Yellow Cab is sold once more
RICK ALM, The Kansas City Star
Kansas City taxi mogul Bill George Jr. has sold Yellow Cab Co. and the rest of his public transit operation -- again.
George announced Tuesday that Arizona-based SuperShuttle International Inc., with operations at 23 U.S. airports, acquired his Kansas City Transportation Group for an undisclosed sum in a deal that closed late Monday.
The sale includes 300-plus cabs and city taxi permits, mostly under the Yellow brand, plus more than 100 other vehicles that operate as KCI Shuttle, Carey Limousine and a van service for disabled passengers.
The deal marks the second time George has sold the transportation business founded by his father in the 1970s when he bought the American Cab Co. In 1984 the elder Bill George bought more than 500 Yellow and other cabs out of bankruptcy court.
Bill George Jr. joined the company in 1985 and guided it through two decades of city regulation and deregulation. In 1997 he sold Yellow Cab and its then-corporate parent, Metropolitan Transportation Services Inc., to Houston-based Coach USA. Six years later he bought it back.
Coach in 1999 had been acquired by Scottish-based Stagecoach Group PLC for $1.7 billion. But the acquisition lost money during a worldwide downturn in business and leisure travel, and the company soon started selling off pieces. Its 2003 deal with George was the first.
SuperShuttle tried to buy George's Kansas City assets in 1997. "We were interested back then but couldn't quite make it work," president and chief executive Brian Wier said Tuesday.
This week's acquisition advances the company's expansion plan. "Our goal is to be in 70 airports around the country," Wier said.
SuperShuttle was acquired last fall by a subsidiary of Paris-based Veolia Transportation, which operates more than 30,000 buses and trains in 27 nations, transporting 2.7 billion passengers last year. It is a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement. The $32 billion-a-year French group is engaged in water, waste, energy and transportation management worldwide and is publicly traded in European markets and on the New York Stock Exchange.
SuperShuttle is a U.S. subsidiary of Veolia Transport on Demand, where Wier also is president and chief operating officer. The group moved 15 million passengers last year on a fleet that now includes 1,200 shuttle vehicles, 1,500 cabs, plus rail in Boston and buses in Las Vegas.
George, a co-owner of the recently opened Seven restaurant downtown, will stay on as chief executive of the Kansas City subsidiary. He said there would be no layoffs or jarring changes for employees or the more than 200 contract drivers.
"Everything stays the same," George said.
The merger, he said, offers "a great opportunity to take advantage of the next generation of technology," including high-tech dispatch and Internet reservation systems, which his small company alone could not afford to develop.
Wier agreed. "Veolia brings a wealth of benefits, particularly capital and unique technology," he said. "No one really is providing the service we provide on the national level right now."
In some of its markets, for instance, Veolia passengers can receive text messages if their bus is running late.
Marketing literature boasts of Veolia's flexibility to provide short-term bus routes to handle peak-hour local and tourism traffic.
Wier said the company's airport shuttles currently run at about 60 percent residential door-to-door service while taking around 30 percent of their reservations online.
"We are building a technology platform based on the on-demand service," from shared-ride shuttles to taxis, he said.
"Veolia is mostly trains and buses" that operate on fixed routes, he said. "But they like the on-demand business and are excited about growing this business in the states."
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