23 Jan Up Close & Personal With Jonny Goldstone MD and Original Co-Founder of Green Tomato Cars
I caught up with Jonny Goldstone, the MD of Green Tomato Cars – London largest green taxi company to talk about his lifestyle and what makes the business so successful.
LM: Tell us a little about Green Tomato Cars?
Jonny: We are London’s original and largest green taxi company, providing environmentally friendly and people friendly transport in and around London, through our fleet of hybrid or zero-emission cars. We provide private hire cars for businesses or for individuals, at affordable rates and have a team of highly skilled, friendly drivers. As well as being green, we are also a highly ethical company, putting people at the centre of our business, investing in training for our staff and drivers and working with local charities and communities.
LM: Where did the name come from and how was the brand Green Tomato Cars created?
Jonny: I started the company in 2006 with my Cambridge university friend Tom Pakenham, as we believed passionately that there was a need for an affordable, high quality green private hire business to serve Londoners. We started in west London with just four cars and grew rapidly. The name was a happy accident – we asked a friend for a suggestion and he’d recently watched the film Fried Green Tomatoes, so he suggested that. We told him that was ridiculous so he said: “What about just Green Tomatoes?” By the time we were ready to start trading, we’d grown used to the name and received such a positive reaction, it stuck.
LM: Green Tomato Cars is London’s first environmentally friendly minicab service. How does this make you feel?
Jonny: We’re really proud of everyone who has made it the success it is. From all our customers – large corporates to private individuals – who have championed what we’re doing and spread the word; to all our staff who works so hard to provide the service we do, and engage with our ethical ethos; and most importantly, our drivers, who have always been the face of our business.
It’s amazing when you think back to when we started – people didn’t understand hybrid cars and would ask if a Prius could go on the motorway or over 30 mph. Now over half of all minicabs in London are Toyota Prius – we’re thrilled to have led that change, all the more so when you think about the reduction in emissions compared to those cars that are less fuel efficient.
LM: What’s your personal definition of luxury?
Jonny: I don’t define luxury by what something costs, but by how it makes you feel. Relaxation, peace of mind, physical comfort and wellbeing are the key for me. A stroll in the park, or a coffee reading the paper, can be as luxurious as a fancy meal or exclusive clothes.
LM: What are your passions away from Green Tomato Cars?
Jonny: For myself, I love cooking and photography and eating delicious food in the company of my family and close friends. I’m also passionate about access to education, as I believe it’s the greatest opportunity to increase equality and wellbeing. I’ve volunteered as a school governor and help out at my own children’s school quite a bit too. We had a driver at Green Tomato Cars, Eric, who set up a school in Ghana with his wife – we helped them set up a charity and raise significant funds to grow the school. There’s nothing more uplifting than helping someone realise their dreams.
LM: What are your top three favourite travel destinations?
Jonny: The Lake District, where my family always meets up over Christmas week. It’s great to know, whatever else happens in the year, we’ll be together to enjoy the great outdoors as well as good pies and ales! South America is also very close to my heart, both because my wife and I honeymooned in Argentina and Brazil, and because I’ve never met happier or friendlier people than there.
LM: Where would you like to travel next?
Jonny: I’ve never been to Rome, Berlin or Santiago de Compostela. There is so much I’d love to see and learn in all those places – and hopefully I’d have the energy to enjoy the nightlife a bit too.
LM: At Green Tomato Cars you plant almost 200 trees a year in locals parks as part of your Trees for Cities Partnership. Tell us a little more about this initiative.
Jonny: We have a partnership with Trees for Cities, planting trees across London. The trees are planted in London parks, and as well as the obvious environmental and aesthetic benefits, staff also get to volunteer to help with the planting – which makes for plenty of sociable fun and a great chance to get to know London better.
LM: I am told at Green Tomato Cars if you transport a mother in labour to the hospital you plant a tree and name it after the baby? How did you come up with this concept and how many trees have you planted and named so far?
Jonny: This is something we came up with in the earliest days of Green Tomato Cars. We heard wonderful stories back from new parents who’d used Green Tomato Cars to get them to a hospital when the mother-to-be went into labour. We wanted to do something to celebrate the occasion, and the concept of planting trees fits perfectly with the ideas of new life and environmental responsibility. Last time I checked, we’d planted about 30 trees – primarily in the Caledonian forests – each paired with a certificate to the proud parents. People reading this in years to come might even get to visit their own tree!
LM: How do you choose your vehicles so they are not damaging the environment? What are the criteria used to select a Green Tomato Car?
