The battle for a broom closet |

The battle for a broom closet

Don Rogers

The lawsuit attracts attention even as it keeps the ones being sued from speaking directly about the broom closet. In this case, the issue is “ground transportation” at the Eagle County Regional Airport. I know, I know. Yawn. Unless you need to catch a taxi, shuttle or limo. Or you are in the business. Or you operate the airport where 40 or so such companies and their drivers jockey to pick up passengers.The lone point of complete agreement is encouraging, though. The beacon everyone mentions is providing the best service.As new county Administrator Bruce Baumgartner put it recently during a tour at the airport, there are many sides to every story. Vail Valley Taxi co-owner Dan Booz would rejoin that there’s only one truth. But for outsiders, even that’s a bit slippery, given the “he said, he said” versions of accounts of alleged hijinks by airport and ground carriers in recent years. A few cameras might help with some of that in the future.If everyone in this tight little world truly focuses on best service for the passengers, you have to think it should be easy enough to provide that for the vacationers getting off their flights and into their shuttles upvalley.I mean, you should be able to get off your plane, pick up your bags and catch your ride without hassle, without waiting long, without being solicited, and without having to hunt for your driver.The airport should be able to set up ground rules that provide adequate access to the passengers for pickups without clogging corridors, and the right mix of services without unduly harming anyone’s ability to run their business.The rules should be fair, and they should be followed, with fair enforcement.Here’s an example: Concerns about clogging passenger areas with drivers, along with making two services’ booths inside the terminal worth the investment, had the airport management deciding this fall to put all the other shuttle services outside the terminal, confined to one exit.That might be pleasing somehow to the bureaucracy, but how would that benefit service to the many passengers who had made pickup arrangements with one of the companies tossed outside?Not surprisingly, there was an outcry following the announcement of the new rules. I’m not sure how these rules even got to the point of being announced. Even I could see this was unworkable.Weeks passed before I had a chance to walk the terminal with Baumgartner. By then, the airport’s management – the county – made an adjustment. Now one driver from each service picking up passengers can hold up a sign with their names in a small area on the way to baggage claim. Simple enough. Baumgartner, new this year, said he didn’t have all the answers, but his goal was squarely on providing the best service. This was one small step. Other changes could well follow. From a passenger’s point of view, it all looked pretty smooth that day. People seemed to be finding their transportation easily enough. Corridors weren’t clogged. Maybe it would make sense to able to walk straight out and be able to hail a taxi, but the side door and taxi parking lot at the small terminal didn’t look like too much of a burden to me.I went back last Friday afternoon to check on some of the Christmas rush. Overall, still smooth. Booz acknowledged the driver corral was an improvement, but he still wasn’t pleased. Booz has an assertive personality, even pushy. His co-owner, Cheryl Emmeluth, believes some of Vail Valley Taxi’s problems with the county have a root in bureaucrats being something less than fond of Booz personally. But he’s only standing up for his rights, she added.Their service has been around for nearly two decades and is the only taxi company in Eagle County licensed by the state Public Utilities Commission to transport people from here to anywhere in the state. They have a good record, offer prompt service 24-7 all year around, and get along with well everyone but the airport management, Emmeluth says. Rival High Mountain Taxi, based in Aspen, has a booth in the terminal but cannot take passengers from the airport any farther east than Vail Pass. Colorado Mountain Express, the dominant shuttle service in the valley, also has a booth. Another would-be booth looks like it is being used as a broom closet. That broom closet is the focus of the federal lawsuit filed with the district court in Denver. Vail Valley Taxi believes that they should have access to that space.The county accepted two bids for booth space and turned down Vail Valley Taxi’s bid, which came $10,000 short of High Mountain Taxi’s for the second booth.Baumgartner, while not speaking directly to the suit, went back to his days running Denver International Airport. Say a burger company gets a concession at DIA, he said. They will insist that allowing another burger joint in the airport will unduly harm their business. The airport’s interest is making sure there are enough burger joints but not so many that none of them can maintain a business in the airport, he said. That’s where these things become judgment calls, he added.Booz, and like thinkers, will tell you that should not be government’s concern. Let the market decide if a business operates well enough to compete. Besides, Booz insists, there’s plenty of taxi business to justify opening that third booth to Vail Valley Taxi.I oversimplify, I know. But if I’m the county and Vail Valley Taxi made a fair bid, I’d find another place for the brooms. Fending off even a “frivolous” lawsuit is going to cost the county – ultimately you and me – far more than opening that unused booth that’s already there. Besides, the chances are that the competition will only benefit those vacationers we’re trying so hard to serve. This issue, too, seems to have an easy enough answer if the beacon truly is providing the best possible service to the folks who matter most here. Move the brooms. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14600, or editor@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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