FAYETTEVILLE – Brad Audrain came to the taxi business by way of Dickson Street.
As a University of Arkansas student, he or friends sometimes needed a ride away from the storied street. From that need, several years later, he saw opportunity. And its color was green.
Audrain and his fellow investors opened Green Cab Co. on New Year’s Eve with hopes that their venture to provide eco-friendly taxi service will catch on.
“The saying is, ‘keep Fayetteville funky,’ and we think our green cabs help to do that,” Audrain said.
Green Cab has a four-car fleet of Toyota Prius hybrids.
“So many things are moving in a green direction to decrease the carbon footprint, and to top it off, for us, it’s cheaper. Gas is less. It seemed like a really positive thing to do,” Audrain said.
His research showed most metro areas of a similar size have more cab companies than Fayetteville. And he thinks an environmentally-conscious service will be a good fit.
Audrain, originally from Memphis, moved to Fayetteville 10 years ago to attend the UA, where he earned a business degree. He followed that with a law degree. When the law firm he worked for disbanded, he decided the time was right to try out that business degree and pursue that opportunity he’d seen years earlier.
“I spent enough time on Dickson Street. I knew there was a need there,” Audrain said. While taxi service was available, he recalled long waits on busy nights. “I just thought if we had something similar to this, people would like it.”
The company’s goal is to always have clean, smoke-free cars and fast service, with uniformed, professional drivers. Although the economy is not ideal, Audrain said he likes having a business opportunity that also creates jobs for others. The company has three dispatchers, but expects to add a fourth one soon, he said. They also employ seven drivers.
While Audrain has high hopes for his business, he’s joining an industry that, on a national level, has seen its ups and lots of downs in this new century.
Alfred Lagasse, chief executive officer of Taxicab, Limousine, and Paratransit Association, an international non-profit trade association for the industry, said members reported higher levels of ridership during the last year, but he’s not sure it will hold. The trade group has 1,100 member companies operating more than 100,000 vehicles and serving 900 million passengers per year.
Lagasse said the last four years have been rough, but just part of a challenging decade for the industry.
“I’m hopeful we’re seeing the end, “ he said, “but I think it’s too soon to say that.”
According to Lagasse, the industry’s troubles date back to 2001 with the terrorist attacks stopped commerce overnight. By the time the industry regained its strength, the economy fell apart. But Lagasse remains hopeful the recent uptick in ridership means the industry has turned the corner.
Montye Crawford, office manager for Northwest Arkansas Taxi, said the company’s taxi business suffered some in the last few years, although it’s not been determined if that’s due solely to the economy or if the startup of other companies in the area played a role. It has picked up, however, she said.
Hotel Executive Transportation, part of the same company, did not seem to experience a similar downturn, Crawford said. She said the area’s large corporations, like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc., have maintained their businesses, which allows Hotel Executive Transportation to stay busy.
“We still have vendors coming in and meetings going on,” she said.
Pinnacle Car Services owner Jeff Wright said Northwest Arkansas’ business successes have kept his company on a less-bumpy road. Wright began as a limousine company in fall 2005 and added car service the following year. He said the company secured a contract with the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in January 2007.
“This new contract gave us a prominent location inside the terminal at XNA and helped us to attract new clients flying into the region,” Wright said via email.
He contributes the business’ continued growth to a professional, people-oriented team of drivers, support from the vendor community and the repeat business from the area’s corporate giants.
“Our drivers have fostered great relationships with our business clients and are thus, integral in the growth of long-term relationships and continued patronage,” Wright said. “Despite our country experiencing a recession, car service is a relationship business.”
Wright said many of the company’s professional clients are also choosing to use the car or limo services for nights out on the town or pickups for private jet service.Hummer stretches and party bus use for weddings, prom season and other special events, have increased, as well, according to Wright.
Crawford said Hotel Executive Transportation is already booking prom reservations for later in the spring.
“They start to call early because not many companies provide the service,” she said. Audrain said he wants to add executive service in the future, but he’s focusing on building his core taxi service first, although he does hope to get some prom business this spring.
The bulk of Green Cab’s business so far still comes from Dickson Street. They have for the last couple of weeks kept a car at XNA and are seeing more business to and from the airport. They hope to expand service there, as well as eventually expand their fleet to service larger groups.
While many cab companies across the country are using hybrids, like Fayetteville’s Green Cab, others are experimenting with different options out of necessity, according to Lagasse. The standard workhorse of the industry has been Ford’s Crown Victoria, he said, which is no longer being made. Companies will eventually switch, it’s just not been determined which vehicles will become the go-to cars.
“Taxi service is tough, tough on the vehicle,” Lagasse said. “Literally, doors can fall off the cars in a few years.”
He said which vehicle will become the industry’s choice may vary by region based on terrain and weather conditions.