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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Industry at a Crossroad: Taxicabs Adapt and Thrive: We interview the founders of Clean Air Cab and Discount Cab

Sep 30, 2013 07:58AM ● By Martin Miron

Taxicabs are an American icon, synonymous with life in the big city; mass transit with a personal touch. New York City alone employs more than 13,000 of them. In this era of global warming, fossil fuel conservation and shrinking carbon footprints, taxis are an important piece of the puzzle. Fortunately, Phoenix has two companies that are prepared to meet the challenge.

Steve Lopez, founder of Clean Air Cab, based in Mesa, runs 40 Toyota Prius (gas/electric) vehicles in a totally hybrid fleet. He explains that a traditionally powered cab may cost $500 per week in maintenance and fuel, but the hybrid is two-thirds more efficient and requires fewer repairs. The company has also created a green garage with recycling at its core.

“Sustainability is more of a mindset than a focus—an act of consciousness,” says Lopez. “It means looking at the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits, in that order. We focus on making all decisions through this model, and when we have a question or concern, ask ourselves how doing something affects our customers or our drivers, then how it affects our ecology and then how it affects our bottom line. A lot of times we make decisions based on people and planet before we even get to the bottom line.”

Lopez encourages his drivers to promote the community to their customers, saying, “If a rider asks where they should go to dinner, we’ll recommend local businesses and drive business to those companies, so that we’re doing our part as part of the solution.” He says that Clean Air Cab was the first to use the Prius in the area in 2009, and that perhaps the experience of riding in one has sparked customers to go out and buy one. “At any stoplight or four-way stop sign, you’re likely going to see a Prius in traffic. I believe that’s because the customer is demanding the product; they’ve gotten a taste of it and what it does, are much more educated and are choosing this type of product for their own vehicle.”

Lopez states, “What makes me most satisfied about doing taxi cab service in this way is proving not just to the customer, but to ourselves, that it’s possible to embrace an old industry, put a new flavor on it and deliver like it’s been delivered in the past, but with consciousness and lifestyle improvements that give back value and make it work.”

Craig Hughes, founder of Discount Cab, in Glendale, also uses the Prius—hundreds of them. He says, “It’s been almost unanimously positive. Our customers love the Prius vehicles. We were initially concerned with the size, but the interior dimensions are almost as large as the inside of a Crown Vic. During the whole downturn in the economy, we’ve maintained a 25 to 30 percent growth year over year.”

Hughes wants to be socially conscious, but knows that alternatives must also be commercially viable to succeed, saying, “To me, the process only works if it’s not only sustainable for the environment, but sustainable for your company. That’s where things are different today than probably 10 or 15 years ago. Then, things made a lot of sense, but one cannot afford to buy a $100,000 experimental car. Now you can get a vehicle like a Prius that provides a great ROI, that’s been the real win for us.”

With their latest building to house operations, Discount Cab doubled the square footage while adding more insulation, and the electric bill stayed the same. Hughes says, “We put solar panels on top, and while they’re not quite there yet in being sustainable, there is a 3.5-year payback because of tax incentives and rebates from the electrical utilities.”

Hughes sees a big potential in how smartphones are being used. “We are looking at expanding our Discount Cab mobile application,” he says. “We find customers have many different ways to contact us. We do about 11,000 to 12,000 trips a day, and 500 of them come from orders on the phone app. Instead of making a customer wait on hold, you can check on your car, see its location and get immediate feedback. That’s going to be a real growth area for us in the future.”

The time has clearly arrived for the industry to not only transform itself, but also become a model for all drivers. As Hughes declares, “We’re in a simple business. We need to be there on time, get the customer to their destination on time in a nice car with a nice driver and be convenient.”

Martin Miron is the copy editor of Natural Awakenings Phoenix.


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