Faces of the Boom: Two Alaska women launch North Dakota taxi businesses

Sheila Taranto, pictured Friday, March 15, 2013, in Williston, N.D., moved to North Dakota from Alaska to start a taxi business. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Mr. Kab Taxi owner Sheila Taranto apologizes if she’s short on the phone with customers.

But the calls for rides come in so fast that she has to get the address and get on her way.

“This load is the largest I’ve ever had to handle in my entire life,” she said.

Taranto, 69, drove taxis in Alaska for 27 years before she moved to Williston last fall to launch a new business. The demand for transportation in the Oil Patch is so strong that Taranto encouraged another female taxi driver from Alaska to follow her to North Dakota.

Megan Patrick, 31, took her advice and has been living in Dickinson since January to start a taxi business there. She already sees great potential.

“This is a very unique situation,” Patrick said. “You’ve got a lot of people that don’t have cars, and the transportation is extremely limited here.”

Megan Patrick, CEO of E-Cab, talks about the taxi business while driving in Dickinson, N.D., on Saturday, March 16, 2013. Betsy Simon/Dickinson Press

Taranto sold her taxi business in Alaska in 2010 but decided she wasn’t ready to quit working. She’d heard about North Dakota’s oil boom and decided to try starting a new business.

“I was still healthy and I needed to go out there and show myself that I could do it again,” Taranto said. “It’s like the last hurrah, I hope.”

She thought she would run a one-woman show, but found the demand to be so great that she added more drivers and is expanding to Watford City.

Taranto rents a room from a couple in Fairview, Mont., but she often sleeps in her 4×4 pickup nicknamed Miss Sheila that she uses as a taxi. She is buying a house near Williston along the Missouri River, where she will set up a dispatch center and manage the operation.

“I’ve turned into a Dakota lady and I’m proud of it,” Taranto said.

Patrick, who operates E-Cab with a business partner who is in Alaska, said she’s glad Taranto persuaded her to come to North Dakota. She expects to spend a few months in Dickinson to set up the operation, analyze profit and loss margins, and determine whether the business plan will work.

She is also exploring the idea of putting cabs in Bismarck, Minot and Fargo.

“I’ve got quite a bit of work to do,” she said.

Patrick wasn’t sure how much she’d like Dickinson, but she said she’s really enjoying it and is grateful for how supportive the community is of her business. She said she has “undying respect” for the locals because she’s experienced oil booms in Alaska and she knows how stressful it can be.

“They still haven’t lost their ability to be polite to people that aren’t from here,” she said.

Patrick is not sure how long she’ll be in North Dakota. She has four kids between the ages of 6 and 11 back in Alaska, and she keeps in touch with them over video chat.

Both women love Alaska and had a difficult time moving away.

“It’s a hard place to leave,” Patrick said. “It’s a state that has nothing but beauty.”

But North Dakota, which passed Alaska last year to be the second-largest oil producing state, offers a lot of opportunities and will likely see more Alaskans, Patrick said.

“If you’ve got the patience and the tenacity to stick it out, then you’ll probably be successful,” Patrick said. “There’s nothing you can’t do, really. This is one of the places where people can say they’ve got a chance at the American dream.”

One thought on “Faces of the Boom: Two Alaska women launch North Dakota taxi businesses

  1. You could lose your life in a Mr. Kab Taxi.

    The driver was very reckless and almost collided with my vehicle. I was leaving the Cashwise parking lot and traveling about 20 miles per hour. She pulled out slowly in front of my vehicle, into the opposite lane of travel. It was within a moment of being a collision. I had to apply my brakes to avoid a t-bone collision. She did not even see my vehicle as far as I could tell.

    When I called to complain, I spoke to the driver. She accused me of driving excessively quickly. I was traveling below the speed limit though — because there was no way for my vehicle to accelerate “excessively” after turning out of Cashwise in 75 feet. She also accused me of trying to crash into her cab.

    The driver’s behavior was dangerous. I would not feel safe in the back of a Mr. Kab taxi like this, and I don’t even want to be driving anywhere near one. What is worse is the completely unprofessional and rude way they dealt with the situation once I brought it to their attention. It did not seem that the driver cared at all that she almost caused a major collision.

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