Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ  - Ron Knori drives one of his Tesla Model S cars. Despite market upheaval caused by the arrival of Uber and Lyft, he launched his new EcoCab service in Portland on Wednesday, July 22. Portland welcomed its newest taxi company to the market Wednesday.

No, it’s not Uber and Lyft; they’re yesterday’s news, after launching here in April.

It’s EcoCab, a Longview, Wash. company that expanded into Portland July 22 with 15 taxis and 30 employees.

Three of the cars are Tesla Model S’s, a high-end electric car that’s won wide acclaim from automotive reviewers. There are 10 all-electric Nissan Leafs. And there are two wheelchair-accessible vans, running on traditional fossil fuel. “We would have bought an electric van if they made one,” says Ron Knori, EcoCab CEO.

Some might be scratching their heads why Knori is entering the market at a time of such market upheaval, with Uber and Lyft making huge inroads and taking a bite out of traditional taxi divers’ income.

But he says all the publicity about the market helps draw attention to him as the new kid in town. “It’s all over the news,” he says. “It’s a great time to get into the game.”

Knori is confident that Portlanders will be attracted to driving one of his Teslas and to driving clean-burning electrical vehicles. EcoCab is buying all its electric power from PGE’s wind-power option, so customers can know they’re not adding to the fossil fuel load that causes climate change. Knori also is hiring drivers as employees, not as independent contractors, and he promises they’ll provide good customer service.

Fuel costs are a big expense for taxi companies or for Uber and Lyft drivers using their own cars. EcoCab’s electric cars will be more expensive to start but far cheaper to operate.

He also plans to charge more than regular taxi companies, at least their rates when they were regulated by the city, which ended in April under the four-month pilot project designed to accommodate Uber and Lyft’s entry into the market.

A typical $10 cab ride might cost $13.75 with EcoCab, Knori says. It’s the same price no matter which vehicle the customer gets. He figures those prices will be lower than town cars.

And he thinks the widely heralded lower prices of Uber and Lyft aren’t all they are cracked up to be once you factor in surge pricing charged at peak hours. “That’s where all the (Uber and Lyft) drivers make their money. When the surge pricing is up, they’re out there and getting paid,” he says. “At certain times, EcoCab’s a lot better value because we don’t surge-price.”

Knori is not a newcomer to the business; he’s been operating in Longview, and found lots of excitement there about offering taxi rides in Teslas.

He’s starting rather small, with 15 vehicles, but got permits from the city to operate as many as 51. He plans to grow larger as business warrants.

Knori also is offering a free mobile-phone app for customers to call his cab company. It’s “very similar” to the apps that are used by Uber and Lyft, he says.

He is using Taxi Hail, an app used by about 50,000 other cabs around the country. It’s integrated to his dispatch center and vehicle charging station in Northwest Portland.

Callers who use the app won’t know if a wheelchair-accessible van is available, but if they push a button their phone will automatically connect with a dispatcher to find out.

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