Walking out of a bar in the Katy area after having a few drinks and trying to hail a cab on the street is a bad idea. The fleet car that stops is liable to have red and blue flashing lights on top instead of a taxi sign. It is an even greater risk to get behind the wheel.
That is what Samantha and Gavin Richards recognized after moving here from England five years ago.
"There was no cab service," Samantha Richards said. "You could call a downtown Houston cab but they started charging a $25 surcharge on top of the fare just to come into Katy."
In effect, the lack of cabs and expense kept people from using them. That left residents to either risk driving drunk or select a designated driver.
"Between me and my husband, we were fed up with arguing for who was going to be the designated driver, so for the sake of our marriage we decided to open a cab business," Richards joked.
About a year and a half ago, the pair decided to start A2B Cabs. Samantha largely runs the day-to-day operations; her husband works in the oil industry.
The company caters to clients who want to travel locally—most often trips that include a home-restaurant-bar-home circuit. Clients also frequently request shopping destinations, such as the Galleria or City Center.
The Richards found traction for their company among ex-patriot residents in the area, like themselves. There is a large community of ex-pats in the area, most of whom are affiliated with oil and gas companies, Richards said.
"Ex-pats are used to taxi cabs," Richards said. "In Europe the drunk driving laws are very strict. Everyone is now in a culture where they don't drink and drive."
Whereas police here need probable cause to stop a driver, in many places in Europe, police conduct random checks.
A $15 dollar cab ride could save someone $15,000 in fines and court costs resulting from getting caught driving drunk. For ex-pats, however, there is an additional risk.
"People have visas, green cards or are applying for a green card," Richards said. "If you get caught drunk driving, you're basically going to be out of the country and out of a job."
The response to A2B has been huge, Richards said.
"We literally just advertised to the ex-pat groups because we already had that link in," she said. "Within four weeks, we were swamped with calls, especially for the weekends."
The couple started the business with two cars but quickly had to race out and buy a third and hire another driver. Demand has grown steadily since.
Richards said she remembers talking to a police officer before she opened the business, doing research about local laws.
"He looked at me and said, 'I don't understand why Katy needs a cab service. Everyone has a car,' " Richards said. "I asked him, 'Well what about drunk driving?' He looked at me as if I had fallen from space."
Anyone can sit at a local bar, however, and watch people leave after drinking all evening, she said.
Because A2B has become so popular and so busy, its service is now largely done through pre-booking.
"We still get the ad hoc calls, you know 'I need a cab now,' but invariably on a busy night we have to turn those callers away," Richards said.
On a busy Friday or Saturday night, they might turn away as many as 20-30 calls, she said.
The Richards are well known among a local meet-up group called the British and Ex-pat Families of Katy. The group was set up by a few British women who wanted to organize playgroups for their preschoolers.
That group used to be fairly small but over the last few years it has grown considerably. About 5 years ago, the group consisted of about 30 families. It now has grown into a broader social meet-up group and includes about 170 families, Richards said. It now includes residents from a variety of places.
"All of a sudden it's become a great big wide world, just in Katy," she said.
The group posts regular updates at:
Open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights