This Fleet is Green

1215790468Seth Riney is a systems engineer, and he looks like a systems engineer, in that he’s a little thicker around the middle than some guys in their mid 30’s, but still has boyish good looks. So, it was surprising to find out that this cutting-edge car service owner actually bikes from Cambridge to Everett everyday. In other words, he not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. Well, bikes the walk, anyway.

Riney is the president and founder of Cambridge-based Planet Tran—a hybrid-only car service (read: Priuses) that’s taking over the corporate ride scene, one contract at a time.

Four years ago, Riney decided to take advantage of his technology background to set up a cutting edge dispatching system that uses the Internet, Nextel text paging, and GPS to help arrange pick-ups. Although Planet Tran is young, this former software consultant’s business has grown 50 percent in the past year. By way of comparison, other local car services saw an average annual decline of 40 percent.

According to Riney, it’s the economy, stupid. Everyone’s traveling less, he says, and tightening up their travel budgets. That means that Planet Tran can compete with the bigger car services like Boston Coach, which charge a fuel surcharge for each trip. With a fleet of hybrids that average 48 miles per gallon, Planet Tran doesn’t have to.

The biotech industry in East Cambridge makes up the core of Riney’s business, companies like Genzyme, Millipore, and Vertex. “It’s because they’re mission driven,” he says. “Their companies are founded on improving human health; they’re progressive.”

Design firms like the architecture and engineering firm Sasaki, based in Watertown, have begun using his service as well, no doubt because they’re on the front lines of the carbon-reduction movement.

Riney has also been able to woo some more traditional clients. Law and financial services firms are more interested than ever in the bottom line. “Even without the fuel surcharge, we’re competitive,” Riney says. “Add in the surcharge, and we’re around 25 percent less than others.” And if I wasn’t sold already, he mentioned that almost all of his drivers were full-time employees, with health benefits and a regular paycheck.
Convinced, I went online to try out the Planet Tran’s trip calculator. From my home in Cambridge to Logan would cost $53, about 10 percent more than I’d expect to pay for a cab, after tip and tolls. Still, I’d pay for it over the Internet with a credit card, so I wouldn’t need cash (which I never have), and then there’s that satisfaction of knowing that I’m in a hybrid and the driver’s an employee, not an independent contractor.

Riney says that he’s competing with sedan companies, not taxis. “We’re trying to be the Jet Blue of car services,” he says. “We’re new, cool, hip, and you’re getting a much better value.” Oh yeah—and did he mention that all of his cars have free WiFi? That’s probably worth the extra dough.

Riney hopes to raise enough capital soon to expand into New York City and “actually do some marketing. If I could just get the money to advertise, this business would really take off.” No doubt.