While the greenest of green elitists will go out of their way to demean the car as a worthless, wasteful pollutant, most can concede there are certain instances when four wheels and a motor are just downright necessary. For example: luggage-filled trips to the train station, picking up a wheelchair-bound grandma for Thanksgiving dinner, and-perhaps most importantly-those long, drunken treks home after a night of downtown barhopping. Cue a downtown reveler’s favorite form of transportation: the taxicab.
A little more than a year ago, three Santa Barbara cab drivers stumbled upon an eco-friendly business plan with some serious profit potential. Together, Toygar Nazifoglu, Emre Disli, and Kiku Otani-with a little help from a friend at a nearby Toyota dealership-left their old jobs and launched Lucky Cab. The first of its kind in Santa Barbara, Lucky Cab relies almost solely on hybrid vehicles-the Toyota Prius, specifically-to cart customers around town; a move that means a lot of things to a lot of people.
“The reason we wanted to go hybrid was because it would be shootable for Santa Barbara. It is such a beautiful town and people here care about [environmental] issues,” Nazifoglu said. Currently half of Lucky’s fleet-and all of its sedans-are hybrids.
Originally, the trio went out looking specifically for hybrid vans. “The vans are more convenient, especially for large groups,” Nazifoglu said. When there were none available-even in Japan-the group settled on the Prius. “The rest of our fleet is gas, but we do have the intention to switch them over to natural. I’ve been looking into switching, but there is nowhere in Santa Barbara that does the conversion. [Controlled Natural Gas (CNG)] is better because it’s cleaner, and there’s one station in Santa Barbara to fill up that’s open 24 hours.” Currently, Nazifoglu is in talks with his mechanic about making the switch to CNG.
For the eco-minded, Lucky Cab provides the convenience and speediness of a normal cab without causing its passengers pollution guilt. “The only bonus is we’re getting the sympathy of the people,” said Nazifoglu. “Even if the person is having a bad day, when they use us, that experience adds to their day. They feel like they are part of something.”
For those strapped for cash, Lucky also offers the lowest rates in town-$2.50 a mile, which is a good 50 cents less than its competitors. And with fuel prices hovering in the $3.50-per-gallon range in Santa Barbara County, it seems like hybridization is the next rational step for transportation companies looking to turn a profit.
But for many cab businesses-of which the concentration and competition is especially high in Santa Barbara-the move to hybrid or electric vehicles seems illogical. The upfront cost of purchasing a fleet of Prius or Honda Civic hybrids is daunting, especially for startup companies. Similarly, some argue, the expense of maintenance and repairs is almost always more for a newer car than an older one. Fortunately for Disli, Nazifoglu, Otani, and the warming globe, Lucky Cab is proving its naysayers wrong. Once it became evident where gas rates were headed, the three quickly realized they’d be turning a solid profit within their first year of operation.
“To be honest with you, [the cars] are not cheap,” admitted Nazifoglu, who, along with Disli, holds an economics degree. “But we have more customers than we should have because it created a talk around town. People who are environmentally friendly started talking, and that created more business, which helped us hire more drivers. The trend is just starting. There are other companies coming out with hybrid cars. And they’re hopefully going to become cheaper.”
Though a few companies are beginning to incorporate hybrids into their fleets, Lucky is still very much the Santa Barbara forerunner in environmentally friendly taxiing. “I think we had a great influence in the way other companies are changing to hybrids now,” said Nazifoglu. “I don’t know if they’re trying to compete with us, or trying to save the environment, but when people are thinking of hybrid cabs, they’re thinking of us.”
To hail a Lucky Cab, call 968-5020.