COLUMBIA — After four years of brutal North Dakota winters, Rick and Betsy Lacy were ready to move south. They had lived in eight states over the course of their marriage, including Hawaii, but hadn’t yet made a home right in the middle of the country. Just over a year ago, the Lacys and their teenage daughter arrived in Columbia.
With 17 years in the pizza business, they came to town with the hope of setting up a little pizzeria, but it didn’t take long to realize that competition for the best pie was already pretty stiff in this college town.
“I couldn’t even get a job as a pizza driver because school had just let out and absolutely no one was hiring,” Rick Lacy said.
Instead, he was able to find work as a taxi driver, briefly driving for three different companies in town before deciding he was ready to try working for himself. He and his wife, who has a degree in business, sat down and figured out how much money they would need to start their own taxi company.
“As soon as we got that amount, I said all right, we’re ready to go,” Rick Lacy said. “And a week later, I had my cab company.”
With seven licensed cab companies and an eighth on the way, the competition in Columbia for fares might be more cutthroat than it is for pizza. The Lacys hope that their clean cars and friendly faces will help keep business steady through the slow months until fall football brings enough visitors — and drinkers — to keep all of the cab companies busy.
Their most recent idea to attract fares during the summer months was inspired by the Discovery Channel program "Cash Cab." They plan to earmark one of their three vans as the trivia taxi and will discount fares based on passengers’ ability to answer challenging questions.
Betsy Lacy drives the day shift now, and her husband works late into the night after the bars have closed. A third driver, Eric Niles, also picks up fares with one of the Lacys' purple minivans in the evenings.
BetsyLacy, a good-natured, chatty woman, said she was surprised to see this entrepreneurial side of her husband’s personality emerge.
“It was uncharacteristic of him,” she said. “But when you get to a certain age, you go: I’m tired of working for other people.”
Answering the call for a ride has given the Lacys a glimpse into the lives of both locals and visitors, ranging from the very wealthy to the very poor.
“You get a very diverse crowd,” Betsy Lacy said. "Sooner or later, everybody needs a ride somewhere.”