The hopes and risks of starting a small business: ECO Ride

ECO CarBy Hannah Bleau |

St. Augustine is the fertile ground which cultivates the growth of many unique small businesses. One particular local business, ECO Ride Taxi, is one.

ECO Ride is a local taxi business, owned and operated by locals Louis and Alice Tart. Unlike other cab companies in the city, ECO Ride aims to give the most consistently clean and courteous service to their customers. They do this by running their company as economically friendly as possible (using biodegradable products, fuel efficient cars, etc.), offering friendly services and keeping prices competitive.

“Our fleet is primarily hybrid vehicles. The cleaning materials we use are almost 100 percent biodegradable. We utilize electronic banking, billing, record keeping, and as many “green” practices as possible to keep our carbon footprint the lowest in our industry in St. Augustine,” she said.

But Eco Ride Taxi was not just a random idea. Innovation was key. Alice Tart said her family was searching for economic stability and wanted to take the matter in their own hands by starting a business.

“We started ECO Ride Taxi in 2011 because we saw a need we could fill. We were wanted the economy stability of running our own business and had been toying with many ideas. We bought a Toyota Prius and were astounded with the fuel economy. We saw the potential service a clean, green taxi service could offer to St. Augustine,” she said.

It’s a risk to start any new kind of business, and owners know it can be a daunting task. Everything falls on their shoulders, but hopefully the reward will outweigh the risk.

“Our main ‘small business’ struggle is that we are still an experiment. Hybrid vehicles are expensive, it costs $25 thousand or more to purchase and get a vehicle road ready. It takes our vehicles four years to recoup that cost. We will know if our experiment is viable within the next two years,” she said.

The economy is on the minds of many small businesses, and Ms. Tart stressed that the success of their business ultimately rests on the state of the economy. They’re dedicated to providing high quality transportation services, but their success as a company is tied to economic factors beyond their control.

“Since we are a taxi service working in a tourist town, our business shifts with the economy. In a good economy, there are more tourists and more traveling, therefore we get more tourist business and locals tend to have more disposable income,” Tart said. “Our company works off of mileage driven, which isn’t greatly affected by economy. Economy affects our drivers in the cost of gasoline and in the tips they make. Poorer economy means less tips and higher costs, therefore less take-home pay for drivers. Because our drivers are a vital part of our company team, the company as a whole fares better in a good economy.”

Nathan Russ, ECO Ride driver added, “Well, if you’ve never been in a St. Augustine taxi before, I think ECO Ride does a great job offering clean, friendly rides- which is opposite of our competitors with their old cars, all run down smelling like body odor and cigarette smoke.”

It’s difficult to miss the ECO Ride cars frequently cruising up and down the streets of our quaint college campus. This is a testament to the popularity of their services to Flagler College.

Alice Tart says they frequently see both students and faculty using their services.

“We have several students who use our services routinely for going to work, the laundromats, shopping, and for going out to the beaches. We have a few faculty who use our services when their cars are in the shop,” she said.

ECO Ride is a prime example of the small businesses that make up the backbone of the country- providing jobs, filling needs and services, solving problems, and using innovative ideas to make other people’s lives easier. It’s a testament of the American way. So, need a ride?

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