Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.
Keith Nelson reads about Uber, the application-based transportation service with a dozen drivers in Kingman, and sees a few K-Cars on the road from a startup company in Prescott.
He’s pretty confident Kingman Cab can hold its ground in this emerging business battle to drive people around town.
Nelson, president of Kingman Transportation Service, parent company of Kingman Cab, has already seen three cab companies come and go since he bought the business in July 2009. He’s operating five taxis and three limousines.
“We’ve seen a little decrease in business over the last few months, and I attribute that to the competition,” Nelson said Tuesday at his small shop on Butler Avenue. “But we’ve got a loyal following, and we’re not going to change anything we do.”
There’s a growing sense that taxi cabs are doomed with the arrival of Uber and Lyft and private transportation fleets.
“I welcome competition. I tell my drivers it’s our business to lose,” Nelson said.
Contrary to what people may think, the meter that’s constantly ticking in the taxi cab is not necessarily more expensive than “livery vehicles” that pick up passengers for a flat fee or pre-negotiated fare, Nelson noted.
He researched fares for trips around Kingman and found cab rides to be roughly the same as or cheaper than Uber and K-Car.
A trip from Starbucks on Stockton Hill Road to a random address in Golden Valley totaling 17.6 miles was $41.50 for Kingman Cab, slightly more than the $37.75 fare for K-Car, and on the low end of the $39 to $52 charged by Uber, whose rates fluctuate with demand.
However, a short 1.2-mile ride from Emerson to Eastern is $4.75 in the cab, compared with $12.50 in the K-Car and $7 to $10 with Uber. And a slightly longer trip (3.2 miles) from 66 Auto Sales on Andy Devine Avenue to the Skyline Studios on Route 66 would be $9.25 in the cab, $12.75 in the K-Car and $11 to $14 with Uber.
K-Car rates are based on telephone quotes for random addresses, and Uber rates are based on its online fare estimator.
“Our biggest problem, and one that’s very difficult to manage, is our wait times when we get extremely busy,” Nelson said. “We do our very best to inform our clients regarding the approximate wait time before our cab will pick you up.”
The company offers an app that can be downloaded and installed on a smartphone that connects you with dispatch, and they can generally project accurate wait times.
Ron Gardner, operations manager for All City Kokopelli Transport, said his company charges $2.50 to get into a K-Car and $2 a mile, so that’s $4.50 to go a mile.
The company started with a focus on private-pay medical transportation, but now does about 75 percent of its business in nonemergency calls.
It’s been slow going for the first few months in Kingman, where six Toyota Prius K-Cars are in operation, Gardner said.
“We’re there trying to get the word out,” he said. “Obviously, it’s like an infomercial. You’ve got to see it a few times before you try it.”
Gardner said Kingman lacks a good public transportation system. Kingman Area Regional Transit, or KART, runs fixed routes, and you never know what you’re going to pay with a taxi, he noted.
“You go to Walmart and you hit all the traffic lights, you pay a different rate,” he said. “We have a fixed rate.”
K-Car is picky about its drivers, Gardner added. They’re stringently screened with background checks and drug tests, and they’re paid by the hour, “so our drivers are always making a living,” he said.
The taxi industry has developed a shady reputation, and a lot of people think taxi drivers can’t get a job anywhere else.
Nelson will go through five applications on average before he finds a qualified driver at Kingman Cab. It’s not just monitoring the meter, but it’s keeping records of pickups and drop-offs, mileage and charges.
Arizona law requires Kingman Cab to do background checks and drug tests on drivers, who work as independent contractors. Nelson said he personally reviews backgrounds of drivers with a criminal past and evaluates the nature of their charges and subsequent criminal history.