As a CPA, Gene Auffert is used to dealing with big numbers. He manages a team of 1,800 people and a fleet of 900 vehicles at Yellow-Checker-Star Transportation, one of the largest cab companies in Southern Nevada. Its cabs drive 45 million miles a year, equivalent to more than 94 round trips to the moon. Almost all of the cabs run on liquefied petroleum gas and are refueled from two 60,000-gallon LPG tanks on site. The Missouri native moved to Las Vegas in 1990, became controller at YCS in 2005 and has been the CEO for seven years.
What makes running a taxi company in Las Vegas unique?
The big difference is that Nevada law requires all taxi drivers to be company employees. In every other state, the cab company leases the cabs to drivers. Another difference is that most of our rides are from hotels, the airport or Convention Center, so three or four dispatchers can handle 600 cabs. In any other city, you’d need 20-25 dispatchers to handle that many cabs.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
We have three separate cab companies operating out of one office, which means I have to work with six different owners on a daily basis. Any one of them can call if they have a question about what’s going on with the company. Buying propane is also challenging and time-consuming: negotiating with suppliers for the best price and making sure we always have enough on hand.
Why did you switch to propane to power your fleet?
The main reason is that it’s very profitable because we buy directly from wholesalers. It also burns clean, so we have the added benefit of reducing air pollution. We estimate that switching to propane reduced our emissions by 1,000 tons of carbon monoxide and another 1,000 tons of particulates each year.
Why do you operate as three separate companies?
When the Nevada Taxicab Authority decides to issue additional medallions [permits for taxis], it divides them equally among the existing companies. For example, if they allocate 96 additional medallions to the 16 companies currently operating here, a single company would get six, but as three companies, we’d get 18.
What are your future company plans?
If another cab company comes up for sale, we’d definitely consider buying it. We’re developing the lot across from our current location for additional parking if needed. We’re also in the contractual phase with a company that provides a mobile app similar to what Uber uses. With that app, someone who’s registered with us could use their smartphone to call a cab, track its location and pay for the ride. We’re hoping to get that finalized by Christmas.
Are you concerned about competition from Uber?
I don’t think Uber will ever get a stronghold here because our market is completely different from other cities. About 95 percent of our rides are at hotels, the airport, or the Convention Center. The hotels won’t let Uber load passengers because of concerns about insurance, and they can’t legally pick up people at the airport or Convention Center. There’s no way a driver could make a living on the remaining 5 percent of the market.