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Discussion in 'Buses & Coaches' started by nesw, 4 Nov 2016.
A lot of this whole story has never 'added up'. Allegedly, there's still a few key bits missing.
Despite what it says on the Cityfox website?
It's Friday evening and I'm in a good mood so I'm going to see if I can throw some light on to parts of this debate in a way that I hope people might find constructive and meaningful.
But just to start us off...
With the greatest respect, the only thing that stopped it going a week was you yourself deciding to make a comment
As luck would have it I was at CityFox Group HQ this afternoon when 'the boss' rang to let Rhys know of (what I presume was) your call. He freely volunteered that the conversation was awkward, so apologies if that caused you any offence, but he was completely bamboozled by the fact that someone was ringing him to find out if he really was a taxi company, without actually wanting to book a taxi!
I'm trying to think of an analogy that will make sense to people with transport knowledge, and probably the best equivalent I can come up with is to think of it as something like the practice of 'code sharing' in the airline world. For the uninitiated, this is the arrangement whereby airlines can market the same flight using several different flight numbers belonging to different airlines, so that they can promote a bigger network than if they had to rely on the flights they operate using just their own aircraft, making their airline more attractive to prospective customers.
In this case, the arrangement allows Centurion to trade using their own brand, but also allows CityFox to promote it as part of their 'network'.
There are plans for further integration in the near future but I'm not going to go more into detail over those, because if they don't come to fruition for whatever reason it saves you all lining up with "I thought you said..." type questions
As an aside, this is probably as good a time as any to acknowledge that the recent drama over the Plymouth brand did find a legitimate weakness, and subsequent conversations between the two businesses have confirmed that the agreement that previously existed is no more. The Plymouth brand will therefore progressively be removed from publicity for the time being, although discussions are already underway with other interested parties in the area.
Since becoming involved with taxis last summer I have been up a very steep learning curve (one of several at the same time, I like a challenge) and there are some things Ive learned which I hope will help peoples understanding.
The main thing to bear in mind is that the world of buses is characterised by neat, well defined corporate structures, and using a combination of internet resources freely available in the public domain it is possible to quickly and easily identify which company owns what, how they are legally structured, who the key people are and what they do, and which assets belong to them.
Without wishing to insult anyones intelligence, that is the world most readers of this forum understand, and I think youre generally looking for the same simplicity and clarity when you try to understand taxi operations.
However the world of taxis and private hire cars is a vastly more complicated beast, in which the range of organisations, their ownership and the way they are structured, and especially the boundaries between them are much more blurred and less clearly drawn.
Its an industry where the relationship between brands and the organisations they describe is much more fluid. Sometimes there will be a formally defined structure such as a limited company, sometimes they work much more loosely as a co-operative, sometimes there is no structure at all and a brand may be nothing more than a bunch of mates choosing to work together.
The main CityFox operation in Bristol is a combination of several of these. There is a limited company, which has some employees and cars. However there are also self-employed drivers who own their own cars who use the brand, and equally there are drivers who dont identify with the brand at all in any formal sense but who are friendly and will take work from us and refer customers to us when it suits them and us.
Drivers and cars move much more freely between companies, and identify themselves as belonging to that company without ever necessarily being an asset on a balance sheet.
In other words, and I really hope Im not patronising people when I say this, if you approach the world of taxis looking for the same clarity and transparency with which you are familiar in the world of buses, you will be disappointed. The uncertainty you may have trying to understand just who owns what is not particular to CityFox or Rhys Hand, but is a phenomenon of the taxi industry as a whole. It is a world that is dominated by influential individuals rather than legal entities. It has taken me an awfully long time to get my head round this and after seven months on the fringes of the Bristol taxi trade I still find I get confused about whos working for whom this week, and under what brand.
To avoid descending into a quagmire of tedious detail, the rest of the detail is easier to explain in a pub over a pint, and thats a courtesy which I would happily extend to any member of this forum (without the threat of legal action )
To conclude with some more personal comments, Ive obviously spent a fair few months working alongside Rhys now and Im well aware its a move which will have surprised some people. Its not the only thing I do, and at the same time as learning about taxis Ive been going up an equally steep learning curve getting to grips with special needs transport and TfL bus contracts in London, and I hope that over time the lessons Ive been learning will throw up more opportunities for development and as such benefit CityFox in opening new doors.
But Rhys and I work together well because I respect the fact that its his company that he has built up from scratch, hes a single minded entrepreneur and I would never presume to tell him what to do, but I try to guide and advise and look for opportunities to move things forward. In common with all entrepreneurs, Rhys has made mistakes in the past and he will make mistakes in the future, but I greatly respect someone who has the guts to put his neck on the line and go out on his own rather than sitting in an armchair commentating on others misfortune.
