Yellow Cab’s story goes back much further than 1962, the company’s history actually dates back to 1932, with the historic Armdale Taxi, which is one of the oldest known taxi companies in Atlantic Canada that was purchased by Yellow Cab of Halifax in 1980. In early February we had the opportunity to talk with Justin Ghosn, the new owner of Yellow Cab in Halifax, about why he and his family purchased the historic company that started as a single car fleet which has now grown to employ over 200 independently owned and operated taxi drivers and become a leader in modernizing Halifax Regional Municipality’s taxi industry service to over 1 million customers yearly.
When Justin Ghosn was first approached to buy Yellow Cab, he didn’t see the inherent value.
But as he and his family — who have a large real estate portfolio in the Halifax Regional Municipality — went through the acquisition, Ghosn found opportunity.
The 28-year-old has seen 30 per cent growth in consumers for the taxi company in two-and-a-half years, and he hasn’t looked back.
“We were purchasing a commercial plaza on the corner of Almon and Gladstone Street, and the owner told us he was retiring, and wanted to sell his business,” said Ghosn.
“We looked at Yellow Cab, and my father suggested we do our due diligence. We saw strong business potential at that point, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.” Now Ghosn and his brothers, James and Jeffrey, control Yellows Cab and its day to day operations.
Ghosn grew up born and raised in Halifax, N.S. from Rockingham Elementary to Halifax West High School and university at Dalhousie, he always had an interest in running his own business.
“I have been pushing to continue growing a strong real estate portfolio, which led to Yellow Cab. Now I’m in both industries, and it’s opened so many doors,” he said.
“I’m a taxi consumer turned owner, and I can see both sides of the coin. I was surprised that their brand was so recognizable and had so much potential.”
When Ghosn and his brothers bought Yellow Cab, they only had 125 of the roughly 1,000 cab rooflights available in the city.
“There was a lack of innovation from the aging ownership. We put our spin and grew to now almost 200 cars in our fleet,” he said. “The industry was so dated, and we were stuck in the 1990’s. We made a strong technology push.”
The entire fleet has gone from running on radios to having dispatch and meters running through an LTE network.
“Our infrastructure is tidy and neat, and we are entering a whole new world now,” he said. “We grew up with the mentality of working hard. We are looking at every aspect to continue growing this brand.”
Now, Ghosn is expanding the limousine service for Yellow Cab in order to capture a new market.
“People have always called wanting limos or executive cars. Instead of outsourcing, we are expanding through this company. We are in the process of purchasing limos,” says Ghosn, about Excalibur, the limo company offshoot.
“Right now we are looking into purchasing a party bus, and we have access to 12 limo towncars we are using for requests. But before the end of 2019, we will own our own limos and party bus in house.”
After a contentious council meeting in February that may see the city add 600 taxi licenses for the city, drivers have come out to say the changes will drive them out of the industry.
The recommendation of 600 licenses came from municipal staff to address a 500 person waitlist and gender diversity issues. Ghosn has been asked non-stop for his opinion on the changing industry.
“The city approved amending taxi bylaws, and it was in desperate need. The process hasn’t been done properly since the early 1990’s. It’s important these conversations are had, and there’s room to grow and have positive experiences,” he said.
“We solve problems for a living. I am a firm believer that we can work with the city and make adjustments that will have a positive impact for both taxi drivers and the consumers.”
The city is also moving to regulate services like Uber and Lyft, should they come to pass in HRM.
“As long as things stay at an even playing field, I don’t think that would dramatically affect us,” said Ghosn. “A lot of ridesharing can give them the upper-hand, but the city has the right mindset here.”
“I don’t think the city would put time into regulating, controlling and creating safer cabs if they wanted Uber and Lyft to come in and contradict the rules. They are upgrading our industry, and the mindset of council can accomplish great things.”
The industry has also seen sweeping changes in terms of safety in the last few years, after a number of sexual assault cases involving drivers went through media and the courts.
“There has been a lot of negative, unfair energy about the taxi industry, compared to others. There has been a lot of heat and attention,” he said.
He points to stories about sexual misconduct from lawyers and doctors, and how they don’t get front-page treatment like cab drivers have been.
“When someone in our industry is put under a negative spotlight, our entire industry gets labeled. It’s unfair to the majority of drivers who are hard-working people,” he said.
“They are passionate, dedicated people of all cultures, and from across the world. They have chosen Halifax to try and provide lives for themselves and their families in this industry.”
At the end of the day, Ghosn also realizes that Yellow Cab is a company name he takes personal responsibility for protecting.
“I must also take my own precautions and make sure my drivers meet standards I set. This goes above and beyond the city,” he said.
“We have implemented fleet-wide GPS tracking in all our vehicles, and I can always open my laptop and zoom in on the fleet. I can see the history of a car, how fast it goes, where they are, who is driving the vehicle, and how long they’ve been logged on. I can properly report and research anything that needs to be looked at.”
Ghosn says brand loyalty isn’t an issue, but bringing in new customers is a primary focus.
“Many have been using us for 10-plus years, and there’s outstanding loyalty to Yellow Cab. But we are pushing to retain those who use us for the first time. We have a strong base, and are growing it at a very fast rate,” he said.
“We changed how we operate, we restructured dispatch and their mentality, redid training on how to answer the phone, made response times as low as possible, and began holding drivers more accountable for complaints. That allowed us to grow our base dramatically.”
Yellow Cab has won the consumer award for best cab service the last three years, and Ghosn sees it as validation.
“People saw and concurred that we have great service. We love the positive feedback. People have taken notice of the changes,” he said.
“We want to keep growing. We know people don’t want to flag any cab down on the street these days. With us, they have to know they will get the service and standards they expect. Our brand really can be a blessing.”
By Jordan Parker