Two more entrepreneurs are venturing into the notoriously tough business of running a taxi service in the Flathead. The Public Service Commission, which regulates taxis in Montana, recently approved operating permits for Drive4U, run by Jeanne Herron, and Jim’s Taxi, run by Jim Elgin.
Herron takes over the permit previously used by Lee Sturdevant, who folded his operation in July.
“I think he just decided he couldn’t make a go of it,” Ken Toole, public service commissioner for District 5, said. Sturdevant launched his business in February with the goal of reducing the number of drunk drivers on the road. The lease itself is owned by the estate of James Michaels and allows taxis to operate within a 50-mile range from the Kalispell post office.
Herron, a former certified nurse’s aid, said her business will be focused on helping senior citizens and those who can’t drive to run errands and travel to medical appointments. A delivery service will also be available.
“It’s going to be kind of an, ‘at-home care’ type of taxi service,” she said. “I’m going to try to hook up with social service agencies.”
Herron was previously charging people for such rides without a state permit, then stopped until she could attain a legal permit.
“Being shut down, I figured out there was a bigger need than I did when I started,” Herron said. “I’ll do what I can to start with until people know I’m out there enough.”
With a bright red Chevrolet HHR, Herron believes she’ll be easy to notice. Her fleet will also include a Subaru Forester, and she is looking into purchasing a minivan with a lift. She can be reached at 406-212-7361 or 406-882-4371.
Elgin’s taxi service will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with two cars in Kalispell and one, driven by his daughter, run out of Bigfork. Reached last week, Elgin had just learned of the approval of his operating permit, and had not yet worked out rates or the phone numbers where Jim’s Taxi could be reached. But he said he was motivated to launch the business after observing the need in the community for transportation, particularly in Kalispell where many large stores are located on the north side of town.
“I think this area needs a taxi service,” Elgin said. “There’s nobody here and there’s just a lot of people that need to get around, especially up at the Hutton Ranch.”
Establishing a taxi business that serves the entire Flathead has long been a stubborn problem in the valley as the area’s population has grown big enough for people to need public transportation, but apparently not grown enough to sustain a taxi business that serves downtown Kalispell and Whitefish. Subsidized public transit systems also make it tougher for standalone taxi businesses to compete. The PSC regulates the permits to ensure taxi operators have sufficient insurance, but Toole said he hasn’t figured out why taxi businesses are failing.
“We’ve now had a couple of them tank up there,” Toole said. “It’s unclear to me that the problem they had was not enough of a market.”
“The Flathead’s tough because the population centers are kind of sprinkled around,” he added. “Even in the best of circumstances it’s not easy to run, and Kalispell and the Flathead Valley are not the best of circumstances for the taxi business.”
Herron and Elgin acknowledge how difficult they expect the taxi business to be, but both said they plan to work as hard as possible toward success.
“I’ll give it my best shot,” Elgin said. “I’ve been here all my life.”
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