Rhys can be his own worst enemy at times and over a pint would freely acknowledge that himself but I know from my own experience of running Velvet that when youre alone at the head of an organisation, no matter how much you tell yourself its work and not personal, it *is* personal and one cant help taking criticism that way. But ultimately I believe that the strength of character that allows him to strike out on his own in the first place will ensure that he overcomes obstacles and becomes a great success.
It does therefore frustrate me when people who dont know him, have probably never met him, know very little about his life, his background and what makes him tick, and know equally little about the industry with which he is most closely involved, choose to rush in and condemn him; even if I understand why people might sometimes draw the conclusions they do. Id much rather be alongside him, helping him shape his own future and that of his business, but equally not being afraid to give him some stick when I think hes done wrong, knowing that he will listen and learn and it will help him and the business grow and get better.
Obviously everyone here is entitled to their own opinions, and I cant force people to believe in him and CityFox, but I am always happy to be as open and honest as I can to assist people in reaching informed judgments rather than knee-jerk conclusions.
Phil, thanks for returning and responding.
I know from friends in the taxi business that are "owner drivers" that they move companies they are driving under more times than I have hot dinners. They pay a commission to the brand for giving them work. There is a significant lack of brand loyalty amongst the drivers.
Thank you Phil, I think you summed things up and explained well.
Thanks for your response Phil.
As I've previously stated, I have no personal reason to investigate Rhys's many companies or be vindictive but it does appear that people have formed a negative opinion of him; not helped by his response to the Taxi 'confusion' last week. Yes, people are entitled to their opinion and neither Rhys or yourself is obliged to answer questions.
With regard to the Taxi service, there are posts from Rhys on the Cityfox website and social media where he claims that he owns Plymouth Taxi & Bath Spa businesses?
And then there's http://excitevenues.co.uk and Cityfox Taxi , Newport & a car share service that was promoted on social media... oh and the recent tease for a night bus service. I'm aware that entrepreneurship means trying new ventures, not all of which will be successful but there are limitations. I'm aware that Rhys is inspired by Richard Branson but even he started small and concentrated on one idea before moving forward. I guess that it's the old adage that you can only be believed a limited number of times.
Without wanting to sound rude , the phrase 'serial fantasisist ' has been mentioned in recent years. It's good to hear that Phil so doing work elsewhere!
I quite at risk in saying this, but from reading that I have a better opinion of you.
You summed up all of this very nicely indeed. You're comments seem to show you are in a good mood and you have made some very excellent points there.
I would like to just point out to nesw that this thread is part of a forum for buses and not taxis. We do seem to be moving into the realm of taxis here and the whole point of this thread was to discuss the Cityfox bus business and what they're up to.
I'm personally very pleased to see that Phil has continued to keep this discussion going and I'd like to think when things happen in the bus firm, he will inform us of what's going on and what the plans are.
It takes real guts (and I'm a bit disappointed that Rhys didn't do this) to own up to a mistake in the Plymouth business and thank you for confirming what is going on with this.
I do hope you (and possibly Rhys if he changes his mind and hasn't quite given up/run away) continue posting in this or any other Cityfox thread on here and just generally ignore certain people who continuously have a dig at you. There are clearly mistakes - but these are mistakes in the taxi firm and should be discussed elsewhere in my opinion.
Thanks for responding. Your career moves of late have certainly surprised a few people but I'm sure you appreciate that any criticisms expressed on here are not directed at you.
There are taxis and private hire cars that have stickers/signs for multiple different companies on their sides. Some private hire companies only care about whether a car can physically get between A and B, and that the drivers have driven a car somewhere in the world for at least 2 weeks... (safety and in date licences seem optional in some areas/firms)
Indeed. It does go some way to explain what I thought might have been going on to some extent (and I do think the codeshare agreement explanation does make sense). However, I would probably suggest Rhys is a bit more careful about claiming he has "acquired" things, when he has in fact signed a marketing agreement with them. If I were one of these businesses, I'd be more than slightly miffed about it being misrepresented.
Agreed, also about making statements on CityFox websites like "Our sister company CityFox Taxis currently operate over 100 taxis across the South West (Bristol, Bath & Plymouth)" and that CityFox Taxis has a fleet size of 95 and 105 employees when this clearly isn't the case as most of those numbers are other taxi companies' vehicles and staff. To stick with Phil's analogy I don't recall airlines including codeshare operations in their aircraft owned and employee stats as that would be misleading.
