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Article Title: On the Move With Montpelier's Dakotah Services TransportationEdition: August 2000
Author: Walter Carpenter
The maroon Isuzu Trooper with the Dakotah Services Transportation sign on the doors pulls away from the dense traffic on Main Street in Montpelier into the parking lot of Sarduccis Restaurant. The driver, Steve McKenney, who together with his father owns Dakotah, shuts off the ignition. He invites a visitor into his meeting room: the Troopers passengers seat. McKenneys taking a coffee break before a customer pick-up hes got to make a little later on.
McKenney leans back into the seat and closes the windows. Inside the Trooper, which is more or less the Dakotah flagship (and is McKenneys personal vehicle as well) the general cacophony of the street outside seems remote.
For the last three years the Trooper and a Plymouth Voyager have been familiar sights around Montpeliers streets, shuttling people and things around the capital city and Washington County. Dakotah has done courier work, helped people move, and filled just about every kind of local conveyance need imaginable.
"We offer appointments," McKenney said, "with a day or more prior notice and take call-ins on a daily basis around our pre-scheduled appointments." In addition, on a limited basis, McKenney says that Dakotah will deliver "needed household items, like prescriptions." And Dakotah will pick up packages for local businesses from the bus station and deliver them. "But we wont," McKenney said, "deliver anything to anyone that is age dependent, like alcohol."
"We are not trying to be different or the same as anyone else," McKenney said. "Were just trying to provide the best service that we can. We like to do things our own way."
McKenney said Dakotah works its schedule "to be right on time 99 percent of the time." The company tries to give accurate time frames for the call-in customers, letting them know when Dakotah can get there, whether it is 5-10 minutes or 55-60 minutes after the initial call.
"Out of the hundreds of rides we provide per month," McKenney said, "the one percent of the time that we are late usually results from unexpected or unusually long construction delays or other customers who are not ready to leave or dont tell us exactly what service they need."
McKenney has made runs up to Burlington, and has driven as far south as Boston; one time he carried a band from Burlington to Beantown.
"Their bus had broken down on the Interstate and we brought them the rest of the way," he said.
Inside the Trooper, McKenneys all-important line of communication, a cell phone, sits on the console within easy reach of the steering wheel. A microphone connected to the phone lets him answer calls without having to fumble with the dial or break his concentration from the road.
"I can get between 30-40 calls a day," McKenney said, "and I put a lot of miles on this car." He says he fills the gas tank up at least once a day.
A schedule book sits by his side within easy reach.
The Army, and a Transportation Background
The McKenney family moved to central Vermont from Connecticut seventeen years ago. McKenney attended Montpelier High School, then joined the army where he worked in Germany as a medical administrator. He had just returned from Europe and was settling into the medical administration field when his father, Tom McKenney, started Dakotah and convinced him to exchange the comfortable office chair for the narrow confines of the drivers seat.
Tom McKenney knows the transportation business well. He had managed several moving companies and a U-Haul outlet. He then went to work for the original owners of K.C. Taxi, which operates in the area. Within two weeks of getting hired, they told him that the company was going to be sold. At that point Tom McKenney decided to go out on his own. (K.C. Taxi has since been bought and continues to operate.)
"We thought it would be worth the extra effort to go into business for ourselves," Steve McKenney said. "It is one of the only ways to get ahead." He also said that he and his family also see Dakotah as a way to "give back to the community."
The name Dakotah has no special meaning or significance. "It is," said McKenney, "a name we liked."
The McKenneys started small. "We began with a very small loan and the most minimal of budgets," Steve said. They did not go in for expensive advertising and, instead, just distributed flyers and brochures to announce their new business. Dakotahs first customer was a woman they brought home from an appointment, and she still uses them.
The McKenneys kept their overhead small and built a steady client base without doing much advertising.
"Our biggest overheads," said McKenney, "are insurance premiums and mechanical expenses."
Over the three years since they began, Dakotah has seen and done a lot. One time McKenney drove to Craftsbury to pick up a couple and bring them back to Montpelier to the train station. It was wintertime. When McKenney left Montpelier the weather was clear. "But not in Craftsbury," McKenney remembers. He said there was a foot of new snow on the ground.
On the way back, it continued to snow. "And I got behind someone who was going slower than normal for those conditions and we missed the train by five minutes." McKenney drove the couple down to the next stop, White River Junction, and beat the train to the station. He did not charge the couple anything extra for that trip to White River.
Another time, McKenney was called by a woman who wanted a ride to a Barre bar. When he picked her up at her house, the woman was drunk. When told of the companys prohibition on smoking in the vehicles, McKenney said that "she freaked out. She started swearing and making a fuss, and told me that I HAD to drive her there." McKenney said that he simply turned around and brought her home. "I dont need that abuse," McKenney said.
McKenney says that the company wants to expand. Their hours were originally from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and with 24 hours flexibility for long distance. But now the company has expanded their hours, and is open from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., with 24 hours for long distance. McKenney says he hopes to add more drivers and vehicles so that Dakotah can better serve the communitys transportation needs.
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