Written: February 2007
It is late on a weekend night. Groups of college students are busily rushing into the limited number of taxis to get home. Streetlights in downtown Auburn are bouncing off the orange of Kevin McCarley’s taxi. His work shift is about to get exciting. A group of students hop in his cab, one of the girls in the front.
“I heard if you flash the taxi cab driver, you get a free ride,” she tells the 25-year-old driver.
He wonders whether one of the people sitting in the back is her boyfriend. She then flashes him. He refuses to give the free ride.
“No, I really want a free ride,” she says while taking his hand and placing it on her chest. Now, the driver is too nervous to refuse.
Although this is not an everyday occurrence, it is a possibility every day. Kevin McCarley, the owner of Tiger Taxi in Auburn, never knows what to expect when taking the wheel for his night shift.
He isn’t a typical business owner. He doesn’t wear a suit to the office. He only takes his coffee in the morning if it’s after a late-night shift. He allows one of his drivers to carry a karaoke machine in her cab. He’s a half-Vietnamese half-white American with degrees in agronomy and environmental science from Auburn University. He’s known as the Tiger Taxi guy.
His father met his mother while serving in Vietnam. McCarley was born in Vidalia, Ga., and he doesn’t like the onions. His family moved to Augusta soon after. After graduating high school, he attended Auburn University.
He’s now rubbing his eyes, waking up at 4 p.m. He pulled a long shift the night before, but he still has a playful, kid-like air about him. He’s wearing a pair of blue shorts with an elastic waistband and yellow-collared shirt.
Tiger Taxi officially began on August 12, 2005. “I seriously worked my ass off for the first six months,” he said. He was getting four to five hours of sleep a night during that time.
McCarley bought Yellow Cab last June after taking over a considerable share of the taxi market. Legally, everything is under Tiger Taxi. “If I have Yellow Cab around, it seems like there’s two companies,” he said. “I’m saving about $3,000 by not painting and redoing everything.”
It doesn’t hurt if someone gets mad at one of the companies while arranging for a pickup, then calls the other service. “When they’re drunk, they don’t know that they just talked to the same dispatcher they just called up one minute earlier,” he said of college partygoers.
The taxi entrepreneur likes the college crowd, who generate new experiences for him every week.
One night a Scottish rugby club that was in town to play the Auburn University club was hitting the bars. “They’re all going out wearing kilts,” he said. “I was parked at the Sky Bar. The guy walks over, and all I know is the door opens up, and I just kind of look over,” and a rugby player pulls up his kilt. This was the only time he has been flashed by a male.
McCarley only decided to start a taxi service after someone else “beat him to the punch” in opening a hot dog stand.
He and some friends brainstormed ideas on naming the company. Cool Cab was the oddest one. “Wasn’t my idea,” he said. “That was the funniest one because there was this guy that was pretty adamant about it that I was friends with.”
“Tiger Taxi felt like it flowed the best,” he said. “Plus, how many businesses in Auburn are called tiger or eagle or something?”
He’s still laughing over the quickly discarded Cool Cab as if it was the title of a bad Steve Martin comedy.
McCarley doesn’t plan to stay in the taxi business for long. “I was planning on making just a ton of money before I actually went out there and got another job,” he said. “Driving a taxi around here is pretty fun actually.” His plan is to sell the company and get a job with his degrees. “I knew it was going to take a good two, three, four years to fully establish the company. There’s still so many avenues I want to pursue.”
“You can’t just start something up, and hope that overnight it becomes the best.” He plans to sell the company when he hits a plateau or runs out of new ideas. For now, the business is still growing, and he’s going to see how much he can make.
There’s still the college girls and Scottish rugby players to look forward to when he jumps into his orange taxi. He’s still a young businessperson who loves his job, even if the long nights sometimes put him on the brink of exhaustion. He hasn’t entirely put off the hot dog stand idea just yet. He’s thinking pretzels might sell.