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Local shares his experience of owning one of SLO County's last taxicab services

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As Samuel Orr parks his taxicab, he sometimes hears people comment on his business through his window.

"I pick up people that say, 'I didn't know we had taxis here.' I mean there's only a couple regularly driving around, so you could easily overlook one," Orr said.

In an era of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, taxis do still exist in SLO County, and Orr is making sure his business stays alive.

His taxicab can't be missed—it's not your traditional cab. He has a tan and gray van that seats six with "Central Coast Taxi" written on the side of the cab in neon green.

At 39, Orr has owned his taxicab business for about six years now. Before he purchased the business from its previous owner, Orr had been driving a taxi for about 10 years. He didn't imagine himself as a taxi driver, but now he can't see himself doing anything else.

Around the time of his purchase, Orr said he was figuring out his next steps in life—go back to school or make an investment and own his own cab business. The biggest draw for him was that he liked being an independent contractor because he didn't really have to answer to management, as he would have in a traditional workplace.

"You get to sit down for a living and not be on your feet all day, and the money is really good sometimes in a short period of time," he said. "I like interacting with people in a shorter time frame. I think it's really enjoyable, and most rides are just a few minutes."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 the median pay for taxi drivers, ride-hailing drivers, and chauffeurs was about $11.96 per hour, and the industry provided about 305,000 jobs in 2016.

Central Coast Taxi consists of Orr and two other drivers. They service the Five Cities area, Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, parts of the city of San Luis Obispo, and Los Osos.

"I'd like to grow the business a little bit, but I think that quality over quantity is really important, rather than just buying a bunch of cars and filling them with drivers," Orr said.

In terms of his competitors Uber and Lyft, he said there are several reasons why his business is still around. First, he said, Central Coast Taxi is his business that he's invested in and still has control over. If a customer has any questions and calls Central Coast Taxi, someone will either pick up right away or call back within a few minutes to answer questions. There aren't any automated operators; you'll talk to a person every time, he said.

Orr added that unlike Uber or Lyft, customers can call Central Coast Taxi and schedule a pickup ahead of time.

"Especially for important stuff like early morning rides to the airport, I mean even if they use Uber or Lyft, people don't really want to chance finding an Uber driver at 4 in the morning," Orr said.

The other advantage of his business is that he and his drivers can park in front of airports, restaurants, and bars—ready for hire.

"You can't beat that, I mean the vehicle is there in zero minutes. That's one of the better parts about being a cab driver, when you don't have calls or fares being requested, you can make something happen," Orr said.

Although there are many positives to being a cab driver, Orr said he has lost customers because before they exit a restaurant or bar, they've often already requested an Uber through an app on their phone.

Orr said he doesn't see himself creating an app for his business because it's very hyper-local, and people find out about his services from word of mouth.

To own a taxicab service or become a taxicab driver, people must go through a process with the city like any other business, but the process varies as each city does things differently. Pismo Beach City Clerk Erica Inderlied said new taxi service companies need to apply with the city clerk's department. The department then schedules a hearing before the City Council, and if approved by the council, the applicant goes to the police department for additional compliance measures.

Similar to having a new business, a taxi operator permit comes with a fee. A new permit that includes a background check with an existing company costs $108. For a new company, it's $243. It also costs $95 to renew the permit and $56 per vehicle inspection. The fees were reduced to these current prices in 2017.

While the fees were reduced, Orr said it does deter people from wanting to become new drivers as opposed to becoming a ride-share driver who doesn't have to pay any fees.

For now, Orr plans to keep his business small and possibly expand with a few more drivers in the future. It would get him to the point where he wouldn't have to drive six nights a week.

"It's been difficult at times to make a normal traditional life around work because of how time consuming it can be. I would definitely like to drive a little less in the future but not altogether because I do enjoy it," he said. Δ

Staff writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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