PlanetTran CEO Seth Riney pilots one of his Prius limos. (Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Photo)
When the carbon tax comes and wipes out sport utilities across the land, Seth Riney will be exhaling a big cloud of CO2 in hushed joy.
"You're going to have to be able to prove, one way or the other, how you're minimizing [carbon emissions] in whatever way you can," said Riney, CEO of PlanetTran, the nation's first all-hybrid livery service. "And so vendors like us, being able to provide that data is going to become a requirement eventually."
Riney founded PlanetTran in 2003 with a single Toyota Prius in Cambridge. Since then he has amassed 100 employees and 12,000 customers in the Boston and San Francisco areas — who all crave executive transportation that’s more advanced and fuel-wise than the standard Lincoln Town Car. His company even sends clients detailed reports on how much CO2 they save versus a traditional livery service. (Read a 2008 Globe test on four local livery services to see how PlanetTran fared.)
His 45-car fleet of Toyota hybrids – Prius, RX400h, and Highlander Hybrid – is a hit among the Cambridge biotech industry, including pharmaceutical giants Genzyme, Vertex, and Novartis.
“I didn’t go to business school, so PlanetTran has been my real-world MBA,” Riney said, who graduated in 1997 from Yale with degrees in astronomy and physics.
Arriving at the Globe in a black, leather-lined Prius, Riney fielded questions on his philosophy and business strategy, except his revenue (in 2006, it was approximately $2 million). Go to the full entry to read what's getting PlanetTran up to speed.
Q. What are your cost advantages over traditional livery services, and versus competitors like OZOcar in New York City?
A. Usually it’s a 10 to 20 percent savings [than a comparable service]. A lot of times in the car service industry, the dirty little secret is the fuel surcharge. We don’t have a surcharge. We don’t need to. We use a third of the gas of the competition as a general rule.
Q. As traditional livery services add hybrids to the fleet, how does this fare for your company?
A. Unless being green – or environmentally responsible – is in your DNA, it doesn’t really make sense to sort of add the onesy, twosy hybrid cars just to be able to say that you have it in your fleet and say that you’re going green.
For the competition to really be formidable, it has to be an all-hybrid fleet. We are able to provide our customers with a report that says because you used our service, you saved “x” amount of pounds of CO2, and that’s a very tangible thing. The average fuel economy of the competition, even if they’ve got a couple of hybrids, doesn’t even come close to the average fuel economy that we have.
Q. What about the Boston rule requiring all city taxis to be hybrids by 2015? What’s the advantage of your service at that point?
I think that we’re a car service and not a taxi service, and there are amenities and value associated with that that are independent of the actual vehicle that’s used. We have a differentiated product offering in the marketplace, and that allows us to get people to trade up from, say, public taxis as well as it allows people to save money compared to other more traditional car services.
Even if every taxi, every car in limo fleets was a hybrid, I think we’d still have a value proposition because of the technology I’ve built the business on, the in-car Wi-Fi, and the automation, the reliability involved.
At the end of the day, the taxi industry is a different product, a different sort of public service, and what we provide we think is much more valuable than that.
Q. So no Escalade Hybrids, then?
A. There’s a lot of “greenwashing” that goes on …
A. Greenwashing, yeah, that’s the term that has been kicking around for a couple of years. It’s like ... yeah, it’s a hybrid, but it still only gets 12 miles to the gallon, and this [Prius] gets 45.
But again, I don’t want to be too self-righteous about it because sometimes there’s a need – different jobs require different tools.
We do have hybrid SUVs, but people use them primarily for situations where they have more than three people and a lot of luggage.
Q. Would you support an increase in the gas tax – or possibly a carbon tax – for your business?
A. My personal politics are more kind of government hands off of things. I would like to see more carrot incentives as opposed to stick incentives … one of the things we’re very interested in, although we haven’t done any active lobbying, is reducing tolls for people who use hybrids.
There’s a lot of political ramifications of that, because if everyone went out and bought a hybrid, then the Turnpike Authority – and all of the sort of mess that that’s in – would get worse.
Since there is science that's showing that [carbon dioxide] can be a bad thing, I think trying to sort of quantify the negative scarcity of the resource is important. But you know what, I've also heard experts talking and saying, you know what? Global climate is so complex that even though there's a lot of data, it's really hard to understand what, if any, impact is really happening there.
If you can do things more efficiently, then there will be a market for such things.
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