Envirocab Kicks Off Operations, Searches for More Drivers


(Sunday, February 17, 2008 8:22 AM EST)

Envirocab, described as the county's, and the nation's, first all-hybrid taxicab company, recently launched its fleet of hybrid Toyota Priuses, Camrys and Highlanders and Ford Escapes. But with numerous other, larger cab companies in the county, why would drivers choose to work for the new kid on the block?

“I liked the idea. I wanted to do something for the environment,” said Slim Ghedira, who heard about the company last summer. “Plus, I had the opportunity to own my own cab, instead of leasing.”

Once they're hired, Envirocab drivers have 30 days to buy a hybrid vehicle and outfit it as a taxicab. Many other cab companies require their drivers to lease vehicles from them, which can add up to a pretty big chunk of change.

But everything from that point forward is about the same as other cab companies: the Envirocabs cover the same areas of Northern Virginia and the District; the drivers pay for their own gas; and the cab fares are still determined by the county government.

County Board members last year gave Envirocab permission to start operating in the county. The operation, which just recently started, is based on Columbia Pike.

Ghedira, who has been driving cabs for six years, worked at Red Top Cab - the county's dominant taxi company - before switching to Envirocab. He said he is glad that his money is going toward a Toyota Highlander Hybrid that he can call his own.

With gas costs between $10 and $15 a day, rather than $40 to $50 in a traditional Ford Crown Victoria, Ghedira also said he is saving a lot of money on his daily expenses.

Envirocab executives say they have 15 drivers on the road, almost all of whom have switched from other, competing cab companies. In coming weeks, they expect that total to rise to 40.

But Charlie King, owner of Red Top Cab, said he hasn't noticed a significant loss of drivers in his company, and he doesn't seem worried that many will leave.

“We have an established business that also has ownership opportunities for our drivers, and they like their working situation,” he said in a recent interview. “We expect they'll stay with us.”

So far, Envirocab drivers are getting most of their business at taxi stands and hotels, rather than through calls to the dispatch office, and responses to the new cab company have been mixed.

“I've seen all different reactions,” Ghedira said. “Some people try and grab my cab, some people think it will cost more and some people will even skip the line to get to me.”

Overall, Envirocab owner Hans Hess has been happy with the way business is going, but he isn't sure his company is very welcome on the taxi scene.

“The drivers are doing really well and making lots of money. They have a product people want,” Hess said. “I get the impression [other cab companies] don't care for the competition.”

But he doesn't plan on letting them stand in his way.

“We're still at an early stage,” he said. “We've got lots of plans.”

As for the drivers themselves, there doesn't seem to be any animosity between the Envirocab drivers and other cab companies' drivers.

“When I see the drivers from Red Top, they wave hello,” Ghedira said.

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