HAMMONTON — Taxi drivers work notoriously long hours.
So Angel Gonzalez, 45, a taxi driver from Vineland, knew he would be putting in even more time when in October he opened his own taxi service, Hammonton Yellow Cab.
In his first three months in business, he has worked 14-hour days with maybe two days off, Gonzalez said. But this is a necessity when establishing a customer base in “the Blueberry Capital of the World.”
“This is a new business. All of my customers are brand new,” he said. “It’s a time-based business. You have to put in the hours.”
During the first week of business, the taxi service averaged about three calls per day, he said. Three months later, they have 10 times that number.
“For our business, the fear is time — the time you have to put in not knowing what your profits will be,” he said. “That’s fear enough — to spend so much time away from your family.”
And he expects this grueling time commitment to last at least through the coming year.
Gonzalez was working as a cab driver in Vineland in October when he got a call from friend Gurminder Sidhu.
“We both were working in Vineland. He said, ‘I want you to come do business in Hammonton.’ I said how soon? He said, ‘Tonight.’” Gonzalez said.
Sidhu, 32, of Vineland, had worked as a long-haul truck driver in California before driving a cab in Vineland.
They opened an office on Vine Street last year and started running three cabs. Besides driving themselves, they brought on two additional drivers as independent contractors, all of whom were required by law to undergo criminal background checks through the Hammonton Police Department.
Gonzalez hopes to have a fleet of six running by summer to meet the influx of seasonal workers, particularly the migrant farm workers who rely on buses or cabs to get around town.
The company charges a minimum fare of $5 per trip and a metered rate of $3.90 for the first mile and $2 for every additional mile or 50 cents per minute if the drivers have to wait for their customers.
Hammonton boasts a strategic location in northern Atlantic County that puts his drivers within easy reach of several area malls, business districts in Vineland and Mays Landing and airports in Philadelphia and Galloway Township, he said.
Inevitably, there are unforeseen challenges in starting a new business. The first for Hammonton Yellow Cab was the town’s insistence that the company provide at least $1.5 million in liability coverage per vehicle.
Premiums for that figure were beyond the reach of such a small start-up, Gonzalez said. They met with city officials who researched the requirement more and decided the state minimum of $500,000 per vehicle was sufficient, Mayor Steve DiDonato said. The company pays about $5,000 per car per year in premiums.
“They provide a much-needed service for those who don’t have transportation in Hammonton,” DiDonato said.
Maintaining the cars is a serious worry, Gonzalez said. Fortunately, his brother-in-law is a mechanic who can provide regular maintenance, he said.
There is competition from unlicensed car services in town that threaten to undercut the business, Sidhu said.
Gonzalez said he expected his business to attract Hammonton’s growing Hispanic population, so he planned his advertising campaign around that. But Gonzalez said the company has proved popular instead with the town’s established Italian community.
“It was important for us to open in the winter so we’d know the area and be ready for the summer,” he said. “Hammonton will have 7,000 extra people working on farms here in the summer — mostly blueberry pickers. We’ll take them anywhere they need to go.”
But the taxi service also is looking forward to catering to the bar crowd and students attending Hammonton’s new satellite campus of Richard Stockton College.
Gonzalez hopes to make Hammonton Yellow Cab so successful over the next five years that he can sell it and start another enterprise. But for now he is focused on the next fare.
“We knew what we were getting into,” he said.
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