The two friendly, 60-year-olds wearing blue jeans, Almoh Bahaji and Jay Wacker, don’t appear counterrevolutionaries. Additionally, their sparse offices in the yellow cinderblock structure on the west side of town don’t seem to be a strategic location from which to launch an attack. But make no mistake, these men fiercely defend themselves, devoted to restoring the once-mighty king to its former splendor.
Specifically, the taxi.
Everyone knows that the past ten years have not been easy for taxis. The first ride-sharing services you could call from your phone were Uber and Lyft. Contrary to cabs, where customer service frequently amounted to you’re-lucky-we-picked-you-up, the new technology not only brought rides to you quickly and efficiently wherever you were, but the drivers also received online consumer ratings, a kind of built-in quality control.
The virtual monopoly that taxis had since the development of the Model T was gone. Demand fell off almost immediately. A good example is Salt Lake City’s Yellow Cab. In 2012, it had a fleet of 150 cabs, but by 2016, only 40 were left, and it was expected that the business would be put up for sale by the owners and shareholders. Its purchase caught everyone off guard.
Almoh Bahaji had either lost his mind or was about to do so, according to the consensus. Almah, however, had two excellent justifications for getting what appeared to be a dinosaur: He had two things going for him: first, he had been a company driver since 1999; second, and more significantly, during that time, he had purchased dozens of cabs, which he then leased to other drivers.
He would be left with a garage full of yellow vehicles and no place to drive them if Yellow Cab ceased to exist. Fortunately, the man who had to flee a civil war in his native Somalia before arriving in Salt Lake City as a refugee in 1996 with only $80 in his pocket was unfazed by the daunting odds. When he took his first cab ride, he was residing in The Road Home homeless shelter.
He claims that after that, “I started living the American dream.” First, he saved up enough money to buy his car. Then he saved enough money to purchase additional vehicles and rent them out—prominently displayed his fleet during the 2002 Olympics, Salt Lake taxis’ busiest month.
Yellow Cab and Almoh’s taxicab businesses remained stable through 2009, when Uber was founded, and 2012, when Lyft was established. The slippery slope and fire sale then followed. When the company became him, Almoh’s first act was to admit to himself what he didn’t know.
Although he could see that the prior administration “didn’t plan very well for Uber and Lyft; they didn’t form any strategy,” he was unsure how to bring the company up to date. He says, “That’s why I got Jay.” Jay is Jay Wacker, a man who has spent his entire life working in the transportation industry in some capacity, including as a driver, dispatcher, customer service director, manager, and more. Almoh asked Jay to oversee his operations because of his background, track record, and experience.
- He said, “I’ll give you six months.”
- Five years ago, that happened.
- The fact that they are still standing is proof of what perseverance and hard work can accomplish.
- Along with a new business strategy.
They were not put off by technology; on the contrary, they welcomed it. They have an app for riders called CURB that performs the same functions as those of Uber and Lyft. With the promise of better service provided by their new software, they aggressively pursued contracts with hotels and other companies, including the airport. They chipped away at the taxi industry’s inglorious tradition of patrons serving drivers rather than the other way around.
Since taxis were the only ones providing it for a while, Jay claims that they were and, to some extent, still are relatively indifferent to customer service. But instead of the outdated tradition, we’re attempting to understand what a taxi service should resemble. We work in the service sector. Service is all we have, unfortunately. The new business model, like everything else, had no plan for the pandemic, but it made it to 2020, if only just. They were down to just ten drivers at their lowest point during the lockdown.
Since then, they’ve bounced back and now have 84 cabs in their fleet (after also acquiring Ute Cab), 800 app downloads per day (excluding corporate clients and the airport), and are constantly looking to hire more cabs and drivers. Ten of their last twelve driver hires have come from Uber and Lyft, which is a good indication that they’re doing something right.
We can compete with Uber and Lyft, says Jay, pointing out that one leading advantage cabs have over their ride-sharing rivals is that they always charge the same rate for the same route, regardless of the time of day or the supply and demand for the service. There aren’t any surge fees.
People dislike surge fees, he claims. The counterrevolutionary declares with a distinct air of satisfaction in his voice, “I like our position, I like where we are. “We took over a failing company and gave it new life. Our future appears promising. We still have a long way to go.