Stumpo tells me how the company he works for was supposed to unleash a cell-phone-based app system earlier this year—but the date came and went. “It was supposed to happen March 1, but I haven’t heard anything. We’re putting a new cab on the street—maybe then, we’ll see. But I don’t know if any drivers have signed up yet.”
Today, Blount says, 60 drivers are on board with the co-op idea—20 of whom, like Gebremedhin, own their own medallions—and each have put up $1,000 as startup cash. That represents about a third of the funding they need to launch the operation; the rest they’re working to bring in from both grants and loans from industry, co-op and worker-aligned groups in Philadelphia and around the country.
Like lots of modern startup companies, part of Alliance’s business plan—and why they believe they can get the cell-phone app system up and running quickly—relies on the fact that they’re not encumbered by pre-existing, out-of-date technology that needs reinventing or replacing. Alliance Taxi plans to launch with next-generation credit-card equipment and won’t need to interface with a patchwork of dispatchers that have been conglomerating piecemeal for years.
But can it really work? Alliance’s lofty goals include gaining 25 percent of the market in four years—that means 400 of the city’s 1,600 medallions—while sharing profits between company members; going out of their way to serve parts of the city where cabs are currently reluctant to go; using environmentally conscious vehicles; and providing employee benefits in an industry where, currently, there are none.
For drivers like Gebremedhin, it’s about much more than competing with area businesses. “This is for true,” he says. “I fight until end. We fighting, fighting, fighting. Some people, they have dream to drive cab—like they dream for anything … this is a billion dollar business, and we want it to go to work for us.”