Park City taxi firms want brakes put on free rides |

Park City taxi firms want brakes put on free rides

Officials delay a decision on app-based car service

by Jay Hamburger

Park City leaders on Thursday tapped the brakes on a six-figure deal with a firm that would offer free car rides in the city, opting to delay a decision after hearing resistance to the deal from the taxi industry.

The Park City Council pushed back a decision on a $358,727 contract with a company called Downtowner App, Inc. A decision is expected at a meeting on June 29. The contract would cover six months and is seen as a pilot program that will be evaluated. Downtowner App, Inc.'s service would complement the free bus system. It would be an app-based service that allows someone to order a vehicle for trips of short distances inside Park City.

The service, employing four vehicles that run on electricity, would be free to users and reach deeper into neighborhoods than the bus system. The Downtowner App, Inc. service would stretch outward from Old Town to neighborhoods like Prospector, Thaynes Canyon, the Aerie and Bonanza Park.

Representatives of the taxi industry on Thursday expressed deep concern about the Downtowner App, Inc. service, saying it would hurt business at a time when the industry is already under pressure from competition created by the rise of ride-sharing services like Uber.

Jack Fenton, the owner of the Ski Town Express airport shuttle and taxi service, said the elected officials should support Park City-based transportation firms. Downtowner App, Inc. is based in Florida. He said City Hall is undermining the local taxi industry. Fenton also said traffic would increase in neighborhoods under the service since the Downtowner App, Inc. vehicles must drive in and out of a neighborhood to drop someone off.

"Each ride doubles traffic in the neighborhood," he said.

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Another figure from the taxi industry, Michael Falk, the owner of Karaoke Cab, predicted the Downtowner App, Inc. drivers will take passengers outside the zones that would be covered in a contract with City Hall.

"It's taking our livelihood away, period," Falk said, adding, "This is a taxi, plain and simple."

Others from the industry told the City Council short taxi rides are important to the business model of a taxi company, there was not enough time for local companies to craft a bid for the City Hall contract and the service will not reduce traffic, one of the goals of City Hall, since many of the rides will have only one passenger in the vehicle.

Josh Hobson, a City Council candidate, though, said the Downtowner App, Inc. contract is a "bold idea." He expressed concern that the service would end too early at night. Information released by City Hall indicates the service would stop at 11 p.m.

Another City Council candidate, Mark Blue, also provided input, questioning the potential City Hall move to finalize a contract with Downtowner App, Inc.

"Why do you want to get in the taxi business," Blue said.

He also described that Park City has a top-tier bus system and perhaps transit should be re-evaluated. Blue noted that the Downtowner App, Inc. service would put vehicles on the road.

"You're adding more cars to the problem. Fix the bus system," Blue said.

The elected officials were not prepared to make a decision although the contract was on the agenda for authorization. City Councilors opted to delay a decision with the intent of conducting more talks with the taxi industry. There have been tensions between the taxi industry and City Hall in recent years as ride-sharing firms became more popular, including concern in the industry when the municipal government allowed Uber to occupy a parking lot along Swede Alley during the Sundance Film Festival in 2016.

Andy Beerman, a City Councilor, said Downtowner App, Inc. is not intended to compete with the local industry. He described the service as an expansion of the transit system that targets Parkites rather than visitors who use taxis. City Councilor Becca Gerber said she wants repercussions if Downtowner App, Inc. drivers take people outside the specified neighborhoods.