LP Gas Magazine, Questex Media Group
Las Vegas. Gambling. Shows. Dining. Shopping. Golf. Nightlife. Business conferences. It’s a lot to keep up with, and despite everything being in relatively close proximity, taxicabs are desperately needed to transport millions of visitors from Point A to Point B.
Because of this, the city is teeming with cabs, and all that traffic contributes to poor air quality, as carbon monoxide mixes with dust and pollen from the desert that surrounds Vegas’ metropolitan areas. In fact, vehicle exhaust accounts for 85 percent of carbon monoxide air pollution in Clark County, according to the Department of Air Quality Management.
To help combat that, Yellow-Checker-Star Transportation runs their entire fleet of cabs on propane, something they’ve been doing since 1981.
“We’re in the business of bringing people to their destinations, but we’re also in the business of helping to improve the air quality, which in turn enhances the overall living conditions in Southern Nevada,” says Jack Owens, general manager of Yellow-Checker-Star.
Owens has been with Yellow-Checker-Star for more than 24 years and has played an integral part in its development as the largest cab service in Southern Nevada. He started his career there as a consultant, moving on to become the controller and director of operations before being promoted to his current position. He was instrumental in the conversion to propane as well.
As a member of the board of directors for the Las Vegas Regional Clean Cities Coalition, Owens leads educational and outreach programs promoting clean air practices and policies.
Yellow-Checker-Star is comprised of three separate cab companies with longstanding histories in Nevada. Yellow Cab acquired Checker in 1984 and then acquired Star in 1986. The three companies still operate separately under the umbrella name of Yellow-Checker-Star.
The original Checker facility by McCarran International Airport ran their cabs on natural gas, but it was primitive, time consuming and had a poor range. The move to propane in 1981 was made to alleviate those concerns, and due to the fact that the Arab embargo was jacking up gasoline prices.
“Las Vegas was already 24/7 and the convention market was growing and growing,” says Owens. “It would’ve hurt to have functional cabs sitting with all that business, so we needed a new fuel. Natural gas was no good, gasoline was too expensive – propane was the best solution. At the time, propane was a by-product of oil refining and there wasn’t much of a market for it.”
Yellow-Checker-Star is now Southern Nevada’s largest cab business, with a fleet of over 730 taxis and 531 medallions (vehicles that can be used as cabs) that logs more than 70 million miles a year. The company’s Crown Victoria cabs each feature a 40-gallon propane tank with a range of 400 miles, enough to handle back-to-back 12-hour shifts. Eight cabs can be refueled in two minutes. Each cab contains a computer for digital dispatching.
Clean and safe
Clean-burning propane releases 60 to 70 percent lower carbon monoxide emissions than gasoline, according to studies by the Southwest Research Institute. Owens estimates that by using propane for its fleet, Yellow-Checker-Star saves the Las Vegas Valley more than 1,000 tons of carbon monoxide and 1,000 tons of particulate matter annually.
The use of propane has earned Yellow-Checker-Star national recognition and awards from the U. S. Department of Energy Clean Cities Program, the Regional Transportation Commission and the Clark County Air Quality Division.
The company has also launched an educational campaign to make the general population aware of the benefits of using alternative fuel. The campaign can be viewed at http://www.ycstrans.com/
The Environmental Protection Agency mandates that all conversions to alternative fuel be certified, and Yellow-Checker-Star has received certification on all its vehicles through the 2005 model year. They are currently in the process of getting certification for the 2006 models.
Owens says it costs between $1,500 and $2,500 per vehicle to convert vehicles from gasoline burners to propane use. Each year they convert 150 vehicles and retire 150 vehicles.
“We enjoy a great relationship with Ford Motor Co.,” says Owens. “Ford gives us technical assistance, and we do evaluations for them on our propane vehicles.”
Besides the cabs, Yellow-Checker-Star uses propane for its fleet of buses and vans for airport shuttle service, tours and other transportation needs, and in all its executive cars and tow trucks.
In its years of operation, Yellow-Checker-Star hasn’t had any vehicle accidents resulting in a fire with propane. The company has installed safety features in all the vehicles, including slam valves in the tanks and emergency shut-off switches to make sure propane is contained within the tanks if an accident occurs.
Yellow-Checker-Star also boasts a new, $13 million facility.
“We now have a great setup with the team, the technology and the equipment to provide the best service to our customers for years to come,” says Owens.
After the first airport location, the company moved to a downtown facility where propane was introduced and the three companies came together. That facility was 3-1/2 acres and had a 30,000-gallon storage tank.
From there the company moved to a facility off the Las Vegas Strip with a cramped building and inadequate parking. That facility had two underground, 30,000-gallon storage tanks, a 5,000-sq.-ft. administration building and a 20,000-sq.-ft. maintenance building.
The new 21-acre headquarters, just off the Strip, feature a 19,000-sq.-ft. administration building and a 40,000-sq.-ft. maintenance building. The company also purchased 15 acres across the street for any future expansions.
The move has really helped Yellow-Checker-Star recruit drivers. The old, less-than-desirable facility was typical of what exists in the industry today. The new facility has easy access to McCarran Airport as well as the southern end of the resort corridor, and has almost as many amenities as Las Vegas’ famed hotels and resorts do. It features a modern dispatch center, fully automated training room, a comfortable drivers’ room, a car wash station, body shop and on-site fueling and maintenance facilities.
Executives have 5,000 sq. ft. of new offices with a high-tech conference room holding big screen televisions and a telecommunications system. Every cab has its own assigned parking space, making it easy for drivers to locate the vehicle they use for the day.
“It used to be almost impossible for a driver to find his vehicle, but now each cab has its own stall, so they’re easy to find,” says Owens. “Plus, employee parking is greatly improved. Before, drivers were parking their cars all over. Now, there’s a 900-space employee parking lot that’s safe and secure.”
Golf carts in Yellow, Checker and Star colors and logos are available to transport drivers to their vehicles at the site.
In the center of the complex are the two above ground, 60,000-gallon propane tanks for fueling cabs. The company uses 11,000 to 12,000 gallons per day, 365 days a year, according to Owens. The company used to have a rail service at the last facility, but now it relies on transports.
“We spot buy all our propane,” says Owens. “We always look at any quote we get.”
Like many others in the motor-fuel sector, Yellow-Checker-Star is waiting for CLEAR Act incentives to go through, but they do currently get some incentives from the state.
Incentives or not, the company is – and has been for nearly 30 years – doing its part to improve air quality in Las Vegas and helping propane make a name for itself in the market place.
“Propane has been great for us,” says Owens. “It’s safe, reliable, cost-effective and it improves our mileage. Plus, it’s clean. The EPA has told us that the air coming out of our exhausts in cleaner than the air in Las Vegas.”