Mobility Commission reviews ground transit contract
The way the ground transportation scene at the Mammoth-Yosemite Airport was described at Tuesday’s Mobility Commission meeting, one would have thought Tom Cruise was visiting the Eastern Sierra every day.
“Everyone is crowding the gate when a flight arrives,” said Assistant Airport Manager Brian Picken. “There have been a few complaints about transportation providers actions, and price cutting among the operators. We need taxi stands to move the operators away from the gates.”
Picken was referring to the two local taxi companies, Mammoth Taxi and Mammoth Cabs, who often vie for solicitation business at the airport. The limo service present at the airport requires reservations and don’t need to have the cutthroat competitive attitude that the taxis possess to survive.
The real issue, according to Mammoth Taxi owner and operator Scottie Marzonie, who brought the item before Mammoth’s Mobility Commission, is an unfair business advantage.
“Having a choice at the airport is great, if someone is there,” Marzonie explained. He expanded his fleet about four years ago to ensure he would be able to send 4-5 cars to the airport for incoming flights to make sure everyone getting off the plane would get a ride.
On the other hand, Mammoth Cabs owner/operator Ruben Sandoval sends a car or two to the airport on a sporadic basis, interfering with Marzonie’s solicitation of customers when he does so.
Marzonie would like to see the Town enter into a solicitation contract with his business since he has made the investment of time and vehicles to make sure the airport is well stocked with transportation at every flight.
“We are looking for exclusivity for taxi solicitation,” Marzonie explained. “If Ruben has a reservation, no big deal [for him to go to the airport].”
Currently Marzonie feels he is spending money to service a contract he doesn’t actually have.
“It’s time to decide if my services will continue,” he said. “I will need to restructure if I do not receive a contract. I need to stay sustainable and currently as a company I am subsidizing this [service to the airport].”
Marzonie said a contract had been discussed in the past with former Airport Director Bill Manning. With Manning no longer working for the town, discussions have been left in limbo, which is why he requested the item be placed on the Mobility Commission’s agenda. “Horizon wouldn’t be here without a contract,” Marzonie said in comparison.
“A contract is not a good idea for Mammoth,” said Sandoval. “There is a need for all of us there [at the airport]. Customers should have a choice.” He used Mammoth All Weather Shuttle as an example. This provider can accommodate large luggage in his shuttle that often the taxis cannot.
Currently the four ground transportation service providers are Mammoth Taxi, Mammoth Cabs, My Mammoth Shuttle and Mammoth All Weather Shuttle.
A fifth, Rolf Knutson of Mammoth Shuttle, was present at Tuesday’s meeting and claimed he had stopped trying to go to the airport.
“I don’t sit down there and wait for the plane,” Knutson said. “There’s been some predatory behavior that I don’t like. But don’t forget me. Once or twice a month I do get calls for the airport when the other four companies don’t have availability.”
Sandoval used the price-cutting that occurs when his cabs show up as an example for why customers should have choice.
“I don’t change my rates,” Sandoval said. “Mammoth Taxi does. If I’m there it’s my rate, if I’m not, it’s higher.”
Marzonie claimed he was protecting the business he had invested in so much.
“Originally the use agreement said that ground transportation had to show up for all the flights, but they had to change it because I was the only one who had the capacity to do that,” Marzonie said. So it just became a “show up when you can” policy.
“Eighty percent of the flights would be left empty-handed if I wasn’t there,” Marzonie continued. “Ask yourself, ‘Who’s at the airport now?’ I am.”
Mobility Commission Chair Sandy Hogan was concerned that the issue needed more study.
“I think we need to continue with the use agreement for another year while we deal with the Town’s bankruptcy,” Hogan said. “Perhaps in the long-term we could go to a contract, but who knows, we may end up having nothing down there [at the airport] anyway.” Hogan was referring to issues surrounding air service subsidy and airline contracts going forward.
Mobility Commissioner Eric Wasserman, however, saw the issue from the business angle.
“Perhaps we can change the verbiage of the use agreement,” Wasserman said. “We should change it to say that the taxis can’t just go to the good flights, that they have to go to every flight in the summer [which is one per day], and at least four of the seven flights in the winter.”
Lauren Albrecht of Mammoth Cabs pointed out that they only have two cabs in the summer. “So we don’t always have a cab available to send to the airport.”
“So you would have to make a business decision of whether you are going to service the airport in the summer or not,” Wasserman said. “It would level the playing field.”
The other commissioners agreed with Wasserman and recommended that the Town continue to work with all four, ground transportation providers, but directed staff to work on the language in the use permit to incorporate a minimum attendance for flights. The Commission recommended that Picken sit down with the companies to work out the details.
While Marzonie seemed amendable to Wasserman’s idea, he ultimately seemed to leave the meeting displeased.
“Without a solicitation contract, you will see no cars when you get off the plane,” Marzonie said.
He was heard telling Picken as he left Suite Z, “I am restructuring right now. I will no longer be going to the airport.”