It really wasn't meant to be a precise analogy. I was just looking for a comparison that might explain how it is legitimately possible to offer a service as part of your network without it having your brand on! After all, we don't expect people to check in 45 minutes before their journey and we have no hand luggage restrictions!
Also, £7:5 to correct one point from the discussion above. While the arrangement in Plymouth was never about ownership, the situation in Bath was a bit different. There, although there was never an acquisition of the entire share capital of a limited company, there certainly was acquisition of assets that meant that CityFox could legitimately say it ran taxis in Bath. However, as I pointed out last night, the whole question of "ownership" is much more fluid in the world of taxis, and I fear you're falling into the trap I pointed out of assuming that CityFox didn't operate taxis in Bath just because it didn't wholly own a limited company in Bath with all the accoutrements that you would expect to see in a bus company!
However, the situation has moved on and it is now purely an alliance, but it could well move on again at some point. That doesn't mean it was always thus!
I found this response professional and helpful.
CityFox have branched out into a lot of areas; buses, taxis, nightbuses, nightclubs, hot dog services...this doesn't exactly seem clear for the onlooker. It's good to see some light shed on the situation.
Been watching this with interest and even more interest now that we are onto the subject of taxis, I have driven for 3 different companies at the same time before as a driver, I have also been asked to do a pick-up in a different council area where you need a different licence to do it.
However the technicality in that is that if I was a Bristol driver and I was on the outskirts of Bath and was sent a Bath pick up off of my pad (stay with me here) I am a Bristol registered vehicle but because it came through to my office in Bristol and was booked by them, I can be sent on it. That office is in Bristol but they have 3 numbers one for Bristol, one for Bath and one for say Cardiff which is nowhere near. That company could have one car in Cardiff under a different name, 3 cars in Bath under a different name and 100 cars in Bristol again different name but under (taxi) group, it does not stop them sending cars into another council area to pick up.
Is this the kind of tie up that Cityfox want to have eventually where all taxi companies run as one but are different entities? I think that as Phil said Taxi's are a completely different kettle of fish to buses, so many tie ups between firms both official and unofficial so that contracts can be covered, sort of a "you scratch my back" approach is common, it isn't the first time I have had to go on a hire that has been very cheap because of another company, only for it to pay off later on down the road.
I think your post illustrates superbly for the onlooker, why taxis are so different to buses and why it's so difficult to draw direct comparisons that will be easily understood by people who understand one but not the other.
Just as people here struggle to understand the fluidity of the taxi market, I am forever having to explain to "our" Bristol drivers that just because we have a bus, doesn't mean we can just take it out and run a route wherever we feel like running if that particular evening! They just can't comprehend!
To answer your point, I think the aim really is to get the CityFox brand as well established across the south west/country/world as widely as possible and the Group is open to all sorts of different ways of doing it, as long as they work financially. Ideally it would be achieved through ownership, but that obviously requires vast working capital so is probably more of a longer term aim.
It is the nature of the beast that entrepreneurs tend to act on impulse and do completely unexpected things on a whim, and step away from them just as quickly if they lose interest, without understanding why they should justify themselves to observers.
Transport enthusiasts on the other hand tend to like things neatly structured and compartmentalised with clearly defined boundaries and a logical story with a beginning, middle and end.
All I'm trying to do is to find ways to bridge that gap, and if I'm honest the challenge of bringing those two strands together is one of the things that attracted me to the Group in the first place.
The company that I work for has 3 coaches, however these are only for Schools work, they do not run at any other time, I am not 100% sure what licence they need to run on (whether an O licence is needed, I assume there would but not sure as to whether or not it would be less strict than if it was service), we have had calls before for coach work and have sent them to the local coach company up the road.
On the taxi side of it, I have never worked for a taxi company that hasn't "shared" the assets of others I worked in the office for a private hire company in Edinburgh and because we didn't have WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicles) because at that time the council did not allow you to have them as private hires, we had to take the hire and then ring up a black cab company to do the job and do a deal on the metered cost because private hire companies did discounts that the taxi companies couldn't. It worked because we were cheaper on out of town work and would get phone calls from the taxi companies for OOT or if they were really busy for some help.
All of the companies where I am now in the South West do it, although some companies tend to disassociate themselves when questioned, you don't want to be seen being cosy with your fiercest rival do you? even though you do 9 times out of 10 help eachother out. This may have been the case when some members here have been ringing to gain information, whether or not it was for their own means or to try and possibly out a wrong un (which I am not accusing anyone of) then you would certainly get people's backs up.