reWorking Michigan: New cab company offers unique way to go

East Lansing, MI –

A new cab company in East Lansing hopes to make local transportation fun and eco-friendly. A trip to Thailand inspired its creation. | SKIP down to article


East Lansing businessman David Thorin took a trip a trip to Bangkok in 2008 and was inspired by the motorized rickshaws called "tuk tuks." The three-wheeled taxis are a common site in many developing countries. Thorin figured the simple, economical and eco-friendly bikes might work here.

"We thought we could incorporate a similar aspect of tuk-tuk bikes into East Lansing," he says. "People of East Lansing are constantly moving about and we thought that this would be an interesting alternative for them to choose to get to classes and to get to the downtown area on an eco-friendly electric bike."

He started Spar-Thai Green Cab Company in May and says it's the only service of its kind in Michigan.

Because the tuk-tuks are more like bikes or mopeds than cars, they can run off-road and on walks and paths. Thorin says the rickshaws can move faster across campus and through downtown, making them popular with students at MSU. Since he doesn't have to pay for gas for the electric bikes they're also cheaper than a regular cab.

"The cab fares generally run from $1 to $2.50 per passenger depending on the distance that they go," Thorin says. "Often the drivers will work strictly on tips and work from the generosity of the customers and the drivers are very happy with the compensation and the passengers are thrilled to be on the bikes for such an affordable rate."

Spar-Thai driver Matthew Nellist says the company has its own niche in the area and should not be seen as competition for traditional cab companies.

"Somebody getting onto one of our bikes isn't normally going to be getting into a cab, or the larger cabs, anyway," says Nellist. "So we're not stealing business, we're not in direct competition. We're working alongside them."

Cab fares make up part of the income for the company. Thorin says advertising is also part of the profit model.

"To help the businesses in the area and to help Spar-Thai, we are selling advertising off the back of the bikes," Thorin says. "So far we've had Labatt and we've had others; Bell's Pizza recently signed up with us, where they put signage on the back of the bikes. It gives the local businesses a lot of exposure to their businesses and their brands. And hopefully instead of the form of saying drive sales to a particular business, we can literally drive people to their business given the fact that we're a taxi."

Spar-Thai is gaining a following in the area. Okemos resident Pam Sawatzki and her family found it to be very convenient during the East Lansing Art Festival earlier this year.

"We went ahead and took it right downtown from our car and it was a lot of fun," she says. "And we were hoping that it does well because it's a unique situation, kind of brings a big city feel to East Lansing. So we're hoping that it works well and it does well."

David Thorin has about a dozen drivers running as many bikes. Spar-Thai anticipates business will grow as more students come back to school in the fall.

reWorking Michigan
For more on job creation and workforce evolution in Michigan, visit