Riding With Rebel Cab Companies Fat Taxi and RedCar

These businesses and ones like them are threatening OC's traditional taxi industry

(Mentally, I compare this scenario with the time a traditional cab driver dropped off my twentysomething female roommate, my man and I after a night in downtown Fullerton. As the gal and I went upstairs, the cabbie told my guy as he was paying, "Hey, if you need any help, let me know," adding a creeper's wink.)

Ace almost wasn't there to save Kuhl. On Oct. 16, 2010, at about 1:06 a.m., a drunk driver hit him at the intersection of Warner Avenue and Bolsa Chica. The accident left him with a cracked skull, concussion, six broken ribs and a broken shoulder blade. Thankfully, there were no customers in the car. A nearby witness immediately dialed 911.

"My lawyer told me [the drunk driver] was found with a quantity of illegal drugs, though I never found out which, and he had just been released a few months earlier for drugs, so this was strike two," Ace recalls. "He got three years on a plea bargain."

Fat Taxi will get you there safely for less
Riley Kern
Fat Taxi will get you there safely for less
Fat Taxi has become a fixture in 
Huntington Beach’s nightlife scene
Riley Kern
Fat Taxi has become a fixture in Huntington Beach’s nightlife scene

Ace was left bedridden and unable to work. When local bars such as Fitzgerald's, Redz and Johnny's Saloon heard about his situation, they rushed to his aid, raising $11,500 collectively through benefit nights. ("It still tears me up," he says.) It wasn't the first time H.B.'s bars had rallied around Ace. Shooters Sports Bar held an "Ace Appreciation Night" on New Year's Eve, 1997, tricking the homebody into attending his own celebration by getting a lady bartender to go on a date with him.

Disabled and depressed, Ace decided it was time to retire and move in with his mother in North Dakota at the end of April 2011. But Huntington Beach never strayed too far from his mind. He went for a nighttime walk one night, after about four months in the Midwest, and then it clicked: He had to come back. He was homesick. He missed driving. Specifically, he missed driving his regulars in Huntington Beach.

"You guys are like my kids," he tells me.

So he returned to Huntington to be with his "kids" and hit the streets again on Sept. 9, 2011. He still has to bandage his ribs, though only on busy nights now. "It's getting better. Used to be I was wrapped up from the bottom of my ribs to armpits just to hold myself together," he recalls.

Today, he has more of a Charlton Heston attitude about retiring. "The day I retire is the day they pry my cold, dead hands off the steering wheel."

*    *    *

Joel Zlotnik, spokesman for Orange County Transportation Agencies (OCTA), says he doesn't have an opinion on ride-sharing apps or Town Car services, mostly because the agency only permits taxis and taxi companies. "I don't know that we've seen any effect [on the taxi industry]" from alternatives to taxis, he says.

Asked what OCTAP-permitted taxis offer that apps or Town Car services don't, he wasn't exactly sure. "I don't know specifically what you're asking."

What's the difference between the two services? "I'm not familiar how those companies operate or what safety standards they adhere to," he says.

According to Zlotnik, complaints about traditional taxis are rare. "I haven't heard of any complaints, but as a regulating agency, we'd be somewhere [people] could go to for that," he says. After checking the OCTAP website, he clarified that customers should address issues with the cab company first, and should that go unresolved, they can fill out a form at

Nevertheless, the proliferation of alternatives to taxis continues. If Fat Taxi represents the elder statesmen of the anti-taxi movement, then RedCar is the opposite: tech-savvy, app-accessible—and featuring hot-chick drivers.

"Our main drivers are girls; we are young and not old and creepy," says Marlena Chiarella, president and a driver of RedCar. "A lot of women get in cabs and don't feel comfortable. As a driver, I get women who tell me they feel a lot more comfortable and a lot safer when a woman is driving." And hey, guy customers aren't complaining either.

RedCar is a relatively new luxury-car service. All drivers are employed by the company and must undergo background checks, drug tests and an ongoing review of their driving record through the DMV. This eases concerns riders have with apps such as Uber, which takes no measures to ensure whether its drivers are unlicensed, unregulated, criminals or high. Though RedCar plans to launch an app in the fall, it assures customers it isn't associated with Uber or other ride-sharing apps to distance itself from the controversies and risks.

Husband-and-wife Gio and Marlena Chiarella were deciding what they wanted for their next venture after Gio sold his ambulance-driving business. They mentioned the idea of RedCar to Johnny Kresimir, owner of Johnny's Saloon in Huntington Beach.

"Gio and Marlena had an idea for an app different than the others that are out there," Kresimir recalls. "So we took another shot and said, 'Let's do this!'"

Being in the bar business, Kresimir says, it has always been his top priority to get people home safely. He has referred customers to Fat Taxi for many years—so many that Ace says, "If I had a son, it would be Johnny."

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