Jonny: We operate up to 600 vehicles at any time. Two-thirds of our fleet are Toyota Prius and the balance is made up of zero-emission vehicles including the Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Ioniq and Tesla S, and some clean diesel technology executive cars and people carriers. Our criteria for vehicle choice are simple – the least polluting vehicles that do the job. Of course, we have to balance cost and operational issues, hence not having a full fleet of Teslas. In terms of diesel, we started using these because we needed to offer a people carrier and executive car solution as well as our classic Prius, but there were no suitable hybrids. So we ran some diesel vehicles using bio-diesel from recycled cooking oil, which was a great fit ecologically. Unfortunately, the vehicles we used weren’t up to the job in terms of their robustness, so we had to move to a more conventional diesel option – albeit using clean diesel technology. However, we’ve now resolved to move away from diesel altogether. We will be de-fleeting all our diesel cars over the course of 2018 and be replacing them with zero emission or hybrid equivalents.
We were the first taxi company in Europe to take on two Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell cars, which only emit water from the tailpipe. We’ve been delighted with these cars and in fact, we’ve just reached a milestone as one of our Mirais has just clocked up 50,000 miles of fault-free service on London’s streets. In two years on the road, the car has proved utterly reliable and has produced no polluting emissions. In fact, the only by-product from Mirai’s onboard electric power generation system has been pure water – around 6,450 litres, or enough to fill more than 80 domestic bathtubs.
LM: What makes a Green Tomato Cars driver and why are they so integral to the company?
Jonny: We are really proud of our family of drivers and the quality of the service and the attention to detail they show every day. They are the face of our business and we respect them as such. Driver recruitment is a very thorough process that includes a comprehensive interview, reference checking and then an induction programme. Only those with the highest standards are taken on to drive for us. Telematics devices are fitted in our vehicles and these provide constant visibility and feedback on driving standards. This not only enables us to offer a better, safer passenger journey but also allows us to tailor training for the drivers’ on-going personal development. Many of our drivers have been with us for more than 5 years, and some have gone on to work in our office and management teams. One of our drivers won the UK Private Hire Driver of the Year award in 2014 – we’ve won cabinets-full of awards over the years, but that was the single proudest moment for Green Tomato Cars.
LM: Do you have any celebrities or VIP’s that use Green Tomato Cars ethical service? If so, who has recently been in the back of a Green Tomato Car?
Jonny: Yes, we are delighted to have many celebrities and VIPs among our frequent travellers. It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to name names, though many of them now pose for selfies with some of our drivers because they’ve had such a great experience.
LM: Tell our Luxurious Magazine readers why they should use Green Tomato Cars? And what makes Green Tomato Cars so special?
Jonny: By using Green Tomato Cars, you’ll not only have an enjoyable ride at a sensible price, you’ll also have the knowledge that you are helping to reduce harmful emissions in our beautiful capital city. You’ll know that your driver is earning decent money and that the car they are driving is well maintained. You can work on the move, as all our cars have complimentary wifi – just use the password “ilovefreewifi”. You can book by phone, online or by using our app and you’ll even enjoy the status notifications letting you know that “Your chariot awaits”. That’s us – professional, but not boring. Last but not least, it might even be one of our Teslas or Hydrogen Fuel Cell Mirai’s that comes to pick you up. And whatever the car, you’ll know you’re travelling with the most originally named service in town!
LM: You have been involved in a number of charitable projects. Tell our Luxurious Magazine readers a little more about your charitable programmes and why they are so important to you?
Jonny: We’ve worked with a number of charities, which are always close to our hearts, whether for personal reasons or because of a London or environmental focus. Every year we do bake sales for Macmillan Cancer Research (the quality of some of the Green Tomato baking is second to none!) and we’ve sponsored organisations as diverse as the London Air Ambulance and the school in Ghana already mentioned, set up by one of our pioneering drivers. More recently we’ve worked with MIND mental health charity and some staff ran a marathon for Great Ormond Street Hospital.
LM: Green Tomato Cars plans to upgrade its fleet to exclusively zero emissions and hybrid vehicles by the end of 2018. Are you on track for this to happen and what other exciting future plans for Green Tomato Cars can you share with our Luxurious Magazine readers?
Jonny: Yes absolutely, we’re on track to have a fleet that is exclusively zero emissions and hybrid vehicles by the end of 2018 and we expect it to be the largest zero-emission private hire fleet in Europe by the end of the year. We’re constantly trialling the latest, clean vehicle technology, as well as some innovative transport concepts in and around London. We’ll have more to say soon.