When Freida Kantor was stricken with bone cancer in 1956, there was no way for her to get around and accomplish her everyday tasks. Simple things like getting to her doctor placed strains on her family to provide the transportation.
Max Kantor, Freida’s husband and a physicist at Cargill, recognized this as an opportunity. He was convinced this problem was not limited to his wife, and was most-likely an issue for hundreds of people who needed help to get around the Twin Cities. He thought that creating a company to provide this type of transportation would not only help ease strains on passengers’ families, but would more importantly make an immeasurable difference in those passengers’ lives.
From Freida’s unfortunate illness, came Handicabs.
Max Kantor convinced a group of five friends to invest in his new company. Handicabs hit the road in 1957 to provide transportation for physically disabled Twin Cities residents. The company was soon home to a handful of employees and a few accessible vans with manual wheelchair lifts. Max and his employees called an old gas station on Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis home.
Max Kantor and his Handicabs employees continued their tireless work of providing top-notch service to their disabled passengers. “Legend” even has it that when the IDS Tower went up in downtown Minneapolis, Max would demand drivers take their wheelchair passengers to the top floor (if the need be) via…the stairs.
With their compassionate work came a growing ridership and a need to move their home base in 1961. Their surroundings may have been different in north Minneapolis, right outside downtown, but the inside their new home base was familiar – another old gas station.
In 1983, Max Kantor’s son, Errol Kantor and his wife, Gretchen, became the sole owners of Handicabs. Shortly before they took over the business, they hired the woman who would eventually grow Handicabs from that small gas station with a half dozen vehicles, to something much, much more.
The Kantors hired Joyce Doerffler to manage the company’s everyday operations. It soon became Doerffler’s mission to make customer service the top priority for each and every employee. Hiring personable drivers and polite reservationists led the way for the growth that would come during the 1980s.
In 1986, Doerffler obtained the Metro Mobility contract through the state of Minnesota to provide paratransit service to those Twin Cities passengers who qualified for the service. She saw the opportunity to expand upon the spirit in which Max Kantor had started Handicabs back in 1957.
Later that year, Doerffler made Handicabs her own, buying the business from the Kantors, which had grown to 50 vehicles and 60 employees.
As the company rapidly expanded, Handicabs again ran out of space. In 1989, Handicabs moved to its current location at 1154 North Fifth Street. Doerffler built a modern office building with a maintenance garage and a separate parking garage…just a block away from where Max Kantor set up shop at his second location in 1961.
While she remained president and CEO, Doerffler’s husband, Harlan Peterson, eventually became vice president of operations. Their hands-on approach to management resulted in booming growth during the 1990s. In 1992, Handicabs maintained nearly 90 vehicles, providing more than 1,700 trips a day.
In 1998, Handicabs was one of the two Twin Cities companies selected for ongoing Metro Mobility service. While running the Metro Mobility contract, Doerffler and Peterson continued to provide private, agency service. The company totaled 220 employees, 161 vehicles and 3,000 daily trips.
January 1, 2001, the beginning of the new millennium, brought with it a new name. Transit Team Inc. became the company’s new name; however, the mission stayed the same – honoring every passenger’s needs for transportation with courtesy, safety and timeliness. That year, Transit Team was chosen as the largest Metro Mobility provider to date.
Just as the Kantors recruited Doerffler in 1982, she, too, hired someone to take on the majority of the everyday operations of Transit Team in 2009. With his finance and entrepreneurship background, Michael Richter took over as general manager of the company with direct responsibility for 280 employees, 180 vehicles and 3,750 daily trips.
Shortly after Richter became part of the “Transit Team Family,” Doerffler sought out his fiancé, Stacie Vasko, to join the management team. Richter and Vasko were immediately inspired by the service-oriented business that Doerffler and Peterson had built.
In 2012 (just a week before Richter and Vasko married), Michael and Stacie Richter bought the company, to become the third generation of family owners to carry on the traditions of Transit Team and Handicabs. Today, Max Kantor’s vision still remains the commitment of the Richter family, and will continue to be, for years to come.
As Metro Mobility ridership continued to grow at a rapid pace, so did the need for more drivers and vehicles over the next couple of years. By 2014, Transit Team’s Minneapolis location was busting at the seams. With more Metro Mobility vehicles on the way, and the private side of the business growing, Mike and Stacie set out to add a second facility.
Though it took longer than anticipated to find a place to fit their needs, Mike and Stacie closed on a second location in Maple Grove in the spring of 2016. The additional facility will enable Transit Team to have the space necessary to keep pace with a rapidly expanding fleet to meet ridership demand.