RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

Interview: Hybrid livery CEO on carbon taxes and why hybrid taxis won't matter

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  May 22, 2009 03:38 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Seth Riney, PlanetTran CEO
PlanetTran CEO Seth Riney pilots one of his Prius limos. (Clifford Atiyeh/ Photo)

When the carbon tax comes and wipes out sport utilities across the land, Seth Riney will be exhaling a big cloud of CO2 in hushed joy.

"You're going to have to be able to prove, one way or the other, how you're minimizing [carbon emissions] in whatever way you can," said Riney, CEO of PlanetTran, the nation's first all-hybrid livery service. "And so vendors like us, being able to provide that data is going to become a requirement eventually."

Riney founded PlanetTran in 2003 with a single Toyota Prius in Cambridge. Since then he has amassed 100 employees and 12,000 customers in the Boston and San Francisco areas — who all crave executive transportation that’s more advanced and fuel-wise than the standard Lincoln Town Car. His company even sends clients detailed reports on how much CO2 they save versus a traditional livery service. (Read a 2008 Globe test on four local livery services to see how PlanetTran fared.)

His 45-car fleet of Toyota hybrids – Prius, RX400h, and Highlander Hybrid – is a hit among the Cambridge biotech industry, including pharmaceutical giants Genzyme, Vertex, and Novartis.

“I didn’t go to business school, so PlanetTran has been my real-world MBA,” Riney said, who graduated in 1997 from Yale with degrees in astronomy and physics.

Arriving at the Globe in a black, leather-lined Prius, Riney fielded questions on his philosophy and business strategy, except his revenue (in 2006, it was approximately $2 million). Go to the full entry to read what's getting PlanetTran up to speed.

Q. What are your cost advantages over traditional livery services, and versus competitors like OZOcar in New York City?

A. Usually it’s a 10 to 20 percent savings [than a comparable service]. A lot of times in the car service industry, the dirty little secret is the fuel surcharge. We don’t have a surcharge. We don’t need to. We use a third of the gas of the competition as a general rule.

Q. As traditional livery services add hybrids to the fleet, how does this fare for your company?

A. Unless being green – or environmentally responsible – is in your DNA, it doesn’t really make sense to sort of add the onesy, twosy hybrid cars just to be able to say that you have it in your fleet and say that you’re going green.

For the competition to really be formidable, it has to be an all-hybrid fleet. We are able to provide our customers with a report that says because you used our service, you saved “x” amount of pounds of CO2, and that’s a very tangible thing. The average fuel economy of the competition, even if they’ve got a couple of hybrids, doesn’t even come close to the average fuel economy that we have.

Q. What about the Boston rule requiring all city taxis to be hybrids by 2015? What’s the advantage of your service at that point?

I think that we’re a car service and not a taxi service, and there are amenities and value associated with that that are independent of the actual vehicle that’s used. We have a differentiated product offering in the marketplace, and that allows us to get people to trade up from, say, public taxis as well as it allows people to save money compared to other more traditional car services.

Even if every taxi, every car in limo fleets was a hybrid, I think we’d still have a value proposition because of the technology I’ve built the business on, the in-car Wi-Fi, and the automation, the reliability involved.

At the end of the day, the taxi industry is a different product, a different sort of public service, and what we provide we think is much more valuable than that.

Q. So no Escalade Hybrids, then?

There’s a lot of “greenwashing” that goes on …

Q. Greenwashing?

A. Greenwashing, yeah, that’s the term that has been kicking around for a couple of years. It’s like ... yeah, it’s a hybrid, but it still only gets 12 miles to the gallon, and this [Prius] gets 45.

But again, I don’t want to be too self-righteous about it because sometimes there’s a need – different jobs require different tools.

We do have hybrid SUVs, but people use them primarily for situations where they have more than three people and a lot of luggage.

Q. Would you support an increase in the gas tax – or possibly a carbon tax – for your business?

A. My personal politics are more kind of government hands off of things. I would like to see more carrot incentives as opposed to stick incentives … one of the things we’re very interested in, although we haven’t done any active lobbying, is reducing tolls for people who use hybrids.

