Just one month after Checker Cab ended its services, Jefferson City residents may once again see the bright green taxicabs driving around the city in search of passengers.
Former Checker Cab driver Leesa Shivers, who started driving for the company in 2007, is one of several drivers who purchased their vehicles from owner Tom Landwehr following the company's closing. She's now the owner of the city's new cab service — Cabbie Shak.
For Shivers, it was important to keep providing a cab service for the people of Jefferson City.
"People need it. People don't have apps, people don't have smartphones," Shivers said. "People don't have credit cards. This is the demographic that doesn't do Uber and Lyft — these are the poor people, these are the old people, these are the drunk people. These are the people I want to help."
Ride-hailing options like Uber and Lyft are available in Jefferson City but require internet access and electronic payment. The city's public bus system, JeffTran, offers rides for $1 or 50 cents but has limited hours.
"People deserve to be able to get around," Shivers said. "On the weekends, they don't even have a bus; and if the bus ran, I'd be happy about it. I'm not really competitive; I just want people to be able to move around. It's freedom to them, to be able to go."
Following the closure of Checker Cab, other drivers hoped to continue giving rides using their purchased taxis. But city regulations require business permits for vehicle-for-hire businesses, in addition to other requirements like individual driver's permits, insurance and vehicle inspections.
Shivers has taken care of that, ensuring she has a city business license and meets other regulations like operating 24/7 and having appropriate meters.
To provide 24/7 service with her three cabs, Shivers is looking for drivers. Applications are available at City Hall, 320 E. McCarty St.
Shivers was also able to keep the Checker Cab phone number for Cabbie Shak — 573-636-7101 — to make the transition easier for customers, along with the well-known green cabs.
Safe Ride Home
When Checker Cab called it quits, another service in Jefferson City was at risk.
About six years ago, Scot Drinkard, owner of Spectator's Bar and Grill and The Office Bar, started a program called Safe Ride Home — a voucher system so patrons too intoxicated to drive home safely could take a cab called by the bar — after a similar but seasonal service, Sober Chauffeur, lost a majority of its funding and ended.
Drinkard said he worked with some local beer distributors and others on the idea of a sober ride home before pitching it to the group of local bar owners.
At first, the program worked well, Drinkard said. The cab company would place Safe Ride Home customers at the top of their list so intoxicated customers weren't waiting a long time for a ride.
"If you're intoxicated and you've got an hour, hour an a half wait, you're going to end up getting in your car and driving — which is the last thing we want — because you're tired of waiting," Drinkard said.
Heavily intoxicated customers could also get aggravated at their long waits and cause fights or other problems in the bars.
"It's like herding kittens — you can't keep a drunk person waiting," Shivers said.
For the first few years, the cab company would arrive within 10-15 minutes, but after a while, the wait times jumped back up, Drinkard said. When they moved their dispatch services to Kansas City, it was even harder, he added.
"When you called the cab company, it took like an hour or longer to get a cab on like a Monday or Tuesday night, when I know the cabs aren't busy," Drinkard said.
Safe Ride Home vouchers can be found at several bars around Jefferson City: Spectator's, The Office Bar, Water Tower Bar & Grill, Chick's Tap Room, Gumbo Bottoms Ale House, High Street Pub, J. Pfenny's Sports Grill & Pub, Knights of Columbus, Bones Restaurant and Lounge, TG's Lounge and Twin Bridges Bar & Grill.
The vouchers take $10 off of the ride, enough to get you almost anywhere within Jefferson City. The rider just has to pay any extra fees incurred from longer rides.
"If you're at Twin Bridges and you live in Holts Summit, that's not going to get you home for free," Drinkard said. "We figured $10 is pretty fair for Jeff City. If you're downtown and you live on the west end, 10 bucks is probably going to cover that."
The operation is funded through membership dues paid by the bars — $50 per year and $1 each for the vouchers — plus annual fundraisers such as golf and bowling tournaments.
The program also has corporate sponsors including Fischer Body Shop, N.H. Scheppers Distributing Company and Jefferson City Autoplex.
Drinkard said the program had been looking at other options for a while before Checker Cab officially closed, but ride-hailing options like Uber and Lyft wouldn't work for their operation.
"We looked at other options like Uber or Lyft, but it's very difficult to have an account like we were proposing where anybody could call and charge to this account," Drinkard said.
One option would be to create commercial accounts, but each location would need a cellphone for the purpose, which wasn't feasible for a low-budget not-for-profit like Safe Ride Home.
Now, with Cabbie Shak providing cab services again, the program can continue to provide a safe option for Jefferson City residents.
"It's important for us to get you home safe," Drinkard said. "It's a small community; we want everybody to be safe and be able to get home to their family."
Shivers is working with the bars to keep the program on the road. When the program worked well, it was wonderful, she said.
"I don't want to lose that, not at all," Shivers said. "It saves a lot of people — lives, jobs, wives, kids, homes. It's my honor to be able to do that for them."