Park City’s scrapped free-ride deal was in fast lane, mayor says
The polarizing agreement abruptly pulled off agenda
Park City on Tuesday night abruptly removed a controversial contract from the agenda of a City Council meeting on Thursday that, had it been approved, would have provided free rides covering short distances.
Mayor Jack Thomas requested the dramatic move after the agenda had been published. City Hall will not pursue a so-called microtransit service during the upcoming ski season. The City Council was poised to vote on a $680,431 contract with a Florida company called Downtowner App, Inc. A selection committee supported the deal with Downtowner App, Inc. over bids submitted by four other companies.
But the deal remained polarizing even after officials made alterations to the details of the service in an effort to appease locally based taxi and transportation companies that worried about competition. The mayor said in an interview he requested the removal of the contract from the agenda based on a desire to hold more discussions.
“It’s something I believe needed a lot deeper understanding,” Thomas said. “We were perhaps rushing into something.”
The mayor said the concept of a service has merit, but a more detailed process is needed prior to City Hall hiring a firm.
The removal of the contract from the agenda on Thursday eliminates the possibility a service will operate in Park City during the ski season. The deal would have covered six months and was seen as a pilot program. The service would have operated on an app-based system that requires someone order a ride and then be taken for free from a bus stop or to a bus stop. Officials saw the service as an extension of the fare-free bus system that has long operated in Park City and stretches into the Snyderville Basin.
It was the second time since the summer City Hall appeared to be on the cusp of finalizing a deal with Downtowner App, Inc. The earlier discussions with the firm ended with officials instead opting to make alterations to the desired service and then advertise for bids again. Downtowner App, Inc. was tapped to receive the contract after the second bidding process as well.
The $680,431 price tag soared from Downtowner App, Inc’s earlier bid of $358,727 as Park City officials requested a wider area of service. A start during the busy ski season also increased the price.
There was broad opposition from the taxi and shuttle industry as figures worried free rides provided by Downtowner App, Inc. would funnel away business. Short rides like those that would have been provided, they said, are important to the business model of taxis and shuttles.
Travis Gleason, a co-founder of Downtowner App, Inc., appeared at the City Council meeting, thanking City Hall staffers for their work and saying he was disappointed the contract was removed from the agenda. He noted the free rides would have been provided in environmentally friendly vehicles and said the service would have supported the municipal government’s transportation and green goals.
In a statement provided afterward, Gleason said the price tag “increased from the original program’s budget because it more than doubled the coverage area, fleet size and local employee driver hours. This increase in coverage area was at the direction of council to make the service more widely available.”
“There were a lot of misconceptions about this program, (its) goals and microtransit in general, over the past few months and it’s unfortunate that sometimes the efforts to make real change have to stop at just an idea. However, we hope to have the opportunity in the future to help transform how people move around Park City, and promote a shift towards an increased use of public transit,” the statement said.
Becca Gerber, a first-term member of the Park City Council who is seen as bringing a younger person’s perspective to the Marsac Building, will seek reelection this year.