Ride services expanding to meet the need after taxi business closes

Published 10:53 am Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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With the closure of Albert Lea Taxi Service in recent months, existing ride services companies are expanding and others are jumping on board to help fill a gap in services in the city.

Wendy Bock, who owns Vern’s Ride Services with her husband, LuVerne Bock, said they initially started with Uber and Lyft in July 2021 as a way to make some extra money to take their children and grandchildren to Disney World.

Quickly, Bock said, they opted against that route because they said the companies took too much of the profits, so they instead decided to start their own licensed taxi service and set their own prices. She said they became licensed with the state in August 2022.

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Bock said they didn’t want to be in direct competition with Albert Lea Taxi when it was in business and instead were focusing on a niche that they had discovered.

“We were kind of working in the background doing what we do,” she said.

As information about the business spread by word of mouth, it grew quickly.

Bock said after they heard Albert Lea Taxi had closed, they waited a while to see if it would reopen before deciding to look into expanding their own business to help meet some of the need.

Presently Vern’s Ride Service provides rides on an as-needed basis and will provide rides not only in Albert Lea but to places outside of the community as well, including Rochester, the Twin Cities and Mason City, to name a few.

Bock said her husband, who is retired and is the primary driver, tries to go the extra mile for people, whether it be helping them with their groceries or helping them to the car. She said he enjoys visiting with people and seeks to provide kind and considerate service.

“It’s a good fit,” she said. “I never dreamt it’d be something we’d end up doing.”

Another one of their mottos is the following: “If we take you somewhere, whether it’s the bar or the casino, I don’t care how late at night it gets, we’ll get you back home safely,” she said.

One of their first focuses moving forward is to buy a larger vehicle, as right now they can sit four other people in their Honda CR-V in addition to the driver. They have considered larger vehicles to pick up bigger groups such as wedding parties.

They are also working with insurance companies for medical transport, in which customers wouldn’t have to pay their bill for the ride up front and the company could instead bill an insurance company and then receive an invoice for the service.

“After meeting with some people and understanding how big the other company was, we’re probably going to need four, maybe five more (vehicles) and some office help,” she said.

They said they are thankful for the support they have received thus far from city leaders and others in the community related to the business and its growth.

Drivers join Uber

Marc Rasmussen and Tim Tappe recently signed on with Uber, after seeing posts on social media about how the former taxi service business had closed and people expressed a need for a new ride service company.

Rasmussen, who lives in Glenville and works in Owatonna for his full-time job, said he figured he would give it a try. Though he has been available for one weekend, he hasn’t had the opportunity to give a ride yet and wants to spread the word that the service is available.

Tappe, who works the night shift in Rochester three days a week and then is off four days a week, also just started and said as of Sunday he had put in 45 hours through the app and had 10 trips, the majority of which were semi drivers from out of town, who leave their trucks parked at one of the truck stops and then look to run to nearby Walmart or other places before they return to their trucks.

Uber is a company focused solely online, and people arrange and pay for their rides through an app of the business.

“It’s a modern age way of doing business,” Rasmussen said.

Uber drivers go through background checks and must have a driver’s license, registration, valid insurance and vehicle driving knowledge. Drivers also go through a series of training videos.

Tappe said he’s glad for the opportunity to provide the service as it gives him a purpose for his days off without having to go out and get another job.

Rasmussen said while being a driver is not a get-rich plan, it does provide a service, which is something he is excited to be a part of.

In addition to these two options, services continue to be offered through Senior Resources of Freeborn County for seniors and SMART Transit.