Underdog Upstart Takes on Proven Mobility Providers

January 19th, 2006
Article for The Chicago Dispatcher

curriculum vitae bio writing portfolio links home

Would any taxi operator want to buy wheelchair accessible cabs If they did not have to? Fresh upstart Chicagoland Mobility has put their money down. "Yes."

Almost an alter ego with the same management team, Chicagoland Mobility is a subsidiary of Bus & Truck of Chicago (BTC).

"Eventually, we will have a showroom," asserted Bruce Marich of the new venture, but for now, if someone wants to examine their stock in person, it is inside the parent company's operations.

A drive down South Pulaski towards the Sanitary & Ship Canal leads past two massive, minaret-looking smoke stacks that peer down on BTC and Chicagoland Mobility. The BTC complex is massive and beyond the tiny waiting room lies an immense open space where city buses are "refurbished", which can include anything from installing a rebuilt engine to mending fire damage.

Between the dump trucks, big rigs, buses and gargantuan paint booth sits the fledgling company's modest operations: A half-dozen converted newer Chevy Ventures, Uplanders and a Grand Caravan available to rent or awaiting customization for new owners. Customization can include installation of hand throttle controls, seats that swivel outwards, to scooter lifts.

BTC began selling wheelchair accessible taxis in 2004 and when the new year rolled around decided to open a separate entity to deal specifically with the niche market. To get Chicagoland Mobility up and running successfully, BTC tracked down a 25-year veteran in the mobility field.

Bruce Marich was a founder of Southern California Mobility which featured the nation's first showroom for customers to look at products like stair glides to fully customized vans. BTC succeeded in coaxing Marich out of retirement in Florida to move back to his native Chicago.

Taxi operators have to care about buying taxis that accommodate wheelchairs because, if they own 15 or more cabs, the city mandates they own at least one. However, Chicagoland Mobility promises this is not a bum deal.

"If [taxi drivers] pick up two handicapped fares in a day, then they can go get in the short line at the airport, and these vehicles aren't just for people in wheelchairs. They can carry up to five passengers," Marich said. He also stated that other perks for taxi companies include a reduced price for taxi medallions and a $15,000 rebate from the city.

However, in regard to the medallion discount and the rebate, Bill McCaffrey of the Division of Public Vehicles stated, "There has been in the past but there's none currently allotted." If the rebate offer will be available next time medallions are issued, remains to be seen. McCaffrey did confirm though that, "There is a pilot program in place that allows drivers, based on participation, to get in the short line at either airport."

"It looks like they're just another competitor, which we welcome. They're a place where someone can get competitive pricing," said Paul Bertolini, "There's a lot who try to get into the taxi industry, but it's a pretty diverse market." Bertolini works for Midwest Mobility, one of Chicagoland Mobility's two established competitors.

But as Marich pointed out, "We're the only company equipped to do this inside the city so we're all union." But, unions aside, driving to an outskirt like Schaumburg or Villa Park hardly seems like a chore when the item in consideration costs the costumer five figures.

Additionally, competitors like Midwest Mobility have a showroom and Bertolini who also has 25 years experience in the mobility field. So why should anyone consider Chicagoland Mobility?

Competitive pricing appears to be Chicagoland Mobility's potential key to success. As Marich put it last year, "It's the same vehicle and the manufacturing expertise is the same, but we don't need to make a $7,000 to $10,000 profit."

Marich maintains that, for a major city, Chicago's taxi service is no where near as accessible as it needs to be and that the market is ripe for growth.