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Salt Lake City airport passes over local taxis for out-of-state companies

Published October 26, 2011 2:10 pm

Critics ask why local bids not renewed, say rates will rise.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday passed over two longtime Utah taxicab companies, awarding contracts for on-demand services to two out-of-state ground-transportation firms.

The new providers, Cleveland-based Ace Taxi Service and Total Transit, headquartered in Glendale, Ariz., will begin service in late November, said Barbara Gann, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. The new contracts mean the companies' taxis will be the only ones allowed to queue up to transport passengers from the airport.

Five companies submitted bids, which Gann said were ranked in order of acceptability: Ace Taxi, Total Transit, Veolia Transportation — the largest private provider of multiple modes of transportation in North America — and two Salt Lake City-based companies, Yellow Cab and Ute Cab.

Proposals to provide services were ranked by a seven-member voting panel, based on quality of vehicles, driver programs, operational plans, experience, fees, financial performance and references, Gann said.

Don Winder, attorney for Yellow Cab, said winning bids were decided by how much the companies were willing to pay for the privilege of doing business in the city, with a minimum annual payout to the airport of $225,000 for a 150-car fleet.

The city will be terminating its on-demand permits to Yellow Cab's 145 drivers and the 78 drivers with Ute Cab. City Cab, with 45 drivers, did not submit a bid.

"This is a pay-to-play system," Winder said. "The airport has decided to kill three Salt Lake City businesses that have been operating for decades, and throw hundreds of drivers out of work. Putting all these people on the unemployment list during this recession is incredible. Government should be promoting businesses, not killing them."

Gann said that the new companies will offer hiring opportunities to local drivers.

Ute Cab owner Ken Olsen said he's perplexed why the airport "would go outside the state to find providers when they have qualified companies right here. What about supporting local businesses? Seems that in Salt Lake City, it's just a slogan."

Yellow Cab has petitioned the Salt Lake City Council to reconsider the bidding process, and councilman J.T. Martin said he will examine data to see on what grounds the contracts were awarded.

Airport executive director Maureen Riley said the winning taxi companies "have strong reputations in the transportation industry and offer an exceptional approach to full service transportation, including the needs of customers with disabilities."

She added that federal law prohibits giving preferential treatment to local companies.

The companies also will have newer and more alternative-fueled vehicles. Each vehicle will be equipped with external and internal cameras, along with electronic maps and back-seat credit card payment systems, airport officials said.

To comply with the new airport mandates, however, cab companies will have to raise rates by 40 percent, according to the Salt Lake-based consulting firm Wasatch Economics.

Higher fares will turn away many consumers, said economic consultant Theodor Tatos, who conducted the study for Yellow Cab. Although it's often assumed that added costs can be passed along to business travelers without repercussions, convention planners consider many factors, including taxi fares, when selecting cities, according to Tatos.

The winning contractor, Ace Taxi Service operates more than 120 cars and vans in the Cleveland area to hotels, businesses and schools such as the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Cleveland Public Schools and nursing homes.

The other winner, the Arizona-based Total Transit,operates 500 cabs and nonemergency medical vans in the Phoenix area and Tucson.

dawn@sltrib.comTwitter: @DawnHouseTrib —

New airport taxis

Contracts awarded to Cleveland-based Ace Taxi Service and Arizona-based Total Transit.

Permits to be stripped from Yellow Cab, Ute Cab and City Cab, all headquartered in Salt Lake City.

Contract opponents say fares will be increased.

New taxi services at airport and throughout the city will begin in late November.