By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
Basil and Debbie Rudawsky say their loyal customer base is a great foundation for their 79-year-old taxicab business, St. Louis County Cab, that will help it weather whatever challenges may come.
Customers range from the poor and elderly to young people who are out for a night on the town to people whose own vehicles are being repaired.
“People want to know they are in a safe vehicle with a driver who is background-checked,” Basil Rudawsky said.
That doesn’t mean that County Cab is resting on its laurels. The company has a smartphone app for ordering a cab. And it has many firsts to brag about – first in St. Louis to use computer dispatch, first to accept credit cards, first to use GPS and first to have online booking.
On New Year’s Eve, County Cab launched Lucky Lou, a minivan outfitted with a red and white polka dot bowtie, casino décor, special lights, sound and video systems. When Lucky Lou picks up a passenger, the driver turns on the lights and announces, “It’s your lucky day, your ride is free.” Passengers also get a bowtie and their picture on Lucky Lou’s Facebook page.
The company expects to give away $15,000 to $20,000 in Lucky Lou fares this year in honor of St. Louis’ 250th birthday, Debbie Rudawsky said. They haven’t decided yet whether to keep the special cab in service after 2014, but Basil said he’s entertained the possibility of a Lucky Louise cab to keep Lucky Lou company.
Debbie, her sister, Kim Garner, and their father, Tom Gregerson, own St. Louis County Cab, which was founded by Debbie and Kim’s grandfather in 1935. At that time, St. Louis trolley lines ended in University City, and the cab company began service to workers in other suburbs needing a ride home.
Basil, Debbie’s husband, joined the company 23 years ago, when Gregerson was getting ready to retire. Debbie has been actively involved in the company for 13 years.
County Cab has 250 drivers, about 70 of them owner-operators who pay the company a franchise fee. The remainder lease their vehicles, and the company provides dispatching, billing and liability insurance. County Cab also owns Yellow Cab Co. in St. Louis, which it acquired in 2002.
“Our drivers truly are our first-line customers,” Debbie Rudawsky said. The company has many long-time drivers, including some who have been driving for the firm for 40 years.
County Cab keeps extra vehicles on its lot to replace fleet vehicles in need of service. The company provides safety training for the drivers, a lounge with a television, complimentary coffee and a computer that drivers can use to check their email, track customer payments and credits. There’s also a yearly picnic in the summer.
“They just want to feel like they’re valued,” Debbie Rudawsky said. Most of the drivers have Basil’s cell phone number, and they’re not shy about calling it if they have a problem.
The company’s manager of driver relations coaches drivers on how to improve the customer experience, such as opening doors for customers and helping them with groceries, parcels or luggage.
In addition to the drivers, County Cab has 40 full-time employees, including office staff, a customer care center and mechanics to service the cabs from its nine-bay garage in Olivette. The company offers employees monthly online training through ADP Comprehensive Learning Services.
The customer care center is computerized, and most cabs are dispatched by a computer that finds the closest cab using GPS tracking. If there’s no cab in the zone, a fleet coordinator looks for a cab that may be about to drop off a fare or one in the next zone and offers the fare to that cab.
GPS tracking allows County Cab to know each cab’s location, which can be a safety feature. But tracking also is used when customers call or use their smartphone to track when the cab will arrive.
Each cab has a small computer that the driver uses to accept a fare. The computer also calculates the fare and tracks it for billing if the customer pays by credit card.
County Cab hasn’t done customer surveys, but Debbie Rudawsky keeps an eye on social media and responds to customers who have a problem.
“We’re trying to humanize the cab business,” she said.
“We fully hope that it’s here for our children to operate,” Basil said.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. This year’s TORCH Award Luncheon will be Oct. 14 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St .Louis. For more information, click here.