Take Uber in Park City, get lost in mountains?
Jack Fenton’s Ski Town Express airport shuttle and taxi service will spend the Sundance Film Festival competing with Park City’s other transportation companies as well as Uber.
Fenton’s firm consists of just one person, himself, and just one vehicle, a Chevy Astro van. His van is recognizable by a bumper sticker he designed for festival week that pokes fun at the competition from Uber, which is an official Sundance sponsor. "Get lost in the mountains," the bumper sticker says. "Take Uber."
Fenton had 50 of the bumper stickers made. He plans to distribute them to locally based taxi and shuttle drivers during what is typically the busiest time of the year for the drivers. The bumper stickers, even with a seemingly lighthearted message, illustrate the uneasiness between Uber and the traditional taxi and shuttle firms in Park City.
"On the busiest week of the year, the city has sabotaged the local taxi companies by enabling Uber," Fenton said in an interview.
Fenton has lived in the Park City area for 35 years, now residing near Kimball Junction, and started Ski Town Express three years ago. During Sundance, he said, a common fare is $20 inside Park City and $35 from Park City to Kimball Junction. The prices are upward of $5 higher than during other parts of the ski season, he said. The festival is critical to Ski Town Express, perhaps bringing in $5,000 in fares over the 11 days of Sundance, according to Fenton.
Park City’s taxis and shuttles in recent months have become leery of Uber, questioning issues like licensing and whether the Uber drivers are familiar with Park City addresses. Fenton said Uber drivers might not have a detailed knowledge of Park City roads, saying, as an example, experienced taxi drivers use shortcuts around high-traffic roads like Park Avenue.
The concerns seemed to increase as Sundance approached and an agreement between City Hall and festival organizers involving Uber was finalized. Under the terms of the agreement, the flagpole lot on Swede Alley was set aside for Uber drivers as they wait to be dispatched to pick up passengers.
Park City officials see the Uber operation in the flagpole lot as something that will cut traffic on Main Street and reduce the number of idling vehicles. There is also a Uber tent at the location. The official Sundance sponsorship made it possible for Uber to occupy the flagpole lot. The agreement is priced at $17,500 in fees and a damage deposit.
A City Hall report that was drafted in anticipation of a Park City Council vote on the matter indicated there were between 150 and 200 Uber drivers in the city during Sundance in 2015 and there could be more this year based on the growth of the company.
Fenton said the agreement is "making it easier on this multinational organization."
"The film festival is all about independent films. We should be embracing independent taxi services as well," Fenton said.
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