HUNTS POINT — Over the past two years, Jorge Ramirez has learned to weave among the long, busy roads of the South Bronx as a driver for Hunts Point's only livery car service.
But last month, Ramirez, 22, suddenly lost his job at BQN Car Service when the owner learned his employee planned to open a rival car service.
Ramirez and his partner, Hector Campuzano, 52, will be outgunned when they launch Manida Car Service next month with 10 drivers, compared to BQN’s 180-car fleet.
But Ramirez, who studies accounting at Boricua College, believes that a timeworn principle will quickly win his company carloads of passengers.
“I believe the customer should always be right,” Ramirez said recently, sitting in the freshly painted office of his new livery base at 620 Manida St. “They will see the difference.”
For its part, BQN, which has operated in Hunts Point since the 1960s, views the new competition more as a pest than a threat.
“A little company starting tomorrow isn’t going to compete against a company that’s been here 50 years,” said Beba Garcia, 25, a dispatcher at BQN, the wife of the owner, Luis Garcia, and a granddaughter of the company’s founder.
“We have the experience,” Garcia added. “We have the clientele.”
Ramirez, who is known among colleagues by his car number, “275,” grew up in Longwood. He began driving livery cabs when he was 19 and soon found his way to BQN.
Though Ramirez and his fellow drivers worked for up to 15 hours at a time, he said, there never seemed to be enough cars to meet the demand in Hunts Point.
The workers at the neighborhood's mammoth produce and meat market, as well as its auto repair shops, and its residents sometimes feel stranded in Hunts Point, Ramirez said, since the Bruckner Expressway separates the area from the nearest subway line.
Livery cabs from other parts of the borough often avoid the neighborhood, which has struggled to shake its reputation as a den of drug dealers and prostitutes.
“Thousands of people come here,” said Ramirez, “and they need a way to get home after a long day of work.”
Antonio Centeno Jr., a lifelong Longwood resident and a member of the local community board, agreed.
He said that he has been using BQN to travel throughout The Bronx since he was a teenager commuting to high school in Riverdale, but lately he has watched wait times for their cars skyrocket.
“I don’t think their capacity can handle the amount of demand the community is now seeing,” said Centeno, 34, adding, “Good competition is welcome, and it’s needed.”
Beba Garcia, at BQN, conceded that “there are never enough cars,” but noted that the company has added 30 new drivers just in the past two years.
Over the past five months, Ramirez and Campuzano have hustled to secure a space for their company, which must include off-street parking, and get approval from the local community board, police precinct and a city council member — all of which must be done before the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission will issue the $1,500 livery base license.
So far, the pair has poured $40,000 in personal savings into the Manida Street office and a vacant lot across the street, which can hold 22 cars.
Though they hope to secure their license in the coming weeks, the possibility that a missing or misfiled form could derail their application looms over the process.
“If they deny us for the business, then we lose all the money,” said Campuzano, who owns another car service in the Belmont area, and is known by his cab number, “40.”
Once the business gets rolling, Ramirez said, he can apply the customer-service skills he honed as a driver to build a client base.
He mentioned a time, for example, when a young girl slumped into his car and began sobbing. She explained that she lived with her family in a shelter and Ramirez, though not much older than she was, comforted her, even giving her his number to call if she needed more advice.
They still keep in touch.
“Sometimes it’s not only a car service,” said Ramirez. “Sometimes it’s like a friendship you provide for them.”