With endorsements from the city and county, John Huskey and Glen Willet hope they’re on the road to creating a new kind of taxi service for Columbia.
“Our purpose is to improve the format by providing assistance to individuals who aren’t served by public transportation,” Huskey said. “We could solve 80 percent of the transportation problems.”
The former cab drivers are looking for some sort of one-time government subsidy to get a new taxi company started. American Taxi would offer discounted rates of $1 a mile for people who use taxis to ride to work. Customers could defer any charges until their paydays by giving the company their names and the addresses of their employers.
Huskey and Willet said they also would provide service to the elderly and people with disabilities who need rides to doctors appointments and other destinations.
Cindy Mustard, director of the Voluntary Action Center, said she supports the idea. The center has given more than 3,000 bus passes this year to help people get to and from work, but she said there’s little she can do for people without access to the city’s bus service.
“We really have a need for a taxi service for people living off the bus line or working third shifts,” Mustard said. “With the number of cutbacks, it’s been very difficult to get people to work. There aren’t other forms of public transportation available to people outside the city limit.”
Boone County Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin met with Huskey and Willet last week to discuss the county’s views about and potential involvement in the project. They will meet with the rest of the Boone
County Commission on Oct. 31 to ask the commission to sponsor the company in a grant proposal.
Elkin said commissioners probably will support the idea. Although the county isn’t in a position to give money to the company, Elkin said it might be able to help Huskey find a grant.
“I support the concept of another option for folks in the community,” Elkin said. “We’re kind of limited on mass transportation in unincorporated areas of the county, and we always encourage private businesses to fill in a gap.”
If the company can get established and take people to and from work, it would benefit the economy and society, Elkin said.
If Huskey finds a grant, he says he could have things running within 90 days. He hopes to run 45 taxis within nine months with more than a third being accessible to people with disabilities within a year. Anyone with a job would qualify for the ride-to-work program; the taxis would also be available to the general public at a rate of $1.35 a mile.
Huskey said Columbia’s other taxi providers are inadequate.
“I’m not seeing professionalism, I’m not seeing affordability and I’m seeing overpricing,” Huskey said.
Representatives of Columbia Cab Company declined to comment, but Nina Hoover, manager of A-1 Express, said she’s not concerned about the possibility of a new taxi company.
“I don’t think it would affect us much,” Hoover said, adding that A-1’s main focus is limo service. The company’s six taxis charge a $1.50 flag rate and $1.80 a mile.
Mark Dellerman, owner of Magic City Express Limousine and Car Shuttle Service, could give Huskey some competition. Dellerman agreed Columbia does not have the best taxi service but said his company, which is also new to the city, will help.
“I’ve seen people sit at the airport for over an hour because the cabs won’t come,” Dellerman said.
Magic City will have its grand opening in two to three weeks and plans to offer a program allowing the public to pay an annual fee for a VIP membership card. Cardholders -holders will be charged $5 for all rides less than 10 miles, $9 for rides more than 10 miles and $15 outside the city.
“People can take a taxi back and forth to work with our low rate,” Dellerman said.