HARTFORD, Conn. - As the owner and also a driver for Essex Limousine Service, Eric Anderson runs a fleet of 15 vehicles that range from standard issue taxicabs and SUVs to vans, a stretch limo and even a Toyota Prius. The firm has 22 part-time employees. Total vehicle miles last year were nearly 800,000, Anderson said.
Q. How much of your overhead is gasoline, and how do you cope with the gyrating prices?
A. Gasoline is about 15 percent of our costs, right behind insurance. This year it went up tremendously. You're talking from $1.77 a gallon early last year and all of a sudden you're at $4.50. There's no cushion for us. The rates are set with the state. We did institute an administrative fee that floats with the price of gas, so we got some offset from the state beginning in late 2007. But it doesn't cover the total costs of price increases.
Q. Can clients get a cheaper fare if they opt for the Prius?
A. Surprisingly, the Prius has not been that popular, even though it's cheaper. I bought it in early 2008, you know, trying to do the green thing. We dropped the admin charge on it because it gets 35 miles to the gallon. We even reduced the price of the car, too, but no one wants to ride it. A few do, but not many. It's amazing. The admin charge is $10 now, but it was $15 and $20 at the gas peak last summer.
Q. Are there measures you have taken to conserve fuel throughout your fleet?
A. We do GPS tracking, which has the ability to monitor engine idling time, that's in 90 percent of our cars. If the driver is sitting there with the engine running, we can tell him to shut it off. All summer long we're harping on them about idling, you know: "Guys, you're chewing up gas." We can also use the GPS to set the speed monitor, so we can tell where the cars are and how fast they're going. When they drive slower they're saving gas.
Q. How has the recession affected your business?
A. The only positive that I can get out of it is that we are in kind of a niche market here in Essex. We have tons of loyal customers. Yes, business is off, but it's not off as much as it is with other people I talk to in the industry. They have been hurt a lot more than we have.
Q. Why Essex, and who are your prime clients here?
A. I bought the business in 1992. We had five cars, and we just grew mostly through word of mouth. We didn't do a lot of advertising. We get a lot of referrals. We have corporate clients from Pfizer, New Yorkers in the summer off the train, people with boats at the marinas. We're servicing several upscale communities. The limousine part, as opposed to the taxis, is about 90 percent of our business.
Source: Hartford Courant