Victor Galvan of Sandusky Taxi L.L.C. said he and his brother, Onesimo Galvan Jr., decided to open a taxi service in the Thumb area of Michigan after their late parents -- in need of rides to medical appointments or while running errands -- spotlighted a need for such a service. Sandusky Taxi started in Sanilac County but expanded in late December to Huron County and plans to base a taxi in Tuscola County in the next several months. (Photo by John Cook)

Cab service fares well, heads to Tuscola County

Victor Galvan of Sandusky Taxi L.L.C. said he and his brother, Onesimo Galvan Jr., decided to open a taxi service in the Thumb area of Michigan after their late parents -- in need of rides to medical appointments or while running errands -- spotlighted a need for such a service. Sandusky Taxi started in Sanilac County but expanded in late December to Huron County and plans to base a taxi in Tuscola County in the next several months. (Photo by John Cook)
Victor Galvan of Sandusky Taxi L.L.C. said he and his brother, Onesimo Galvan Jr., decided to open a taxi service in the Thumb area of Michigan after their late parents — in need of rides to medical appointments or while running errands — spotlighted a need for such a service. Sandusky Taxi started in Sanilac County but expanded in late December to Huron County and plans to base a taxi in Tuscola County in the next several months. (Photo by John Cook)

Onesimo Galvan Jr. and his brother, Victor, know all about trendy online-taxi services Uber and Lyft. Yet they opened Sandusky Taxi, anyway, in November of 2015, with cab drivers now navigating Dodge Caravans around Sanilac and Huron counties and – sometime in April – Tuscola County.
The Galvan brothers – Onesimo goes by the nickname “Junior” – realize the rural Thumb area has more than its share of elderly residents living alone and needing rides here or there, and no shortage of folks who could use a cab when they’ve had a few beers and their home is 10 or 15 miles from the bar.
The Thumb’s smaller population and isolated communities, in fact, are what give Sandusky Taxi the edge over Uber and Lyft, Junior Galvan said.
“I have a full-time job where I travel a lot for work, so I use Uber and Lyft a lot, and I have both apps on my phone,” said Junior Galvan, 42, of Sandusky, a staff field service engineer for Illumina, a San Diego-based biotechnology company.
“Uber and Lyft only work when there’s a high population of people, because the drivers can check in and check out at will,” added Junior Galvan. “There’s no timeframe that they have to work.
“In a smaller area, on a Friday or Saturday night, I’m afraid that you’re going to find no Uber drivers because (drivers) want to go out for the evening. When I do a search for Uber and Lyft the closest drivers I can find are in Port Huron and maybe in Flint or Lansing. When I open up my app I can zoom out and view all of Michigan, and it can kind of show me where the cars are at, and there are none in any rural area.
“There’s just not a high enough concentration of people.”
The brothers started in business with one Dodge Caravan in the Sanilac County seat of Sandusky. They added a second Caravan based around Lexington, a Sanilac County lakeside village. In late December, they located a third Caravan in Bad Axe, the Huron County seat.
And Junior Galvan estimates that a fourth minivan – each Caravan carries five to six passengers comfortably – will start operating around Tuscola County in April. Tuscola County, with about 54,263 residents, is larger than Sanilac County (population 41,823) and Huron County (population 32,224).
Sandusky Taxi L.L.C. generated about $20,000 in revenue in 2016, he said. About 10 employees work for the company.
“We’re growing slowly but surely,” Junior Galvan said. “We get a lot of calls already from the Caro and Cass City area – a lot more than I expected.”
“Uber didn’t really come out this far north,” said Victor Galvan, 48, of Sandusky, noting he and his brother “ran into a situation where our parents were older, and it got to a point where they didn’t go out in the wintertime, and it was always one of us coming to get them and taking them to the doctor or to get groceries.”
Their late parents’ transportation needs spotlighted a business opportunity, Victor Galvan said. “We thought ‘Well, let’s try one vehicle as a taxi and see what happens,’” Victor Galvan said.
Drivers work dedicated times. In Sandusky, for example, drivers work from 7 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Wednesday, and from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
“That way I can guarantee someone will answer the phone when you call,” Junior Galvan said. “Since we’re in a rural area, you might have to wait 15 or 20 minutes, but I think for a taxi in a smaller town, that’s more than acceptable.”
Passengers may summon a Sandusky cab by calling 810-404-8294. Passengers seeking rides in Huron County may call 989-550-3939 to summon a taxi from Bad Axe. Riders seeking a cab from Lexington in Sanilac County may call 810-712-8606.
Drivers urge motorists to call about 15 minutes before they need a ride. Junior Galvan said the patience of residents of the Thumb area – accustomed to traveling 15 to 20 miles between towns – helps his business.
So do ever-stricter laws regarding drunken driving, noted Junior Galvan.
“I talked to a lot of bar owners when we started the taxi service and told them ‘If you advertise for me, I can help increase your business,’” Junior Galvan said. “Sure enough, in Sandusky, the nightlife here – and it’s not crazy nightlife, so I guess I should say the ‘bar life’ – has picked up since then.
“People have an option. Let’s say a professional couple goes out to dinner here in Sanilac County. About 10 p.m. one of them has to decide to stop drinking alcohol, and start drinking water and pop, because one of them has to drive home safely.
“Now we’re offering an opportunity for a married couple to go out, have a good time, stay until midnight and get home safely – without getting in trouble.”
The brothers also are trying “to line up a little more business with the schools in busing kids back home after practices or from a Saturday event, because some parents do have to work on Saturday,” Victor Galvan said.
Junior Galvan defines his company’s “normal driving area” as a region from Interstate 69 north and from I-75 east. Sandusky Taxi discounts the rate on longer trips. Senior citizens and veterans receive a 50 percent discount on fares.
Standard taxi rates are $5 for a trip of up to two miles within the same town. For longer trips, the rate is $2 per mile per van – not per customer. The meter starts once passengers have entered the minivan. Drivers accept cash or credit cards, and customers are encouraged to tip a driver.
“We notice there are a lot of people who – after leaving the bar – tip really well,” Junior Galvan said. “A lot of our drivers like driving the late shift.”
For updates on the taxi service’s arrival in Tuscola County, Victor Galvan encourages readers to “like” the company Facebook page “Sandusky Taxi-Bad Axe/Caro.”
“Once we get started in Tuscola County, we’ll have to have a minimum of two to three drivers,” Victor Galvan said.
“We try to get drivers that know the area, so I already have feelers out on Facebook asking if there are people in the Caro and Cass City area that are interested in driving, and I actually got a few messages back,” Junior Galvan said.
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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