The Car-Service Owner Who Likens Uber to Fast Food

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Photo: baona/Getty Images

Ted, 55
Limo-Service Owner
Berkeley, California

In 1998, I started my own service, with one car. I’m still the owner, but now I probably have about 15 cars and shuttle buses.

I was born in Tehran, and in 1971, I came to America on a student visa. I was 20 years old. I went back to see family, then the revolution happened, and I took off. When I finished my studies, I got a job as a manager at a coffee shop; I needed work experience: My résumé was empty, but I had an MBA from Berkeley. I guess the company wasn’t doing so well, and when I told one of my coffee-shop regulars, a driver, he said: “Well, why don’t you come and work for us? The money’s good; you can learn; it’s flexible; you can make your own hours.” When the business shut down, that’s what I did.

I went to L.A. for a while, but the recession happened. Then there were the riots and stuff after Rodney King, so it was not a good time to work in L.A. So in 1998, I came back, again, and got a Lincoln Town Car.

You had to advertise in the yellow pages. There was no Google. I only had a pager and pay phones. I was able — without having a single office, without any employees — to handle all of this by myself. Customers would page me, then I’d get to a public pay phone and call them. There was no other way to find out, What do they need? — you know.

Then I got more customers. After a couple of years, I started thinking about a second and then a third car.

I don’t drive as much now. I will drive customers with high expectations, very high VIP, I don’t want to lose them. I want to make sure they get good service. And also, you know, I want to hear from them.

I get up at 3 a.m., every day. I do my paperwork, then I start the engine of the business: answering the phone, taking care of reservations, and making sure the drivers come to work. In this business, you never know when they’re gonna call you. You have to always be available and ready. Our line is open 24/7.

It’s not an easy job. It’s long hours — you have to make sure you don’t get frustrated with the behavior of other drivers. You have to hide your anger or your frustration from the customer sitting in the back of the car. Always have some kind of really good attitude and show that you are professional, show that you are experienced.

The Uber concept is not a service concept. People who ride with Uber or the other companies, you know, they just think about the money they pay. And how much they pay. But when it comes to the safety issue, they don’t know.

Buses, BART, you know, the public transportation, the airport shuttle — they’re almost going out of business, too, because less people are using the services. The parking companies at the airport are suffering.

This is how I put it: If you eat a hamburger, you have two choices. You can go to McDonald’s and get two for $1. Or you can go eat one hamburger at a different place where that’s their job, and you pay $20 for a hamburger. It depends on, you know, how much you care.

Now, parents with Uber, they just open the account; they don’t even have to have cash in their pockets. The kids use those devices to call for a ride, you know, so we don’t drive that many younger kids like we used to. Mainly work people and older generations who are not familiar with the devices — old-fashioned.

You talk to somebody if they’re interested in talking. You’ll find subjects and issues, even if they say, “Donald Trump,” you know, you’re gonna talk to them — you can drag into the conversation something pleasant. Not to argue with them. Wherever you think they’ll agree with you, you find those moments. Make a pleasant trip, and make sure this guy is not fighting with my brain or idea, so he will come back to me next time. It’s your customer, your guest. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Democrat or a Republican — I don’t want to get into that kind of conflict. I stay away from that kind of argument or issues talks.

Older customers are more likely to talk to me, but they just like to talk about their past. They are not interested in anything that’s going on. They like to talk about the story of their life, their kids, and their nephews. Their grandchildren, their dog, what they’re coming here for, and where they’re going.

The phone goes with me wherever I go — I have four or five. I always carry two or three with me, and I always have a couple of lines forwarded: my toll-free number or my landline, if I’m not in the office.

I have a couple of smartphones, but my business line comes to my flip phone.

I just wanna call people and answer the phone, that’s all I want from this phone, nothing else. No texting, no emailing, no nothing. Just call me — the phone rings; I answer the phone.

My family is used to me being on my phone all the time. They know what I’m doing. They know I get up at three in the morning; they know I have to answer the phone. I’m the only one who works, so they have to put up with me, ha! They can’t complain.

Don’t text me, okay! Call.

I don’t encourage people to text me — when they text me, I ignore it. After I ignore them a couple of times, they call. I want to hear your voice; I want to chat with you. Texting and emailing for some types of things, in my job and the work we do, is a waste of time. If you need me, you call me right now and tell me what you need. Don’t leave me a message on my voice-mail. Call me and make sure I am talking to you. Otherwise, I might miss it, and you might not get it, then it’s a loss for me and a loss for you.

That’s why I always answer my phone. I am very forward. They come to the airport, and I say, “Don’t text me, ‘I’m landing’; don’t text me, ‘My flight is here’ — call me when you’re ready. I want to hear your voice.”

The Car-Service Owner Who Likens Uber to Fast Food