Mark Brown plans to roll out new Charlottesville cabs

Mark Brown, the owner of Main Street Arena, recently bought Yellow Cab, but said he plans to keep the unusual sayings on the taxis’ trunks, like “Dogwood—all bark no bite.” Photo by John Robinson.

A local investor is shaking things up on the streets of Charlottesville. Main Street Arena owner Mark Brown recently purchased the city’s Yellow Cab company, and he has big plans to change the industry’s local model.

“The company as is doesn’t really interest me,” Brown said. “But bringing in all the new stuff is much more compelling.”

Extensive travel up and down the East Coast showed Brown what cabs could offer a city, and he became determined to bring Charlottesville taxis to the same standard.

“All of the cab offerings in this town, including the current Yellow Cab, were substandard,” he said. “And technologically, for dispatch and paying, they’re in the stone ages.”

Brown’s first move was to purchase 20 hybrid Hyundai Sonatas, which he expects to hit the streets in early September. He said Yellow Cab’s current vehicles get about 12 miles to the gallon, and with gasoline being the company’s single biggest expense, the fuel efficiency of the new fleet will significantly cut costs.

He is also creating a new smartphone app, which will allow anyone in need of a ride to request a cab with one click. With a GPS that locates customers immediately and an automatic text message from the vehicle upon arrival, Brown said the new setup will make catching a cab easier for everyone. The GPS tracking feature will also allow the dispatcher to locate a vehicle in emergency situations more quickly or to track down lost wallets and cell phones.

Brown said credit card swipe machines have become the norm in big city cabs, and he intends to install them in the old vehicles while the new Sonatas are being prepared for the road. Other new features will include panic buttons up front and in the back, and security cameras.

Michael Anderson, a Harlem native who has been a Yellow Cab driver since 2006, said he’s excited about everything Brown has in store for the company except the security cameras.

“I’m not quite sure if I’m on board with that,” he said.

Anderson said a cab ride should be relaxing and private, and he worries that a camera in his car will make customers uncomfortable. And customers, Anderson said, are what the business is all about. He prides himself on being personable with his clients and doing the little things like lending a hand with groceries, and he said the company would be better off if more drivers were as conscientious.

Wolley Cab owner Chris Miskovsky agreed that rider satisfaction must be a cab company’s top priority, and he said he’s not worried that the competitor’s improvements will hurt his business.

Miskovsky’s fleet is significantly smaller than Yellow Cab’s, with only six cars. He said a cab company needs to be wary of building up so much business that the customers are no longer taken care of.

“The key is going to be in customer service, and supplying good drivers that customers like and are happy and comfortable with,” he said. “If Yellow Cab doesn’t do that, all those technological advances won’t do any good.”

Brown said the upcoming improvements have already attracted quality drivers from all over, which he and Anderson hope will ultimately improve customer service and light a fire under those falling behind.

“I’m putting a lot of money into this company to upgrade all this stuff,” Brown said. “Basically what I’m doing is taking the things you find in a major market and bringing them here—and there’s a reason why those things are in the major market.”

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