When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
Family with real drive
5:02pm Tuesday 27th September 2011 in Features
Some say the recession is unreal, so little does it affect them. Not so Michael Hatter, a builder; or his son-in-law Mark John, a former IT worker; or Mark’s sister, Melissa; or Melissa’s husband Nick. All of them found it real enough when they found themselvers out of work in 2009.
But this tale of woe has a heartwarming sequel. Mr Hatter and Mr John did not ‘get on their bikes’ (to quote Norman Tebbitt) when the chill wind of redundancy hit the family. Instead they got in their taxi.
But the taxi company that was born in October 2009 — when Mark, 28, well remembers taking his first fare — was one with a difference. It was gleaming green and, at that time, consisted of just one Toyota Prius.
Mr John said: “Michael’s business in the construction industry was hit by the slump and I was made redundant. We started doing odd gardening jobs around Didcot, and then we thought: Why not start a green taxi company? And Go Green taxis came into being – with just one car and a telephone.”
Now the firm has five Prii (which Mr John tells me is the official plural of Prius) and eight drivers and has just opened an additional office in Wallingford in addition to its original HQ in Didcot.
All the cars are kept sparkling clean and are fast becoming a familiar part of the street scene around both towns.
Mr John said: “They are all green in two senses: in colour as well as being environmentally friendly. And all our drivers keep the cars sparkling clean.”
He added: “Smart appearance is important to us. All our drivers wear a uniform consisting of a black shirt and a bright green tie to match their car.”
The Prius is of course famous for being the first hybrid mass produced car to go on the market. It is powered by electricity at low speeds and by a conventional internal combustion engine at higher speeds. It was first sold in Japan in 1997 and entered the worldwide market (including Britain) in 2001.
Scoffers immediately dubbed it the Toyota “Pious”, but it has nevertheless managed to hold its position, in the imaginations of many, as the ultimate green machine when it comes to motoring.
Mr John said: “The kids love it. And they seem to know far more about carbon footprints, and how to reduce them, than their parents.”
He added that the company had streaked ahead of its original business plan and was already turning over about £200,000 a year.
He reminisced: “It has certainly answered the problems we faced when we were out of work. And now it has developed into a real family affair. My sister Melissa works part time picking up calls, and her husband is joining as a fleet manager. Then there is my girlfriend Ellie who works as an office manager.”
It is all go at Go Green, it seems — but I have seldom spoken to such a happy sounding team of workers.
“Its hard work, though,” explained Mr John. “Taxis are bookable ahead round-the clock, 24 hours a day. Otherwise we like to have a rest between one in the morning and four.
Drivers, who include company owners Mr John and Mr Hatter, are self-employed; and the company has at the moment only two full-time employees manning the phones — though it is now looking to recruit a young apprentice administrator too.
Mr John is full of praise for the South Oxfordshire District Council. He said: “The council was very good about licensing our cars as hackney carriages — though it costs us £500 a car to get them registered.”
That charge is of course in addition to the ordinary road fund licence, though that latter cost is minimal since the cars are so environmentally friendly.
The enterprise now seems to have taken a long journey from its humble beginnings two years ago when Mr Hatter sold his builder’s van to raise money towards buying the first Go Green taxi, bought specially for the job.
Mr John said: “I sold my car too. I also had a little redundancy money. In addition we got a loan.”
Now Go Green is chasing the corporate market — and discovering that many companies in the Didcot area are keen to use Go Green taxis to show off their green credentials when ferrying customers and staff about.
Mr John said: “We have become one of the approved taxi companies working with Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and with paint and chemical company AKZO Nobel.
“We have also undertaken corporate work for Soha housing association.”
As with all the best ideas, the notion of setting up a green taxi firm seems almost painfully obvious — with the benefit of hindsight. But what is also obvious is that this particular family team knows exactly where it is going, at least when it comes to developing a business. One glance at the website for instance shows that not only do these people know how to drive taxis; they also know how to drive a business forward too.
The simple and easy-to-use online forms for both corporate account holders and individuals alike show that Mr John’s experience in IT, before he became self-employed, was certainly not wasted.
Certainly this success story shows that redundancy need not always be the end of the road. Its the old story of turning a problem into an opportunity — and coming up with the right, bright idea . Now the road ahead looks clear for Go Green. No point now in looking in the rear view mirror.