Make your way to Albert Street in downtown East Lansing around 2 a.m.
when the bars close and you’ll see lines of cabs in varying sizes and
colors awaiting passengers. Drivers with names like Ezekial, James and
Abdul will be the bar hoppers’ designated drivers this night.
The scene is bedlam. There might be 200 people waving for a cab.
Patrick Quinney, owner of Mountain Man Taxi, will open his cab door and a
bunch of people will pile in.
Like many drivers, Quinney does not work full time. He selects the high
volume weekend periods from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. and holidays. The
64-year-old is semi-retired, in the business six years working for seven
different companies studying their business plans, he says. Now he’s in
business for himself, driving a white Hyundai Elantra.
Nabeel Al-Saedi, 50, drives the Tigris River’s lone cab, a Dodge, on
weekends only. He is taking nine hours of classes at Lansing Community
Taxicabs began to proliferate in East Lansing in 2008, causing people to
ask, “What gives?” Up until then there were three primary companies, Spartan Cab
, Big Daddy and Shaggin’ Wagon. Then their drivers started
opening their own businesses, says Nicole Evans, East Lansing city
With the increase in demand, East Lansing
tightened its rules. Now, all
drivers are given a background check and drug tested every year. Cab
companies must carry a $5,000 bond, costing $100 per year, to cover a
type of insurance that would pay a claim if someone left their camera in
a cab, for example.
Evans says the MSU
student body has been a
big draw for taxi companies. But the drivers will have access to a new
clientele when City Center II
is completed. That development is expected
to transform the block northwest of Grand River Avenue and Albert
Street with a hotel, grocery store, theater and restaurant. And further
east, on Grand River, will be the Edith and Eli Broad Art Museum that is
expected to draw new visitors to the area. Greener Cabs
The first environmentally friendly company was Green Cab
, founded in
2008 by Woody Campbell, who graduated from East Lansing High about 24
years ago. He boomeranged to other parts of the country, always
returning to the Capital region.
Hybrid cabs seemed a way of the future so he set out to start such a company here.
started with one car and one driver—me,” Campbell chuckles. Today he
has three Toyota Priuses, one Honda Civic hybrid and two vans using 25
percent hydrogen and 75 percent gasoline. His staff consists of 16
drivers and four dispatchers.
“We allow taxi riders to save green—on the planet and in their pockets,” Green Cab’s website claims.
are a big part of our business (45 percent) but we don’t rely on them,”
Campbell says. His cabs are outfitted with meters, a bragging point for
him. He claims his patrons are not left to the whim of a driver
charging more because he happens to be having a bad day. “Any real cab,
in Quebec or Paris or anywhere else in the world, works with a meter,”
Quinney, of Mountain Man, says there are financial
reasons to use a meter, too. Without one, a public people-moving-vehicle
is classed as a limousine, requiring an annual inspection by a Michigan
Department of Transportation-approved certified mechanic and a $300
Campbell’s Green Cab drivers make runs to
different hotels and Lansing’s airport and collaborate with Michigan Flyer
that transports travelers to Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport.
The cars are equipped with bike racks.
Another option on the taxi
horizon is Spar-Thai Green Cab
expecting to launch soon, offering one
way rides and campus tours on 12 electric pedicabs, vehicles appearing
much like rickshaws.Bigger Picture
Tim Dempsey sees the growing cab number as just one piece of the
positive changes to the metro area’s transportation picture. The
director of the city’s Planning and Development Department wants
university students to get home safely, and he believes Green Cab is
moving in the right direction. But moving people from auto dependence is
his goal and that will require smarter land planning, he says. Services
and shopping should be closer to their customers.
is imperative, but public transit should be added where necessary.
Ultimately he envisions fewer cars. He likes MSU’s new car sharing
program because, in addition to the cabs, people don’t have to rely on
owning a car. ZipCar
, as it is called, has six cars on the campus, four
near Farm Lane and Shaw, and two near Wilson Hall.
East Lansing community development analyst, wants to see a
transportation offering for anyone. Bus and train travel is increasing.
The Blue Water train on the Port Huron/East Lansing-Chicago route saw a
one-year 29.5 percent increase in travel with the Amtrak service which
has a station on the MSU campus.
That increase in riders is
encouraging to Lori Mullins, one of East Lansing’s community and
economic development administrators. The tiny Amtrak station is located
on Harrison Road. With the development of the university’s new recycling
facility, and the decentralization of the central printing services,
land around the train station has been vacated. It could now expand and
become a multi-modal station, something the station is already to some
In one day, trains pass through twice, 18 to 22 buses
leave, and taxis come and go. Train travel has grown by 170 percent
there since 2003. East Lansing, MDOT and MSU are working on a study to
determine what such a transportation hub might need. They are seeking
funds for designing and building it, Mullins says.
Capital Area Rail Council
, working with the Capital Area Transportation Authority
, is working on a study to build a modified bus/rapid transit
system that would loop around the capitol and downtown Lansing and then
stretch seven miles down Michigan and Grand Avenues to Marsh Road in
Meridian Township, says Patty Alexander of CATA.
There’s still a
lot of work needed to develop options for walkers and bikers, the
transport group referred to as the “non-motorized sector.” There are
huge gaps in the areas with sidewalks, and parts of trail systems end
without connection to other trails, Schmitt says. He would connect the
River Trail to the Meridian Township trail.
People should be able to travel throughout the region any way they want, he says.
while taxi cabs would be in that picture, so, too would be a community
designed where people live closer to groceries and schools and if they
so choose, can even walk where they need to go.
Gretchen Cochran is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
David Thorin of Spar-Thai Green Cab
A Spar-Thai pedicab (Courtesy photo)
A Zip Car on MSU campus
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie