One of the first things you notice about Evan Finlayson is his captivating accent. It’s not quite British, and it’s not Aussie or Kiwi. It’s South African. Another thing you notice about the likeable Finlayson is that there are constantly bright red-and-yellow Checkers cabs coming and going from the Oakdale Street. cab company/home that he shares with his 11-year-old son, “Little Evan.” Finlayson moved to the United States from South Africa 16 years ago, and worked as a retail manager in the Bay Area for Rite-Aid and the Dollar Tree before moving to Chico and starting Checkers Taxi 2 1/2 years ago. A year and a half ago, after researching the way cab companies are run in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, Finlayson switched his business model from the way cab companies have long been run in Chico—drivers lease their cars from the company for 12-hour shifts—to the unique-in-Chico model he uses now, where the drivers own their own Checkers taxi and maintain it themselves. Checkers started with two cabs; presently it has eight, and the plan is to add four more cars by the end of the year.
So, tell me why you run your business the way you do.
I would say that Checkers Taxi’s goal is to ensure that the poor taxi driver has a decent financial life. They pay for their own costs, but more money goes in their own pockets instead of to the cab company. It’s a take-home car; they have it 24-7. They pay for the maintenance. The drivers are more responsible—when you give people ownership of their own income, of their path to success, they react to it better. Most [Checkers] drivers have kids and couldn’t make it at the other local companies, where here they’re making it.
What about your prices?
Because everybody pays for their own costs, our rates are the lowest in town and will always be. We’re talking about a $20 ride across town with another company costs about $10 to $12 [with Checkers]. … We are on time, polite and have a low price—it needs to be a fair deal. That’s my philosophy—being straight and doing the right thing.
How does this system work better for you?
A lot less stress and a lot less management, because they all manage their own car.
What do you hear about South Africa from your relatives back there?
It’s pretty dangerous there because of unemployment. Unemployment brings crime. Otherwise, it’s a beautiful country. … We have to be really careful [in the United States]; we have to pump-start the economy because large unemployment rates bring about crime. I’ve seen it happen back in South Africa. People here aren’t taking it as seriously as they should be.