Rifle, Colorado CO

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April 11, 2012
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Easy Rider: J&J Courtesy Carriers fills a transport niche

Julie Snyder may run a business, but it's a business that started with an act of charity.When Rifle High School junior Austin Booth passed away from influenza in January 2011, Snyder had just gotten the license she needed to operate an affordable community transportation service in western Colorado. Distraught by the news, she volunteered her services to Booth's family for the funeral procession. It was her first job, and word spread quickly.Today Snyder's J&J Courtesy Carriers fills an important niche in Rifle, a community with little public transit, but plenty of folks with somewhere to be. In her 2002 Ford Excursion, armed with snacks, drinks and pamphlets on Rifle attractions, Snyder transports locals and tourists alike. She contracts with the Grand River Hospital District to drive elderly patients to their appointments, and provide rides home for those impaired by a recent procedure. She takes guests from the Coulter Lake Guest Ranch, a resort north of Rifle, on rafting trips, and she often serves as a de-facto airport shuttle for local hotels that don't offer evening shuttle service. And Snyder, 50, who markets mainly through word of mouth, is constantly adding creative transportation services to her portfolio. "I could be someone who takes temp workers up to oil rigs," she said. "I could do fall leaf tours on Grand Mesa." Snyder is a third generation Coloradoan whose great uncle was mayor of Aspen in the 1860s. She moved to Rifle from the Roaring Fork Valley in 1995, two years after her parents did, and worked as a manager at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service and in the records department at Grand River Hospital. The seed for J&J Carriers was planted one day when Snyder got a call from a Glenwood Springs acquaintance who was seeking a partner for an Aspen driving service. The plan was to target wealthy jet-setters visiting Aspen. As Snyder considered the idea, though, it became obvious that some sort of taxi service was badly needed in Rifle itself. "Locals seemed disappointed that I wasn't doing something around here," she said, laughing. "I talked my mother, and friends at the thrift store where I volunteer. They kept saying, 'What about us?" she said. "In my work, I've got no problem with driving statewide, but I prefer to focus on local jobs." There were bumps in the road getting started. When Snyder tried registering as a common carrier, authorized to transport people and goods in the Colorado counties of her choice, several cab companies from Glenwood Springs to Aspen protested, claiming unfair competition. Convinced that she could serve Rifle far more cheaply than upvalley companies, Snyder persisted, and registered with the Luxury Limo Co., whose other registered drivers were not allowed to protest. Now, her only major restriction is keeping her car within 10 years of being new, meaning she'll have to trade in the Excursion this coming July. Though J&J was founded a little more than a year ago, locals have taken note of Snyder's services. "Her taxi service is an asset to the community,' said Joan Pretti, an emergency room nurse at Grand River Hospital who often sends patients home with Snyder. "She's always cheerful and kind, and gets our patients to their destinations safely." Yet the job doesn't always lend itself to good cheer. Driving can expose Snyder to darker aspects of the Rifle community, since those who can't drive often have other serious problems to contend with. Snyder carries booster seats, and occasionally she's contracted to drive families with children home from the scene of a car accident. The Rifle Funeral Home keeps her on call as an additional family car. And after seven years of her own sobriety, Snyder occasionally drives intoxicated people to the detox center in Glenwood Springs at all hours of the night.Snyder runs the business alone. Although she had originally planned to partner with her son, he has recently settled on the Front Range and plans to stay. And despite being bothered occasionally by a recent hip replacement, Snyder is happy to be focused on improving her brand.Recently she's begun to expand her wardrobe, which she often customizes for the clientele she serves."I'll dress appropriately for the occasion," she said. "If I'm driving for the guest ranch, I'll be in Western wear." She has been hired to drive students from Rifle High to the prom on April 21, and plans to dress formally for that, she said. Going forward, Snyder hopes to expand by taking on another car and driver. But to afford that investment, she might have to sell land she owns outside of Rifle and move into a smaller house. Bookings for the summer season, though, are looking up: Snyder was recently hired for a wedding reception in July. Her charity, it seems, has begun to pay off.

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The Post Independent Updated Apr 11, 2012 05:40PM Published Apr 11, 2012 05:38PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.