Competition arises for city transit serviceIn July, according to Art Streetman, the city of Mitchell fired him from his job as a Palace Transit bus driver. In August, Streetman and his wife, Anita, started a competing business called E-Z Ride Taxi.
By: Seth Tupper, The Daily Republic
In July, according to Art Streetman, the city of Mitchell fired him from his job as a Palace Transit bus driver.
In August, Streetman and his wife, Anita, started a competing business called E-Z Ride Taxi.
Through November, Palace Transit’s rider numbers had plummeted 17 percent compared to the previous year.
Though it’s impossible to know how much of Palace Transit’s declining ridership is attributable to Streetman, he’s happy to take some of the credit. Ironically, he owes his newfound success to the city officials who fired him.
“That’s what really got my goat,” Streetman said, “and got me going to start this.”
E-Z Ride Taxi isn’t the only new competition facing city-owned Palace Transit, which as recently as June was the only licensed taxi service in the city. Becky’s Vans has also acquired a formal taxi license after years of informally providing free, late-night rides to friends and acquaintances, bringing the number of licensed taxi services in Mitchell to three.
Brenda Paradis, whose job as executive director of senior services includes overseeing Palace Transit, did not mention the two new taxi services when she was asked to explain the decline in Palace Transit’s ridership. She said the decline is due to the economic recession and an increase in the use of designated drivers.
City Council President Jeff Smith said he’s sure the new competition has had some effect on Palace Transit’s numbers, but he also thinks other factors have played a role and said he sees no need for reactionary measures.
“With the percentage that ridership has decreased,” Smith said, “I don’t see where it’s that large of an issue at this point.”
City officials, by policy, do not comment on personnel issues and refused to comment on any aspect of Streetman’s former employment with Palace Transit. He claims he was fired following an incident in a local gas-station parking lot.
Streetman said he knocked over a portable sign with his bumper, but he found that neither the sign nor the Palace Transit bus he was driving sustained any damage. So he put the sign back in place and drove away.
A witness complained about the incident, according to Streetman, and also claimed that Streetman had mangled the sign and had been speeding through the parking lot while swerving to miss pedestrians. He claims that the witnesses’ allegations are false, but he said the allegations resulted in his firing.
When Streetman and the city parted ways in July, Palace Transit’s ridership was up by 122 over the previous year. At the end of November, which is the most recent month of available statistics, Palace Transit’s ridership lagged the previous year’s by 3,379.
Most of the decline was in the “general public” category, which had 2,701 fewer riders through November 2009 than through November 2008. Other categories saw smaller declines, and ridership grew in the elderly and handicapped categories.
The November numbers were listed in a report submitted by Palace Transit to the Mitchell City Council. In the section of the report devoted to general-public ridership, there was an asterisk and this explainer:
“Weekend and evening ridership has showed a decrease in recent months.”
Weekends and evenings are the primary hours of operation for Becky’s Vans. Becky Handrahan and her three other licensed drivers do many of their pickups at local bars, and they do not charge any official rates. They do accept tips, though, and that’s why the city told Handrahan she needs a taxi license. She obtained one in June.
Handrahan said she’s not interested in expanding her hours and is running her business primarily to keep people from driving while intoxicated.
“People are getting a lot smarter about it, although it takes awhile,” she said. “Some of them need to get hit in the head with a DUI ticket before they realize they’re not going to get away with it.”
Filings of DUI cases in Davison County have declined each of the last three years, from 383 in fiscal year 2006 to 320 in 2007, 294 in 2008 and 256 in 2009. Handrahan suspects that her taxi service — and her additional service of shuttling vehicles to customers’ homes — might have played a role in the DUI decline, and she thinks DUI numbers might decline even further with the addition of E-Z Ride Taxi.
Unlike Becky’s Vans, which operates primarily Wednesday through Saturday evenings and by appointment only at other times, E-Z Ride Taxi is a 24-hour service. E-Z Ride has three drivers and charges fees that include a $3, one-way charge for most rides, with an increase to $5 for “socializing” trips to places such as a bar and $6 for patrons of the Kongo Klub, a club just north of the city.
Palace Transit charges $4 each way, but the weekday fee is reduced to $3 roundtrip and $2.50 each way if one day’s notice is provided. Kongo Klub trips are $5 each way. Service begins at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 6 a.m. Sunday, and it ends at 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday. Palace Transit is the only taxi service in the city that has vehicles equipped with wheelchair lifts.
Streetman said his competitive rates and extended hours are attractive to riders, but he considers promptness to be E-Z Ride’s best trait. He claimed that when he was working for Palace Transit, riders at the beginning of his shift would often say they had been waiting for an hour or more to be picked up. He suspected that Palace Transit’s computerized routing system might be to blame for the delays.
Streetman’s routing system consists of a cell phone. When people call, he tells them when he’ll be there. The simple business model has been “extremely well received,” he said.
“When God closes a door, he opens a window. This has just been a phenomenal opportunity for us.”