Live Near Amish Country? Start a Business Helping People Who Don’t Drive
Do you own a reliable vehicle? Could you give rides to people who don't own cars? Do you live near an Amish or traditional Mennonite community? If you meet these three criteria, you might be able to make money running an Amish or Mennonite taxi service.
I previously reported on a used appliance seller in Canada who often sells to traditional Mennonites. His willingness to deliver the goods clinches the sales, because his customers don't drive. The Old Order Amish also have a religious prohibition on owning cars. Wanda Brunstetter, who studies and writes about the Amish, explains:
The Amish believe that owning a car could lead to a tearing apart of the family, church, and community. People who own cars tend to be away from home too much, and cars make the community more scattered... Therefore, many Amish hire non-Amish drivers to transport them to places outside of the 10-15 mile limit they would usually travel in their buggies.
This sparked an idea -- could providing rides be a business of its own?
Do People Make Money as Amish Taxi Drivers?
The short answer: yes. In just three counties in Pennsylvania, it's estimated there are 300 drivers who offer rides for pay to the Amish residents, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.
Many locals become drivers because they're laid off from other work, they’re disabled, or they’re simply looking for extra income to supplement their retirement checks. Payment comes in the form of money, bartered items, gifts and help around the house, Bonnie Huzinec, who has been driving the Amish for years, told the Post-Gazette.
Is It Legal?
Some drivers aren't properly licensed and, at least in Pennsylvania, there have been repeated crackdowns over the years. Public Utilities Commission (PUC) agents even forced a group of Amish on their way to a funeral to get out of an unlicensed van in an unfamiliar community and beg their way home. Generally drivers receive warnings first, but if they don’t cease operations, they could face $1,000 fines.
An "Amish taxi" is typically a 14-passenger van, according to LancasterOnline.com, and to be legal in Pennsylvania drivers need to pay $350 for para-transit certification. They also need to use a vehicle that's less than eight years old and obtain commercial liability insurance. In addition, drivers require a medical examiner's certificate if they’ll be driving more than eight passengers at a time. Drivers can be fined for having outdated child car seats or other safety violations.
Despite the expensive regulations, which can cost drivers thousands of dollars per year, there is apparently enough business to justify the costs of becoming licensed. PUC Press Secretary Jennifer Kocher says that of the 105 certified para-transit carriers in Lancaster County, 94 are licensed as taxis for "persons whose personal convictions prevent them from owning and/or operating motor vehicles."
But there are even more Amish taxis operating illegally in Lancaster County. The crackdowns on these unlicensed operators, while meant to make the industry safer, are not popular with many of the Amish. Passengers face being put out on the side of the highway unexpectedly, and presumably paying more for rides as drivers are all brought into compliance with the costly regulations.
Will You Start an Amish Taxi Service?
If you decide to run an Amish taxi, you can probably get by with the most minimal liability policy that the law requires, since the Amish generally don't sue people. The laws vary by state, so legal compliance in your area may be more or less expensive than the examples given for Pennsylvania.
According to AmishAmerica.com, there are Old Order Amish communities living in 30 states and in parts of Canada. You can use their Amish State Guide to determine if there are enough potential clients near you to consider starting a taxi service. Here are the states with more than 20 church districts:
- New York
Many traditional Mennonites also pay for rides rather than owning cars. You can use the church locator map on MennoniteUSA.com to find information on congregations near you. Since many Mennonites do drive, you'll have to investigate to see if the communities near you use drivers regularly.
To promote your taxi service, place ads in local papers read by the Amish (I used to see the ads regularly in Michigan). It is also common to put a business card or notice in Amish phone booths, according to Clif Bushnell. He gave rides to the Amish for decades and wrote a book about his experiences.
How Much Should You Charge?
The many undocumented Amish taxi drivers do not share information on what they charge. An article on Lancaster Online suggests that most drivers charge no more than $1 per mile, and says "They add $7 to $12 an hour for any waiting time." Since rates vary from one state to the next, you'll have to call existing drivers and ask what they charge to get an idea of how to set your own rates.
Your Turn: Would you consider starting an Amish taxi service?