Park City-supported free rides could be end of the road for taxis
Companies worry about City Hall idea to offer no-charge transportation
A free ride offered by City Hall could be the end of the road for taxis in Park City, the owner of a dispatch service says.
As Park City officials consider hiring a transportation firm to shuttle people throughout the city and into the Snyderville Basin without charging a fare, there is concern that a service like the one envisioned by City Hall would take customers away from taxi and shuttle companies that charge for essentially the same service.
The municipal government is interested in tapping a company to provide transportation in cars that are fueled by electricity from one location to another, basically the same role as a taxi or a shuttle operating in the Park City area. Officials hope a service will cut traffic and provide environmental benefits. Numerous taxis and shuttles ply a Main Street route, particularly during the ski season, as they seek customers. They are regularly seen slowly moving up or down Main Street and then turning around at the bottom or top of the street for another run.
Diania Turner, the owner of Fastaxi, a dispatch service that serves several taxi companies operating in Park City, said in an interview a system like the one described by City Hall would be devastating to business. She said the industry already is encountering difficulty with competition from ridesharing firms.
“They might as well fold up their tents,” Turner said about the business prospects of taxi and shuttle companies if City Hall hires a firm to provide free rides. “It would ruin us. It would literally destroy the taxi services in Park City.”
Park City officials recently posted a document requesting proposals for a service. The deadline was Friday. The number of responses to the request was not immediately available. The City Hall document requesting proposals outlined various bid options starting with a base service centered in Old Town and extending outward into other neighborhoods. The service would be available every day from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. with an earlier start time of 7:30 a.m. during the ski season. Drivers could accept tips.
“Why would they get in a taxi if they can get it free,” she said.
Turner said up to 90 percent of the taxi rides in Park City involve pickups and drop-offs in the areas outlined by City Hall in the documentation. Trips to Salt Lake City International Airport, which are not covered in the documentation but are lucrative for the taxi and shuttle companies, are extremely infrequent, she said.
“Most taxi companies in Park City live off their taxi rides,” she said, projecting a service like the one described could tear away 70 percent the business of the companies that dispatch through Fastaxi. “It could crush them.”
Karaoke Cab, a five-vehicle taxi, shuttle and entertainment company, is also following the City Hall move to gather proposals. Michael Falk, the owner, said a free service might not reduce the number of vehicles in Old Town, as City Hall desires, since the taxis and shuttles will continue to seek customers in the neighborhood as Park City’s tourism industry thrives.
“They already have a free service – the bus,” he said, also noting that many hotels offer free shuttles to Main Street.
Falk, meanwhile, said a service would be “unfair competition” against the private-sector companies. He said several taxi or transportation companies plan to meet this week to discuss their concerns about the City Hall request. He said representatives from the companies intend to approach Mayor Jack Thomas and the Park City Council with their issues at a meeting scheduled on Thursday. The topic is not on the agenda, and the elected officials are sometimes hesitant to address a subject in any depth unless it is part of the formal agenda.
“It certainly could be on the road to monopoly if they continue to grow it,” Falk said.
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The Park City Council field is scheduled to appear together next week for the first time, gathering for a candidate forum that will be held as the primary election nears but also at a time when it seems the campaign itself has had difficulty seizing the attention of voters.