In the fall of 2001, Carlos Cruz used almost his entire life savings to buy one 15-passenger shuttle and started his company, Blue One, as the sole driver. It was the day before the 9/11 attacks.
His first clients were a group of 15 British Royal Air Force pilots, who were practicing air tactics and maneuvers at MacDill Air Force Base when the World Trade Center twin towers fell. They couldn’t fly home.
“For a whole week, I would drive them to dinner, I would take them to the base and hotel,” Cruz said. “I would provide their transportation. We got to know each other after a week.”
The Royal Air Force pilots gave Cruz a large picture of a plane they used during their stay at MacDill as well as their embroidered cloth seal as a token of appreciation for his service and care.
Twelve years later, Cruz owns two large motor coaches, 19 vans, and four luxury SUVs and sedans. Cruz now also employs four full-time managers, 25 drivers and several office staff to oversee his business transactions.
“Only in America – I’m living the dream,” he said. “Every day I wake up with my passion for transportation.”
Blue One takes its passengers from TPA to their hotels, cruises, restaurants and other tourist destinations in and around Tampa Bay and then back to the airport, operating from 4:30 a.m. to midnight.
“Ninety percent of the work we do is generated from Tampa Airport,” Cruz said.
On Feb. 20, for example, Cruz and his drivers will begin the day by picking up about 1,000 passengers coming through TPA from Ohio for the 2013 Buckeye Cruise for Cancer, which raises money for cancer research.
Blue One drives about 10,000 passengers each month from TPA to various locations, Cruz said. The company also has contracts with eight major hotels, which promote the shuttle service to their customers and include it in their package deals.
Cruz focuses on providing premier customer service. He and his employees engage their customers by pointing out and describing the major Tampa landmarks and tourist attractions to them on their drives from one place to another.
Cruz was born in Puerto Rico and moved with his family to New York City’s Lower East Side when he was five.
He, his wife and three children moved to Tampa in 1989 to be closer to his wife’s family. He drove a refuse truck for many years and his wife was a nurse at a USF medical clinic as they raised their son and two daughters.
Cruz also drove a shuttle part-time to and from the old Ramada Hotel on Kennedy Boulevard to make ends meet during the early 2000s. He said he saw a big demand for his type of shuttle service when the cruise industry was picking up steam at the time.
“We had a big void,” he said. “We had families coming in, and taxis couldn’t handle all the luggage. There weren’t enough taxis to service the airport, hotels and cruises.”
This observation led Cruz into his own business venture, and it has been growing steadily ever since.
Cruz said that he named his company after a spot he frequently visited while a van driver for the Ramada Hotel, the commercial vehicle staging area on the east end of Blue Arrival Drive known as Blue 1.
“I would come to Blue 1 hundreds of times a week to pick up passengers, so I said to myself, if I ever started a company I would call it Blue One,” said Cruz.
He continues to work hard daily at his business, and hopes that he can share his success. His nephew Frank Navarro is the general manager of the company and Cruz said that two of his drivers have gone on the start their own transportation businesses.
“Every day is a challenge, but every day is wonderful,” said Cruz. “I found my freedom here in Tampa.”