It was 1999 when I first got into the taxi business. I drove for a mid-sized company here in Central Florida. If you’re from around here, you’d no doubt recognize the name. The training was bad. Well, there was none. It’s not the easiest business to be in when you’re a newbie and it didn’t go well for me. I went back to slingin’ hash; I had had a long career as a waiter before deciding that taxi was a better way to go. It was a good and safe strategy to go back to something familiar, something I enjoyed and was very good at, but I still felt like driving a cab was “the next thing” for me in the career box of life.
After thinking about it for a few months, I decided to try it again, but this time I opted to go to the “big dog” in town to see if the result would be better. I landed at City Cab Co. of Orlando, a company that had been around since 1939, offered thorough training and knew how to be successful in the taxi biz. They had plenty of business over the phone, all the best parks and hotels, including the contract to service the taxi needs of Walt Disney World. And, yes, that proved beyond a doubt to be a better way to go. That’s an understatement. By the way, City Cab Company is the legal name, but Checker Cab, Yellow Cab and Winter Park Yellow Cab are all fleets operated by the same company all based out of the same location. Folks have often been confused by that.
A quick additional note about changes: those separate fleet names or brands will soon all give way to the Mears Taxi brand, but that could be the subject of a different post.
As the company evolved–way before my time–they jumped into shuttles, luxury sedans and became very big in the bus business too. Mears Transportation Group does pretty much anything and everything in the transportation business here in Central Florida, and do it well. I’ve now been associated with the company for 16 years. Just over seven years of that was driving cab, the rest has been in the department that recruits and trains new cab drivers. We also do a lot of administrative work, making sure that the drivers we have already have are up-to-date with driver permits from the city of Orlando, can still pass a vision test and are current with all contractual matters, especially after taking a hiatus from driving. In our industry, drivers are independent contractors, and the admin requirement do not stop once they’re on-board.
But our main focus in my department is getting new drivers contracted and ready to go; we recruit them, screen them, then train and motivate them and pass them on to our Operations Department. Some new drivers decide that our biz is not for them and they move on. Some, like me, take to it like a duck to water and go on to make a good living while enjoying a gig that’s quite literally like no other. I’ve got to say that driving a cab in Central Florida was, hands down, the best gig I’ve ever had.
There have been many changes in the transportation business in the last few years. In the cab business especially. Some of these changes are big. Game-changers, you might say. We who drive taxi or work in the business in administrative or support roles are feeling the changes. None of us can say with any certainty just where these changes are leading. But it’s big stuff. Ride sharing is a huge innovation, one that’s gone over well with people who use transportation services. Uber, Lyft and others have, and no doubt will continue, to change how people move from here to there. Speaking as an old-school “taxi guy” I want to acknowledge that many of us know that ride sharing could do to our industry what the internet did to newspapers. I don’t think that’s a “done deal” by any means but these 21st Century ways of going about our business are succeeding and the ramifications for those of us who’ve had success operating in the traditional way are huge.
I’m proud to be associated with a company that’s had impressive success over many, many years but that is keeping a close eye on the industry and how it’s changing and has put together a vision for how to embrace change and move with confidence into the future. I do not know what our industry will look like five or ten years from now. But I know that the qualities that have always helped a company and their people succeed will pretty much remain the same: having a good, well thought-out and adaptable business model; carefully selecting and thoroughly training your crew; supporting your workforce and giving them the tools they need to succeed; embracing changes in technology and ways to get things done and applying them in thoughtful and effective ways.
Changes. Challenges. They’re coming. Of that we can all be certain. Now as I toss out this pithy remark as my close, let me acknowledge that I need to hear and heed this advice probably more than most of you who might read it: the future belongs to those who will plan and prepare for it. I’m getting off line now so I can meditate a while on the weight and importance of that last sentence…