A fixture of Mount Airy’s business community geared toward moving people from place to place could come to a screeching halt if plans for a government-subsidized transportation service are approved.
That’s the belief of the city’s cab company owners, who want Mount Airy officials to put the brakes on the proposed “circulator” route that would transport passengers to key locations at $1 per trip for the general public.
“It’ll kill us,” said Peggy Dowdy, the owner/operator of Cut Rate Cabs based on Willow Street. Dowdy appeared at a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners last week to ask city officials not to endorse the plan by the transportation arm of YVEDDI (Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc.).
“We feel like she does — that would hurt our business,” Granite City Cabs owner Jim Lovelace said this week in echoing Dowdy’s concerns about the possible shuttle service.
“The cab business ain’t all that strong right now,” Lovelace added. In fact, Mount Airy now is down to just two taxi companies, Granite City and Cut Rate.
“We’re already struggling,” Dowdy said.
17 Jobs At Stake
The circulator system YVEDDI wants to implement would include a series of regular pickups at locations such as elder housing and low-income neighborhoods and stops at Walmart, medical facilities, city parks and other strategic sites. Another would be the park-and-ride lot of a regional bus service, thus allowing users of the YVEDDI program to also access destinations such as Winston-Salem.
A 19-passenger van would be used for the hourly operation, which YVEDDI is seeking to fund with the help of a grant sought from the N.C. Department of Transportation. When outlining the circulator plan and requesting the city commissioners’ support at a June 21 meeting, a YVEDDI official said the state agency likely would not contract with YVEDDI to operate the service without such an endorsement.
Word of the program has prompted concerns including whether it would be fair to private cab companies that don’t have the luxury of any kind of government assistance.
Dowdy said while standing outside her taxi stand Tuesday that it costs a lot to operate Cut Rate’s five cabs, a fleet of vans requiring insurance, taxes and other expenses tied to the cost of doing business.
“Why don’t they subsidize me?” Dowdy said. “I would love to (transport) people at subsidized rates.”
Endorsing the YVEDDI circulator service would be the death knell for a familiar sector of the local business community and the jobs it provides, cab owners say, while the competing enterprise would create only about three positions to operate the route.
“It’ll definitely kill my eight jobs,” Dowdy said of those employed by her company. Cut Rate Cabs was launched by the present owner’s father-in-law, Cecil Dowdy, in 1982. Peggy Dowdy bought the operation after he died in the late 1990s.
“It’s family owned and run,” she said.
Meanwhile, Granite City Cabs, located on South Main Street, has been in business “over 40-some years,” Lovelace said, and employs nine people. He has owned the company for about four years.
If YVEDDI is allowed to implement the new service, “we’ll just have to shut our doors and call it quits,” Lovelace said.
“YVEDDI already does a lot,” he added of existing competing services supplied by the agency on a demand basis, such as transporting people to doctors’ offices.
Board To Vote
Jeff Cockerham, YVEDDI transportation director, has said that adding the circulator service in Mount Airy is rated the highest priority in a five-year plan for the four-county area served by the agency. That need is based on a review of existing programs and public input, including a survey.
The proposal drew a lukewarm response when outlined in June to the Mount Airy commissioners, who expressed concern that the service might require financing with local taxpayer dollars in the future if the state grant ends.
An expected vote at that time on the requested endorsement was delayed because of the concerns, with board members saying they needed more time to research the plan.
A vote could come at the commissioners’ first meeting in August, based on discussion at the June session. It is scheduled for next Thursday, but the agenda for that meeting won’t be released until the first of the week.
In the meantime, Peggy Dowdy has a message to the government about the need to help small businesses in a manner similar to YVEDDI.
“Geez, subsidize the cab companies,” she suggested, “so we can stay in business.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or heartlandpublications.com.