Some local taxi companies leery of one-company airport service
PAT KELLY / News Herald Writer
WEST BAY — Representatives from several local taxi companies expressed skepticism this week of plans by the Airport Author-ity to employ a single cab company for the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.
Lisa Rhodes, general manager of Checker Transit, which has operated in Bay County for 15 years, said a single company would have to deploy 100 cabs or more to keep up with the business, and no local company has that capacity.
“It doesn’t make sense to me unless it’s a very large company,” she said. Rhodes said her company, which operates 12 vehicles, would not be able to handle the airport traffic and continue to service customers throughout the county as well.
Wayne Hobson, manager of Yellow Cab Co., said allowing only one company to operate from the airport would create a monopoly. He wasn’t a legal expert, he said, but it sounded un-American.
“It just wouldn’t be right,” he said. “Personally, I think it’s a free market and people should be able to choose the company they want.” Hobson said Yellow Cab employs 25 people and operates 15 vehicles that meet airport regulations.
Airport Authority board members on Tuesday voted to develop specifications for a bid proposal for a single ground transport company for the airport, which currently lists 26 companies on its website that operate from the airport.
Members have not yet agreed on the specifications and have left open the possibility they could reject all bids.
One local transportation company owner, however, John Finch of Sunshine Shuttle, said he could adequately service the airport with 20 vehicles – as long as that was all they did.
“What you need is a small business owner who will make a commitment, who will focus on the airport as their one business,” said Finch, who has appeared before the Airport Authority board on several occasions pushing the one-company plan.
One of the reasons given by board members to advertise for a single company was customer complaints, but Rhodes said the Airport Authority “was trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“They (airport officials) have established a dress code, they have vehicle inspections, and they have the airport police as monitors,” she said. “That’s what I don’t understand.”
Finch said many of the “better” airports have gone to a single-company system because they “offer a better level of service.”
Airport executive director Randy Curtis has agreed that other airports – such as the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers – have single-company systems that could serve as a model for the Bay County airport’s bid specifications.
The Fort Myers airport has a single ground transportation company called MBA Airport Transport, which describes itself on its website as a joint venture of three different firms using a core fleet of 61 vehicles.
Rhodes said Checker Transit has already spent money making sure its vehicles meet airport requirement, and “our cars are washed every shift.”
“We feel we are being punished for other company’s mistakes,” said Rhodes, whose company, which employs 22 people, was one of seven taxi companies that serviced the old airport in Panama City.
“I think it boils down to they are not being fair to the residents of Bay County,” said Mark Grooms of Bay Taxi & Limo, which operates 12 vehicles and employs seven people. “We already got hurt because of the oil and loss of tourism. Our summer was ruined. All I want is for everyone to play fair.”
© Copyright 2010 Freedom Communications.
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