Lovedeep Singh Khangura, 35, is a businessman who has perhaps created a first in the sphere of taxi business. He has introduced Mercedes among his fleet of taxis in a bid to provide the best service for his customers.
How Khangura forayed into the business is interesting. Growing up in India, he studied his Bachelor’s degree in engineering (electronics) but it was the time of global recession and jobs were hard to come by. So when his father asked him ‘what next?’ he went to the doors of the newly-opened education service provider in his home state of Punjab and between America and Australia, he had to make a choice. Deciding to go with RMIT, he got enrolled at the Master’s program for engineering in IT. In the course of the program and by the end of the degree, his roles were defined –studying by day and driving taxis by night. Today, Khangura has a fleet of 80 cabs, four companies.
Like the hundreds of international students, Khangura took to driving taxis to pay his bills. By the end of his studies in 2003, Khangura thought he could not do this forever and wondered how his parents would react to him driving a cab after adding a few degrees to his name. He started looking for jobs but did not make much headway save for a job with Telstra in the call centre department. He worked five days with the telecom firm and the rest of the two days he was back to driving.
Around that time, Australia’s education policies had opened up and when one of his cousins came to study here, they decided to buy a cab and divide into day and night driving shift between the two of them. After eight months, Khangura started adding cars to his kitty. “The cars started coming and the cousins kept coming from India.” So he had ‘trusted’ manpower to scale his business.
But it was a tough market, says Khangura. With limited licences and their prices soaring, the prices of cabs also started going up. When he had five cars, he stopped driving and got fully involved in the servicing part of the business.
Khangura kept climbing up the ladder. He bought a brokerage firm South Eastern Taxi Brokersrelated to the taxi business at the right time. “We provide Eftpos facilities in cabs. We had a good flow of drivers; a lot of people had trust in us because we were paying them on time. So people started giving their leases as well to us to run the cabs. That’s when we thought we are going to expand this big time.”
Khangura’s next venture was setting up a workshop Punjab Motor Works catering to servicing, cleaning, painting and ensuring road worthies for taxis.
With the government selling taxi licence from July 1, Khangura saw it as a unique opportunity to provide better service. So he started putting new cabs including Mercedes. “It is an open, competitive market now, so we put in Mercedes. Right now we got four of them on the road. We are the first people in Australia to have Mercs as taxis … People know we have added the Mercedes and they are excited about it. People call and thank us.”
Khangura says he had a theme in mind when he added the Mercedes and that is, to provide good service to normal people and not the going luxury way. There was a lot of thought behind putting the Mercedes on the roads as taxis, he says. “Besides with the government changing rules every now and again, you got to be on top of things.” The other plus side is that these cars cost less on fuel and service is good. “If we have good drivers it is going to be very sustainable. The condition of a car is totally in the hands of a good driver.” His ultimate dream is to replace every cab with a Mercedes.
But there is more happening for Khangura. Having forayed into the insurance business Punjab & Co Taxi Cover,he believes he has got a good start at the right time. “We got private cars as well, we can insure private cars, all our drivers we are trying to push them and get them a better deal.”
Clearly Khangura is in a happy place now. He attributes his success to two team members who have been with him for 7-8 years. “One of the reasons for putting better cars is to give something back to this country. Perhaps people will realise it someday, if not today. They will remember Indians came and did something good because we get flak for so many things otherwise,” he laughs. Rest assured, this car czar promises miles to ride!
By Indira Laisram