There’s a lot of political ramifications of that, because if everyone went out and bought a hybrid, then the Turnpike Authority – and all of the sort of mess that that’s in – would get worse.

Since there is science that's showing that [carbon dioxide] can be a bad thing, I think trying to sort of quantify the negative scarcity of the resource is important. But you know what, I've also heard experts talking and saying, you know what? Global climate is so complex that even though there's a lot of data, it's really hard to understand what, if any, impact is really happening there.

If you can do things more efficiently, then there will be a market for such things.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

9 comments so far...
  1. Are you people daft? Bring the Carbon Tax?! There are politicinas claiming that we didn't keep up; we need to spend more. Spend on what? Where is the plan? In fact, what have we been "buying" for the past 30 years, whilst most of you BIG SPENDERS have been in office?

    So, I guess the plan is simply to accumulate a pool of money to spend, huh? Yeah, that ought to improve the environment! After all, most of the monies that are absconded are not applied correctly and/or efficiently.

    What a bunch of materialists! FYI: materialism is a of the worst in the history of mankind. Yeah, it's all about spending money; it solves all the problems of the world. How pathetic!

    Posted by anonymous May 23, 09 01:31 PM
  1. When asking if PlanetTran would be threatened by the eventual conversion of the Boston taxi fleet to hybrids I think it should also be pointed out that such government moves would never have happened had it not been for early adopters and promoters like PlanetTran itself. This is one of the many ways that progressive businesses like PlanerTran often deliver benefits to society far beyond those directly related to their day-to-day business.

    Posted by Rodney North May 23, 09 08:09 PM
  1. This is a great example of American entrepreneurship. A smart guy with a good idea capitalizes on a new source of demand. Ironically, while he is doing his part with his business to reduce carbon emissions, the high-priest of Global Warming, Barack Obama and his minions have a target on this man's back. He is an evil rich person who undoubtedly makes a profit at someone else's expense and makes more than $250,000, uh, I mean $238,000, and will be punished by paying a higher tax rate than everyone else.

    Posted by Richard May 24, 09 11:40 AM
  1. Just remember that the mandate and mission of the UNs IPCC from their web page is to advance the "understanding of the risk of HUMAN-INDUCED climate change" Of course, then, only humans will be the cause of climate change, and not the earth's orbit or sun activity. They would have to ignore the fact that the most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere by a large margin is water, not carbon dioxide.

    Posted by Peter May 24, 09 10:18 PM
  1. I've used PlanetTran and they are terrific! They are reliable, clean, and the drivers are very professional. I say BRAVO! Seth Riney was on the cutting edge of "going green" in the car service market. Besides, he is a great guy and deserves all the success he gets. Yes, I'm a cheerleader and proud of it.

    Posted by Claire Daniel May 25, 09 12:40 AM
  1. The carbon tax is the biggest hoax of all time. It just goes to show, if you repeat a lie, long enough and loud enough, most people will believe it.

    This is all about control over our daily lives. Watch "End Game" to understand who is doing this and why.

    Posted by BobinVA May 25, 09 10:45 AM
  1. Boston should follow San Francisco's lead and put some hydrogen fueled cabs on the road! they have been operating there for over a year now.

    Posted by smahtguy May 25, 09 11:12 AM
  1. Carbon taxes: Just another looney lefty scam.....

    Posted by Jamoke May 25, 09 05:24 PM
  1. I wonder how much leg room is in a Prius Limo?
    What What!

    Posted by David Beale May 25, 09 10:49 PM

About Boston Overdrive reports the latest trends, auto shows and wrings out the newest cars in our city's hellish maze — and across the great roads of New England.
Follow Cars on Facebook



Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
archives racing coverage

Dale Earnhardt Jr. shocked by Juan Montoya's departure from No. 42
By Michael Vega, Globe Staff LOUDON, N.H. --- Dale Earnhardt Jr., like most of his NASCAR brethren, was surprised to learn Tuesday that Juan Pablo...

More on Cars