FAIRFIELD – One of the big differences between small towns and big cities is that small towns tend to have limited transportation options.
Chris Conklin has taken a huge step to change that by starting a taxi service in the city of Fairfield.
His firm is called Mobile Community Services, and his taxi service is known as Mobile Companion.
He became officially licensed to run a taxi after his permit was approved by the Fairfield City Council in March 2019. He now averages about 100 trips a week, most of which are to repeat clients who have come to rely on him to run errands.
In addition to running a taxi service, Conklin works with the Jefferson County Health Center to transport patients for non-emergency medical services. He’s on-call 24/7 and routinely makes trips to and from the JCHC’s emergency room. He also transports patients to doctor’s appointments in Ottumwa and Iowa City.
Before being certified as a taxi service, in December 2018 Conklin became the personal driving instructor for students at Maharishi International University, helping them prepare for their driver’s license tests by practicing with them and educating them about the rules of the road.
Conklin credits Maryam Naraghi, director of international student advising at the university, with helping develop his business when it was in its early stages.
Conklin said he worked specifically with the university’s master’s in computer science program, which attracts a large number of international students. Most students Conklin taught already had experience driving in their home countries and just needed to learn the driving laws and customs in America.
He said that took some time, because there are cultural differences between countries. For instance, the students were surprised to learn that American drivers are stricter in following speed limits and other signs. For some drivers, they had to get accustomed to driving on the right side of the road instead of the left or getting used to driving a car with automatic transmission instead of manual.
Just a month after starting his driving instruction business, MIU’s director of admissions Chandrakala Pullapantula invited Conklin to join the university’s drive team. That meant he was one of the people who picked up students arriving at airports in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
On March 11, 2019, the Fairfield City Council approved Conklin’s license to run a taxi service. He has a commercial driver’s license, a chauffer’s license and commercial driving insurance.
“A lot of people in town think they’re drivers, but I’ve done my homework and am a fully legal service,” Conklin said. Conklin noted that it’s illegal to transport a person for money without a taxi license.
For more than a year, Conklin has been building his clientele. He said the success of the business has come from establishing repeat clients he sees on a regular basis.
“I’m not like Uber where I pick somebody up and never see them again,” he said.
Conklin thinks of Mobile Companion as much more than a taxi service. He said the most rewarding part of the job is the conversations he has with riders.
“In my vehicle, I’ve been known to talk about almost anything including politics and religion,” he said. “The students and clients love to participate in dialogues. Every day, we try to solve the world’s problems.”
Conklin said he only broaches those thorny subjects like politics and religion if the rider feels comfortable discussing them.
Religion is something Conklin is deeply involved in. In fact, he is an ordained minister and has over 30 years of ministry experience.
Conklin grew up in western Kansas in the town of Hugoton, population 3,800. In his early 20s, he envisioned starting a mobile ministry.
“I believed that the role of a church was to meet the needs of people,” he said. “I needed some way to fulfill that dream.”
Conklin has spent most of his adult life in ministry of one form or another. He’s done youth ministry, Christian education, and helped with a chapter of Boy Scouts of America.
He completed his master of divinity in 1995 at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Okla,, and became an ordained minister in 2007.
In August 2018, Conklin and his wife moved to Fairfield because his wife got a job here. Conklin knew he wanted to start his own business but wasn’t sure what direction to go. He asked Fairfield Economic Development Association Executive Director Joshua Laraby for advice on what needs were not being met. Laraby told him that the city needed a taxi service. Conklin said that was right up his alley, because he loves to drive and to take care of people.
“I’m kind of a restless soul,” he said. “I was not a minister who enjoyed office time. All my energy went to being out among the people. That restless feeling is being fulfilled through Mobile Companion.”
Conklin said his desire to care for people was developed during his time as a minister, where he sought to be a humble servant, helping people from different backgrounds, races and creeds.
Conklin bought a Kia Soul when he started Mobile Companion. He said the vehicle has a lot of space, and is particularly good for the elderly and disabled, two groups that he works with a great deal.
Mobile Companion is available at all hours of the day, which Conklin said is a must for running a successful taxi service.
“You can’t be effective if you’re not always on call,” he said. “The only time I’m not able to give a ride is when I’m out of town on another run.”
Conklin’s 19-year-old son Logan helps him, but at the present time, Conklin is the business’s only driver. He hopes he’ll be able to expand the business and hire other drivers, but he’s not quite there yet.