rough idea of the dates of travel (within term times) and we have established a specific calendar for bidding, uploading documents for the new routes, coordinating the meet and greets. All of this enables us to plan in advance everything from training and recruiting new people, to buying new vehicles.
Practically, this means we have all we need to ensure we can provide the best possible service to the service users and the local authorities.
In terms of financials, our turnover has increased over the last few years considerably due to those local authorities using adam. For example, in 2014, our first year working with local authorities, we had a turnover of about £500.000. Two years later at the end of 2016, we more than doubled our turnover to £1.2m.
This meant we could add various services to our portfolio, for example the coach and minibus journeys as well as develop partnerships with companies from around the world.
About 50% of our growth over the last two years is generated only by the work that we do with the local authorities”.
In terms of the future for Airport Transfers, what plans does the business have for working with more local authorities?
“At the present time, we are equipped to handle twice the number of routes that we have. From my perspective, it is only a matter of time, until all local authorities see the benefits of working with Digital Commissioning Technology.
At the moment, we are working to keep up to date with all the requirements and processes of the local authorities. So, I guess, it is only a matter of time before more local authorities begin adopting technology”.
What recommendations would you make to other local authorities looking to encourage more SME’s to work with them and build on Social Value?
“Having a clear and transparent bidding process, being fair in establishing their norms and regulations, communicating and supporting SME’s.
Working together has never been more important.
This can bring with it changes that all of us benefit from. Not just the councils, with reducing their costs. Not just us, as enterprises, with getting steady work. But also, the people we are here for, the service users, without whom we would all be out of business.
So, if there would be something that Airport Transfers would recommend, it would be first; get the needs of transport ready for us, in a clear and detailed fashion. Then, use technology to streamline the approach so we can all be protected whilst having a common place to work in. Finally, let’s all make sure we are working together towards our ultimate goal of providing the service users with the best possible experience and service to make their life easier”.
We’d like to thank Oana Paval once again for giving up her time to come and share Airport Transfers’ story at ATCO.