Uber says fees transportation companies pay at Eagle County airport fees are too much and walks away
GYPSUM — An impasse about money will keep Uber drivers out of the Eagle County Regional Airport, at least for now.
Eagle County Aviation Director Greg Phillips said Uber and other ride-sharing services can access the airport, if they pay the same fees as everyone else, $1.50 per seat.
Uber spokesperson Taylor Patterson said that’s too much.
“For an airport this size, we feel $3 (per vehicle) is an appropriate amount,” Patterson said.
Ground transportation companies pay those fees each way, when they bring passengers into the airport and when they drive them away.
Negotiations with the ride-sharing service stalled with a fee of $6 per vehicle, said local Uber drivers, who said they were willing to split the $6 fee — $3 for the driver and $3 for Uber.
Patterson said $6 each way is too much.
Phillips said Uber did not make much of a counter offer.
“If Uber had come up with a rate we thought was acceptable, we’d have an agreement with them right now,” Phillips said. “This was not our decision. This was Uber’s decision. We offered them a fair arrangement.”
At $1.50 per seat, a company that owns an 11-passenger van pays $16.50 if it’s bringing passengers into the airport, and another $16.50 if they’re hauling passengers out.
Uber already here
Uber drivers are already working in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties, but are not supposed to operate in the airports. That may change in Eagle County, Phillips said, but not at the height of the ski season.
The Eagle County airport operates like a private business, collecting no taxpayer money and paying its own freight through fees charged to airlines, transportation companies, car rental agencies and other vendors.
As airport managers look at the future, they may rework their computer software and other systems to accommodate Uber, Lyft and similar companies, Phillips said.
But that will not happen in the middle of this ski season, and not without working with the transportation companies already in place, Phillips said. It may also mean smaller fees, to make sure everyone pays the same.
“As a business person this irks me, but in the best interest of our customers we may reduce the overall revenue we get from our ground transportation,” Phillips said.
Common sense, customer service
In the meantime, common sense and customer service will prevail, Phillips said.
If an unknowing passenger calls an Uber driver to take them to the airport, drivers cannot be expected to leave passengers nearby, forced to find yet another ride to catch their plane, Phillips said.
Aspen airport manager John Kinney said complaints are rolling in from other ground transportation companies about Uber trickling in. Kinney said he recently spotted a Tesla with an Uber emblem in the window.
Uber drivers will have to follow the same rules as other companies, something he said the Aspen airport staff will also address.
“It will require that we create a policy that provides a level playing field for all ground transportation providers,” Kinney said.
AlpenGo keeps going
Ken Hoeve owns and operates AlpenGo Mountain Transportation, a private company. Hoeve was at a recent meeting when airport administrators let local companies know that Uber would not be in the Eagle County airport, at least not now.
“I applaud Eagle County for looking out for their guests,” Hoeve said. “We are the first people they meet and see, and the last, and our impression counts.”
Guests to the Vail Valley have unique expectations, Hoeve said. Companies like AlpenGo try to exceed those expectations. AlpenGo is small, and if you ask Hoeve or his other drivers, they’ll drive you around and show you the elk, or horses in a pasture covered in snow, Hoeve said.
If it’s a side job like Uber, drivers tend to be in it only to make a quick dollar, Hoeve said.
“I love it when guests hug me before they leave and they don’t even know me. No one ever hugs their Uber driver,” he said
Hoeve drove a family from Mexico, six people who use his company every year. He knows how old their kids are, and he meets them with car seats, water and a fountain of local knowledge.
“You can’t get that kind of service from an app,” Hoeve said. “I get it. It’s a wonderful app and there’s a place for that. But there’s a place for us, as well, riding with a knowledgeable local. We know the mountain, the rivers and the people. Anyone can be an Uber driver. Not everyone can own a local mountain transportation company.”
Hoeve said he believes there are five “really wonderful and talented, educated and experienced private ground transportation companies in the valley. … I’m honored and privileged to be one of them.”
Eagle County’s airport is hardly the only airport that bans Uber and other ride-sharing companies. Ten of the nation’s busiest airports ban them.
On Monday, the Colorado Springs airport banned Uber from passenger pickups, although it also recently announced a deal to accommodate Lyft, a ride-sharing competitor.
Uber is a technology company that provides an app for your smartphone. Touch the app and it calls a driver who picks you up in their private vehicle. Uber insists it’s not a job, it’s work on demand and drivers work as much or little as they want to.
The minimum in the Vail Valley costs $10, because of distances and because fuel is 50 cents per gallon higher here than in Denver, say local Uber drivers. In Denver, the minimum is $5.
Uber takes 20 percent of what a veteran driver makes. If you’re a new driver Uber takes 25 percent, drivers said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.