August 9, 2012 | Volume XLII Number 32

Town's lone taxi for sale; decline in riders cited

The operator of the valley’s only taxi service is looking to get out of the business, citing a drop in ridership as well as competition from borough-funded free shuttles during major events.

Ms. Lucy Taxi and Courier Service is for sale, and starting Saturday it will offer only tours and shuttle service between town and the airport and ferry terminal, owner Stanly Mazeikas said this week.

Mazeikas started the company three years ago, after the town went several years without a taxi.

In the first two years, he earned enough to buy a used, six-passenger van and hire a driver, but his business is down 50 percent from a year ago, Mazeikas said in an interview this week.

“I’m on call all day. I don’t have a life (and) I’m just barely making ends meet,” he said. Mazeikas charges $5 for a ride in the townsite from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and $10 for rides in the same area from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Rides from the ferry terminal or airport to town are $10 per person, one-way.

If he charged more, he’s afraid he’d make no fares at all. “People are having a hard time paying me now. They only need me if it’s an absolute necessity. If they go to the grocery store, they’ll pay me to get their bags home.”

In the first two years, he made about 60 percent of his income taking people home from the bars, but that has fallen off, he said.

“Bar calls are really down. I’m not getting calls in town. For the last month and a half, the tourists have kept me afloat,” he said. “All I can attribute it to is people tightening their belts. People have things to worry about other than having to walk.”

Bartender Kevin Thompson said this week that numbers of customers from events like the beer festival and bike race seem to be down, which may be affecting the taxi business. Customers also balk at paying Mazeikas’ full fare for additional riders. One bar patron this week cited a $40 charge to take four people up Young Road.

Mazeikas said he needs to make $2.25 for every mile he rides, and that he hasn’t yet paid off his initial investment in the business. “How else am I going to stay in business if I can’t pay for the times that I’m not doing anything?” he said this week. “One day I make 20 bucks, another day I make a hundred. It’s nothing that you can hang your hat on.”

The Chilkat Valley News published a news story about ferry passengers stranded at the ferry terminal before Mazeikas started his business, but Mazeikas said this week it’s not unusual for him to get only a single fare from as many as five ferry arrivals.

The Haines Borough’s free shuttle service to the ferry terminal during special events also has hurt him, he said. He spent $400 to hire a second van for the overload last year, but the borough’s free service undercut him, he said.

Borough tourism director Tanya Carlson this week said she doesn’t want to take business away from Mazeikas, but his one or two vehicles can’t accommodate crowds of up to 250 people looking to get into town during major events.

Next year she plans to include the special events shuttle into a bid for the bus that shuttles cruise ship passengers around town, Carlson said. Carlson said she appreciates having a local taxi service and said it was an important service, particularly for service to the ferry terminal and airport.

Borough manager Mark Earnest said the borough was aware of a potential conflict with Mazeikas’ service, but believed the taxi offered a different service, taking ferry passengers to specific destinations in town. “Our thinking was there wasn’t a direct competition… Our intention is not to impact the private sector. We can absolutely make adjustments.”

Options include the borough charging for its shuttle or running it less frequently. (Shuttle service has been donated for most events in the past two years.) Mazeikas said that for now he’ll try making it as a tour van and ferry and airport shuttle. “We’ll see how that works. If that’s not profitable, we’ll make adjustments.”

Bartender Thompson said the taxi job is probably a tough one, as bar patrons sometimes call a cab, then leave before it arrives.

Mazeikas is asking $20,000 for the business, not including vehicles.