Cab driver reflects on 10 years of students, routes
Emily McConville | Monday, February 20, 2017
Gail Hickey, the founder of The Bend Executive Shuttle and a longtime South Bend taxi driver, has a lot of stories.
Like the time a couple met in her cab, back when she was working for Yellow Cab. Hickey was driving three guys, and she asked if she could pick up three girls on the way.
“One of the guys and the girls ended up dating, they graduated, ended up following each other to law school … and ended up getting married,” she said. “They met because I asked if it was okay to pick them up together.”
In the middle of a long weekend picking up parents in town for Junior Parents Weekend, Hickey said she started driving in about 2008. It was before Eddy Street Commons, before Uber and Lyft, before most other cab drivers and companies. Hickey drove nights, while her husband, Terry Hickey, drove days.
Gail Hickey soon became one of several local drivers with a “following” — students who love getting rides with her, who call her first and who trust her unconditionally.
“As I drove and my popularity got bigger, students would actually start calling me in advance to say, ‘OK, we are definitely going out tonight,’ to make sure they made the most of the time that they had,” she said.
Over the past decade, her business has, in fact, became mostly word of mouth. Students recommended her to other students. She became the driver of choice for various campus groups: Pasquerilla East girls, fencers, law students who once had her star in a comedy sketch video and Saint Mary’s students who she made sure actually got to Saint Mary’s at the end of the night, not just Main Circle. Parents found out about her and called her, asking her to make sure their kids were safe. Students inherited her from older siblings. Some, she said, took to calling her their “Notre Dame mom.”
Hickey attributed her popularity to the fact that, as a mother, “I take this very personally.” She said she tries to make sure students are safe, often “rescuing” them from unsafe situations and calling out uncertified cab drivers.
“There’s too much uncertainty out there,” she said. “So we developed our popularity through that kind of mentality. Your kids are our kids.”
Hickey’s relationship with her students became greater than driving them around on weekends. She manages house rentals for the parents of a football player. She once sat with a student in the hospital. She’s been taken out to dinner, invited to weddings and notified of the births of children.
In the nearly 10 years since she started driving, the transportation market has become “saturated,” she said, with ride-booking apps and other cab companies — that was part of why she went into the shuttle business, instead of strictly taxis.
Three years ago, after going through Saint Mary’s SPARK program for women entrepreneurs, Hickey started her own transportation company, The Bend Executive Shuttle. She mainly takes people to and from Chicago and South Bend airports, often for Notre Dame departmental functions.
But Hickey still occasionally drives at night, taking students to local bars, house parties or wherever they want to go. She said she gets texts from students starting in the afternoon to schedule their rides, and in the absence of their own app, she’ll use her voice-to-text function to tell them when she’ll be there. She said she’ll drive for as long as she can.
“I like the students a lot,” she said. “It makes me whole. You guys are great, I mean really. I love the stories you guys tell, I love to know what you’re doing. It’s just fun.”