Meet the taxi driver

Monday, February 01, 2010

Meet the taxi driver

Simon Byrne, 44, and his wife, Heather, 46, swapped Oxfordshire for Savoie in the Alps in 2003. Here, Simon tells us about his seasonal ski transfer firm that brings in enough to live on all year

We moved here with a completely unrelated business, where I worked all summer and did nothing in the winter. We hired Grand Prix tracks and organised motorcycle holidays around them. We started it in the UK in 1996. Then we realised it didnt really matter where the office was and we moved to Savoie, France, in 2003. We ran the business together as a couple, but my wife didnt particularly enjoy it. There was a lot of financial risk in laying out tens of thousands of euros to hire the track upfront and then put bums on seats and never know if we were going to make a profit. She lost interest, and I carried on in two minds, mainly because you cant go on for ever without hurting yourself, bombing round a track on a motorbike.

We got to know the local community, and they all complained about the poor ski transfer service. They knew I had a transport background and didnt work in winter and persuaded me to set up a firm. We transfer clients from the airports to their holiday destination and back a week later. We make enough to live comfortably.

It took about a year to get my vehicle transportation docket licence because of the red tape in France. Every time they came across a problem in Lyon [where it was being processed], theyd say, Your dossier was incomplete; Ill send you a letter, and that would take two months to come. Instead Id drive two and a half hours there to find out what the problem was. I know people where its taken a couple of years.

The season starts at the beginning of December when we start getting people for early snow, staff movements, and a lot of chalet owners inspecting properties before the season. I work around driver hour requirements, which are fairly limited were governed by EU working hours regulations, but I drive whenever I can.
It was just me and a minibus, now this season there will be five minibuses on the road. The regulations allow me to subcontract work out to somebody else that also has a licence, so I subcontract to people who work in the other valleys and also to local French guys who dont have much work. I give away 30 per cent of my work, which helps expand my business.

I think its important to work with the locals and socialise with them. Were in the Belleville valley, which is a very traditionally French valley, but I have colleagues in Mribel who dont speak a word of French.

We do 30-plus transfers on a Saturday; that takes a lot of organisation as each journey is two and a half hours long. During the week its not a problem as we only do 15 transfers. We do about 20 on a Sunday. I try to do all the midweek work. I will expand the business until we achieve a level where I can come off the road.

When we lived in the UK we used to come skiing at least three weeks a year. It was the main reason for moving. Last season I only skied for four days and that was only after Easter.

I had no idea how fantastic the Alps are in summer. Everybody works in the ski industry here, but theyve all been converted to the summer. Its very, very relaxed but theres still lots of activities mountain-biking, whitewater rafting right on your doorstep. Winter is absolutely manic; were invaded by thousands of tourists. We live in a traditional stone building with 1.4-metre-thick walls. Its been the mairie [town hall], a cottage hospital, the local school, and a nunnery. It had a warmth about it that we liked. We have one bathroom and one bedroom, but everything to do in the living space. We have driver accommodation downstairs. Weve fitted it out to a holiday-letting level so weve got our options open.
Leggett Immobilier:


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