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Capitol Hill’s Crown Car Co. shows you don’t have to be Uber to roll out a ride app

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Rebelos

Soto Rebelos had enough. A second-generation cab driver, by 2005 he was sick of it and quit driving to take some time off.

He’d learned the trade from his parents, both of whom were cab drivers who met at the Pink Elephant car wash on Denny Ave. He and his father even shared a cab for a few years before Rebelos gave it up.

After taking a year to figure out what he wanted, he realized that he enjoyed the work. Licenses to drive cabs are tightly regulated by the city of Seattle, but he realized there was another way.

“Limo licenses are wide open,” he said.

And so the Crown Car Company was born in August 2006 on Capitol Hill. These days, it’s keeping up with the big boys and showing that you don’t need to have massive piles of tech venture capital to give people a ride with an “app.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 11.43.59 AMThe industry has not been stagnant, as the black UberX cars and nearly inescapable pink mustaches of Lyft show, but that upheaval hasn’t had much impact on Crown Car. There have been some changes. Rebelos said he realized going to a digital model means he doesn’t need a dispatch center, so his operation is decentralized.

However, the deals the ride sharing companies cut with the city concerning regulation of their services have not affected Rebelos. He said his business was built around the regulations, and the number of cab licenses and hailing rights do not factor into his business model.

But customers have grown to expect everything on their smartphones, and Crown Car has answered by starting an app for iPhone and Android (a Windows phone version is on the way, Rebelos says). The app, similar to those of other companies offering rides around town, show a potential rider how long they might have to wait for a car, and what the expected fare will be.

“We’re pushing the app like crazy,” he said.

Limo services differ from cabs in two major ways: Limos lack meters and can’t be hailed from the streets. Rebelos said he calls it a Brooklyn-style car service, and says he was the first one in the city. At least, he was the first one to establish a flat rate from one place to another that didn’t have a $50 minimum.

Since Rebelos charges by the mile, and not for things like idle time (though there is a surcharge during the evening rush hours, and can be one for unusually heavy traffic), the number is easy to calculate based on distance.

When he started, he operated by word-of-mouth, since he’d developed relationships with a number of bartenders and other nightlife denizens during his time as a cab driver, and through Myspace.

“I never took radio calls,” he said.

The first night, business blew up, he said. He quickly brought on his best friend and roommate to help with driving duties.

10659343_587963717992733_1648671458242656621_n“It just kind of exploded from there,” he said. At this point, he said there are thousands of clients in his database.

Levon Mizell, of Beacon Hill, was one of the early drivers, starting with Crown Car in 2008. Mizell now owns four cars, and essentially sublets three of them at any given time.

“From what I hear, there’s no other place to work,” he said.

Rebelos has continued to add new drivers and now has more than 100. He said he meets each one of them face-to-face before he’s willing to consider taking them on.

“I think I know how to judge character pretty well.

After that meeting, his drivers must prove they know the city well, and must pass a background check, which he re-runs annually. All drivers must also have a limo license from the state. Rebelos also has occasional mystery riders do spot quality control checks.

Mizell said drivers can generally get around town without need of a GPS, except in cases of going somewhere off the beaten path.

He notices a difference in clients on Capitol Hill. There tend to be more artists and musicians, Mizell said, occasionally using the service to get to one of their shows.

Unlike Mizell, Rebelos doesn’t own any of the cars, a departure from the early days when he did. Now, he simply collects a flat $2 for each ride, leaving the driver to keep the rest of the fare and the tip.

You can learn more at blackcrowncar.com.

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11 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s Crown Car Co. shows you don’t have to be Uber to roll out a ride app” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I’ve been using this service when my friend told me about it in 2007, I had no idea that was the year they started.
    I’ve always had such great service with this company and use them exclusively. When Uber started to get popular up here and all my friends were hopping on that bandwagon, I tried to get the word out about Crown Car, but none of them wanted to deal with calling and needed an app. I talked about failing to refer customers because of the lack of an app to a driver two years ago, so I’m so excited to see it finally launched.

    Keep up the great work, drivers. I’m so happy you help me not have to own a car.

  2. First, like others here I’m glad to see a “homegrown” business do good, particularly up against “Goliath” competition like Uber. Having lived in a number of cities, including NYC, I find it fascinating that Seattle regulates its taxi industry so heavily — plus it’s given Uber and Lyft much more trouble than other cities have — but leaves limo licenses “wide open,” to quote Rebelos. In most other cities minimum rates for limos or town-car services are *mandatory* to prevent them from competing directly with taxis. (And btw the “Brooklyn-style” services Rebelos references are for the most part gypsy cabs and, technically speaking, illegal.)

    • Hey! Thanks for the positive words! To be clear, Washington state regulates the limousines, not the city. Different regulatory sector all together. Hence why Limo licenses are wide open. When I’m referencing Brooklyn Style town cars I’m referring to properly licensed TCP vehicles. Of course there are illegal operators, but we aren’t referring to the underground industry here. Point focused on the licensed Brooklyn town cars. Which I would assume people would reference to. There’s also illegal cabs, ride shares (When they pickup personals outside of the app or pick up street solicitations which is often), and limos in every city. We are not part of that.

      • Brooklyn car service companies have been around forever and operate out of retail storefronts. It’s always been just guys using their own cars to drive people. I was assuming this is what you were talking about and not town cars?

      • Referencing only the legitimate Brooklyn services that have been around since the late 70’s formed by ex taxi drivers. Established services like ‘Dial 7’ etc. Taxi rates via a black sedan.

  3. Great company and drivers. I’ve been taking them for a long time. It’s super awesome that they have the app now. I don’t have anything against Uber in particular, other than I think the surge pricing is kind of bullshit.

    That’s like me charging more when I have a killer show. Ha ha.

    Anyways, it’s good for everybody in my opinion.

    Crown is generally cheaper than taking a Cab and a much nicer rider and conversation. My two cents anyways.

  4. I like supporting local businesses. I also enjoy Uber. So, what’s the fare from Capitol Hill to Sea-Tac airport during non-peak times? Glad there is an app too!