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Meters running: Johnson City again a two taxi company town

July 27th, 2011 11:02 pm by Gary B. Gray

Trinity Taxi opened its 12 doors at the beginning of this month bringing to two the number of licensed people movers in Johnson City, the other being WW Cab Co.
The former “vehicle for hire” business Mom’s Taxi closed in June 2006, leaving WW Cab as the only provider in town until now. Trinity is making its debut with three vehicles: a Cadillac Catera, Nissan Maxima and Ford Crown Victoria, a retired police cruiser.
Fresh green and white paint help the vehicles stand out, and the owner says she’s taking a risk but firmly believes Johnson City has room for at least two taxi companies. That risk includes about $20,000 that was spent to buy and maintain the vehicles, to hire and pay a handful of employees and to pay insurance.
The business set sail July 15. But word of mouth has bumped up the business’ volume in a very short time, and the company is expected to recoup that money in a few months.
“Everybody and their brother needs a cab at some point,” said Trinity owner Terry Carroll from the company’s 91 Wilson Ave. headquarters where she and her husband Kenneth also run Johnson City Towing. “WW has stayed in business because there’s always been a need. Plus, the more companies there are the more choices people have. And, with the price people have to pay for gas and to maintain their vehicles, to insure their vehicle, some are opting out of using them.”
Terry Carroll said her goal was not to drive WW out of business but to make enough to make a living, pay employees and satisfy customers.
The name comes from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which defines God as three divine entities, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that co-exist in unity as equal and eternal. Their motto is “A Fare That Is Fair.”
“We’re Christians, and we all work together,” she said. “It’s our job to see that everybody gets a fair shake.”
Following some research about the business, she found that there was one taxicab company for every 10,000-20,000 people in Tennessee.
“The population here is over 60,000,” she said. “So statistically, Johnson City is short on cab companies. And where we beat the competition is with our rates.”
The company will pick up and drive riders anywhere downtown for $5.
Trinity basically defines downtown loosely and considers it and other sectors of the area surrounding Johnson City as “zones.” The company charges a certain rate within various zones, with the closer zones being less expensive. However, if a person is picked up in one zone and travels out of that zone and into a neighboring zone, they are charged the full rate for the nearest and half rate for the furthest.
The cost from Johnson City to the Tri-Cities Regional Airport is $24. Some rates are literally “guesstimated” using the experience of dispatchers who communicate with drivers by two-way radio. Trinity also will wait for you (for about 15 minutes) while you’re inside the store and help you carry your bags in once you get back home.
“The prices are getting really high here, and we opened up feeling like we could charge a fair rate,” she said. “We think a lot of people that used to take taxis will come back. We have some ideas we plan to implement that will give people some opportunities. For example, we’re talking with a representative from a credit card agency and trying to set up a deal where people can use credit cards.”
Meanwhile, WW, which are the initials of owner Walter Whaley, has been doing business in Johnson City at 128 Commerce St. since 1982. But that location will change sometime near the end of this year. The city is purchasing the property and helping the business relocate through a condemnation and acquisition process by which the city will use the property to help remedy downtown flooding problems.
The new address will be 321 W. Main St.
The company has 12 cars on hand and employs 25 people. It also has spent years building a customer base, which has kept them busy and allowed them to raise rates only once, in 2005.
“Will the new company affect us? Sure,” said WW Manager Susan Hawkins. “To what extent, I don’t know. The number of our customers has stayed about the same. If there are sudden spikes in gas demand and prices go up, we can see increases. But we can run wide open for days. And then, all of a sudden it stops.”
The company also uses the zoning method to charge customers, and WW also charges full rates when trips are made within one zone and half-rates when the trip continues into another. Drivers also will occasionally help customers with their groceries, as does Trinity.
However, its rate for a ride to the airport is $32 — $8 more than Trinity.
“Yes, we may be higher, but I’d put my expenditures up against anyone,” she said. “You’ve got worker’s compensation, auto and building insurance, maintenance and salaries. I’d say insurance is our biggest expense.”
Hawkins said she hasn’t seen any drastic changes in the business, but she did say she’d noticed a few subtle ones.
“You have a lot of people using cabs to get to work,” she said. “I think it’s the convenience of not having to carry a lot of baggage. There’s also people that do not have licenses, and not all of them have had them revoked. There are some people that are elderly and just can’t drive. I’ve also seen a decline in the number of people going to the airport, and I’d have top attribute that to the economy.”
Hawkins also said some of her drivers continue to help people with their groceries, as is the case with Trinity. And, their charge for a short downtown trip also is $5.
“There is not a certain type of person using cabs more than others,” she said. “A wide variety of people take a cab for a wide variety of reasons. There are a few that call a cab because they want to talk to someone.”
At this point, Hawkins began to blush and tear up.
“They just want to talk,” she continued. They’re not necessarily going anywhere, and they may have something going on in their life where they feel alone. And they range from the most upscale you could imagine to the down and out alcoholic. You may have a person with $20 million in the bank or someone that doesn’t have 20 cents in their pocket. They both may have a story to tell and just need someone to listen.”
Need a cab?
n Trinity Taxi: 232-8811.
n WW Cab Co.: 929-8316.

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