Judge halts new Salt Lake airport taxi services for now
A 3rd District judge on Friday granted a temporary restraining order requested by Yellow Cab company, delaying Salt Lake City International Airport from implementing new taxi services until legal challenges on the fairness of the bidding process can be heard.
Judge Kate Toomey put the order in place until Nov. 7 to allow time for Yellow Cab to appear before a three-person panel on the legality of the bidding process. That hearing before the city's police chief, fire chief and chief procurement officer is scheduled for Nov. 3.
In ruling against Salt Lake City, Toomey noted that Yellow Cab would suffer "irreparable harm if it does not have a meaningful opportunity to exhaust its administrative remedies."
"A temporary restraining order is not adverse to the public interest," said Toomey. "It is of brief duration, taxicab service will not be interrupted, and while the court is cognizant that the city's elected officials represent the interests of the public, the public is also well served by permitting a matter of this nature involving the fair procurement of public contracts to make its way through the appropriate administrative process."
Toomey also scheduled a Nov. 7 court date to hear arguments on granting a preliminary injunction, which could put on hold the airport's plans for new taxi services until trial.
On Tuesday, the airport awarded contracts to the Cleveland-based Ace Taxi Service and Total Transit, headquartered in Glendale, Ariz. Beginning Nov. 28, those companies' taxis would be the only ones allowed to queue up to transport passengers from the airport or pick up riders anywhere in the city on demand, meaning no prior arrangements need be made.
Mike Pinckard, president of Total Transit said of the restraining order: "We are prepared to work through any delays and look forward to working with all parties concerned to reach an appropriate resolution."
Senior City Attorney Wesley Robinson told the judge that if the airport cannot implement the new services on Nov. 28, the city would be subject to damage claims by the successful bidders by as much as $80,000.
He also said the November date for new services "was not arbitrary. It reflects the heavy influx of out-of-town visitors as ski season begins. Changing [taxi services] in the middle of tourist season would hardly be consistent with the Council's stated goal of promoting a clean, modern image of the city to travelers."
Yellow Cab attorney Don Winder said the city violated its promises that no contracts would be awarded until after the company's appeals are heard.
Winder showed copies of two airport memos, dated July 12, and Aug. 26, stating that although the bidding process should go forward, contracts should not be awarded until Yellow Cab's protests are heard.
"Promises should be kept and rules followed," said Winder. "Two times the airport promised not to let the contracts while [the protest} was pending. There's a fundamental fairness that says let the other person know when the rules will change."
After Friday's hearing, Yellow Cab driver Santos Mendoza said the new contracts will put him out of work. He said although the new companies likely will be hiring, he cannot afford the fees those firms will charge their drivers, which are two to three times higher than what Yellow Cab charges its drivers.
In 2006, the City Council voted to terminate its longtime permits, called certificates of convenience, with Yellow, Utah and City Cab companies, according to the lawsuit. Despite business uncertainties, the cab companies continued to provide services for the six years until officials from the airport, who in the meantime were charged with administering services, announced on Tuesday they would terminate the relationship with the firms Nov. 28.
The panel deciding the winning bids was made up of David Korzep, superintendent of airport operations; airport finance director Janine Christiansen; Steve Marlovits, airport police chief; Mary Guy-Sell, mobility manager, Wasatch Front Regional Council; Tom Ward, deputy director of Salt Lake City's Public Utilities; Joe Lambert, general manager of Squatters, an airport tenant; and Allen McCandless, airport director of planning and environment.