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Taxicab boom in Gainesville driving a growing need
Number of cabbies in Gainesville up 118 percent since 2006
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Esteban Andrade, owner of Taxi El Sol, sits behind the wheel in one of his taxis June 21 in Gainesville. After working as a chauffeur for other taxi companies for 13 years, Andrade started Taxi El Sol, which has been operating for a year and a half. - photo by David Barnes

Cab companies operating in Gainesville

• 2017: 17

 2016: 14

• 2015: 8

Source: Georgia Department of Public Safety, Motor Carrier Compliance Division

Every day, colorful taxicabs with cheerful and exotic Spanish names dart in and out of busy Gainesville streets and thoroughfares.

Even for Esteban Andrade, who has lived in Gainesville for almost 30 years and has made a living driving cabs, it is difficult to keep up with the names of new taxi companies cropping up.

After more than 20 years driving for other companies, Andrade decided to open up his own line — Taxi El Sol — a year and a half ago. He started out by himself and now has six other drivers under his banner.

“Back then when I started, there weren’t that many companies,” said Andrade “I drove for most of them, Taxi Del Norte, El Potro, Fiesta and El Dorado. There are many more now.”

The number of cab companies doing business in Gainesville rose to 17 this year, an increase of more than 112 percent over the eight companies registered in 2015, according to state records.

The number of taxi drivers in Gainesville has soared over 118 percent to more than 250 since 2006, according to the city of Gainesville.

City Marshal Debbie Jones said the city stopped tracking cab companies when the state passed legislation in 2015 taking over regulation of the industry.

An employee with the city for more than 15 years before being promoted to city marshal in 2008, Jones saw firsthand the increase in the number of cabs operating in the city. As city marshal, she enforces several city ordinances primarily dealing with business licenses.

When cabs fell under her jurisdiction, Jones would have to inspect those vehicles twice a year, and before any new cars could be put on the road.

Jones said when she did cab inspections, there were language barriers to overcome.

“I’d get so tickled at them because I finally taught myself enough Spanish to tell them to turn on the headlights or brake lights or whatever,” she said. “I would say ‘turn on the headlights’ and they’d blow the horn. Or ‘turn your windshield wipers,’ and they’d back up. We would stand there and get hilariously tickled with each other.”

Many of the cab drivers and cab company owners still drop by her office to say hello.

“I still hear from them,” Jones said.

Ruben Mauricio, who with his wife, Mary, has operated L.A.M.P. Ministries, an outreach for at-risk teens in the community, said the cabs serve a vital need in the Hispanic community, especially among workers living in the country illegally.

Mauricio said it’s common to see Latinos calling cabs to take them to work, shop for groceries at supermarkets or catch a flight at the airport.

“It seems that whenever their is a crackdown against undocumented immigrants, you see more cabs on the street,” Mauricio said. “I think that’s what we’re seeing today.”

Adrian Lopez recently went to work as a cab driver for Taxi El Sol after losing his job at a manufacturing plant in Pendergrass. He is related by marriage to Andrade.

During his brief stint as a cabbie, Lopez said he’s been surprised to see that he’s getting more calls from English-speaking Americans than Latinos.

One of those was Ramona Weaver, who called El Sol to pick her up after undergoing dialysis treatment at a local clinic.

“I’ve been having double vision so I can’t drive myself,” said Weaver, who thanked Lopez and handed him a tip of a few dollars for being prompt, polite and kind.

Lopez said he once picked up a man from the Far East who spoke neither English nor Spanish. Lopez said the man handed Lopez directions to Bell Mountain Park almost 80 miles away. When he dropped the man off at his destination, Lopez said the passenger tipped him $250.

“Depending on how you treat people, you’ll keep getting calls,” Lopez said.

Andrade said anyone willing to work can make a living as a cab driver. He said the minimum fare is $5 and can run up to more than $100 for a trip to the airport.

“If you have the heart and desire to get ahead, whatever work you take on, it will allow you to have a place to live and for everything,” Andrade said. “But you have to have the heart to do the work.”

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