After a lengthy legal battle, the apple-green cabs finally launched this year. Not only were they a resounding success with non-Manhattan residents—people in Astoria alone have hailed them over 24,000 times—they’re also a lifeline to drivers who can’t afford the seven-figure auction price of a yellow-cab medallion. Brooklynite Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky has claimed that through the outer-borough taxis, “livery drivers and their families” are realizing “an American dream while … helping their neighbors and their communities.” By the looks of Grand Limo, he has at least one rags-to-empire story already.
Out of the roughly 1,000 green cabs currently on the road, about 390 are run through Grand Limo, a Queens-based livery service owned by Sharif Laskar. A year ago, when it was just black cars, Grand Limo’s entire fleet was 35. “They looked very ghetto and unsafe,” recalls Sal, Sharif’s son, the company’s 21-year-old manager. A livery like Sharif’s can buy a base license for $3,000, and the first round of drivers put up just $1,500 per medallion. The cost to passengers is the same as a yellow cab, though it comes with a caveat: No Manhattan pickups below East 96th and West 110th Streets.
In the Grand Limo office, which is still squeezed into a teeny two-room storefront in Astoria, Sharif sits at his desk, which faces the only wall décor: a poster-size $100 bill on which Franklin’s head is nearly to scale. “How do you call this? ‘Word-of-mouth,’ ” says Sharif about how he built his driver army. Sal did much of the initial recruiting: “I got a couple of guys and we went to the masjids, and after prayer we just gave out these flyers.” Now drivers call it home. “Though at this point,” he adds, “it’s a pretty big family.”