Steamboat Springs Storm Mountain Express will have to wait until 2018 for its next chance to apply to Routt County for a license to solicit business from arriving passengers at Yampa Valley Regional Airport who don’t already have a shuttle reservation.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners said Tuesday that it is bound by a five-year contract renewed this year to preserve the status of Go Alpine as the lone Class One ground transportation provider at YVRA. The Class One designation allows Go Alpine to solicit fares from walk-up customers, not just airline passengers who arrived with a reservation for a van ride to Steamboat Springs.
“The processes we have to follow as government agencies are often not very satisfying to everyone, or even anyone,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “I think we’re stuck where we’re stuck. I think it remains an open question whether Storm Mountain Express is qualified to be a Class One service. Unfortunately, we won’t be prepared to determine that until 2018.”
Storm Mountain Express’ Michael Van Vliet said it’s the county that isn’t playing fair.
“I think the county’s being extremely unfair,” Van Vliet said. “I’ve been out there 16 years.”
Go Alpine and Storm Mountain Express each operate from desks within the airport, and both companies pay a percentage of their revenues back to the county. But only Go Alpine, by virtue of its Class One status, can solicit walk-up business.
Go Alpine’s one-way adult fare this sumer is $36.30, according to its website. Storm Mountain Express’ website reflects a $35 one-way fare.
Van Vliet acknowledged he was stuck in Denver during a storm in mid-February and missed a mandatory pre-bid meeting required by the county to apply for Class One status. Although he said he was aware of the meeting, he had been operating under a prior understanding with county officials that the process would be held after ski season and not at a time when resort transportation companies are the busiest.
The commissioners said Tuesday that they favor a competitive business climate, but they and county officials also said that during more than five years of discussion with Storm Mountain Express about its desire to be given Class One status, they have had doubts about whether the company has the regulatory permits needed to serve walk-up passengers.
Go Alpine has a federal permit and a state permit from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that allows it to operate a regularly scheduled taxi service. Go Alpine principal Lisa Adamo previously has told the Steamboat Today she loses money providing full taxi service in Steamboat Springs for most of the year and only recoups those losses and becomes profitable during the ski season, when her company is picking up passengers from the airport.
Storm Mountain Express does not provide dispatched taxi service in Steamboat. Van Vliet maintains that his company’s certificate from the U.S. Department of Transportation is sufficient to qualify it to pick up passengers lacking reservations at the airport. Attorney Charles Kimball made that case to the commissioners April 16 on behalf of Storm Mountain Express.
However, County Attorney John Merrill said after Tuesday’s meeting that the county is concerned about language in the certificate that gives it doubt about Storm Mountain Express’ standing to transport walk-ups.
Merrill said he is not certain how to interpret the language of the certificate as it pertains to Storm Mountain Express, and the contract for Class One service is written to put the responsibility for warranting the federal permit on the permit holder.
It is commonplace for local governments here to send requests for proposals from outside contractors directly to a list of known contractors as well as paying to publish legal notices announcing the process in Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Merrill acknowledged Tuesday that YVRA Manager Dave Ruppel did not reach out directly to Storm Mountain Express to let it know about the RFP process for Class One service at the airport.
“Frankly, I wish he had,” Merrill said.
Ruppel confirmed that he didn’t reach out to Storm Mountain Express. He said it was because of the county’s doubts about the status of the company’s permit. Ruppel said he contacted Go Alpine directly about the RFP because of its standing as the existing Class One provider.
The commissioners voted Tuesday to send a formal letter to Van Vliet confirming their decision based on the language in the request for proposals.
“The Class One RFP outlined the rights of the Class One, Class Two and Class Three license holders and clearly provided that only the Class One licensee would be allowed to serve walk-up passengers. ... You were free to request a restructuring of those rights before the responses were due,” the commissioners wrote.
“The RFP clearly stated that the pre-bid meeting was mandatory. You did not attend that meeting and you did not send a representative even though you admit you were aware of the pre-bid meeting before it took place. Finally, you did not submit a bid for the Class One license.”
The letter went on to say that it would not be fair or legally proper to modify Class Two license rights to please Storm Mountain Express.
Commissioner Steve Ivancie said his mind is open to re-evaluating Storm Mountain Express’ classification at the airport in five years.
“We very much appreciate the service Storm Mountain Express provides to the traveling public,” he said. “In the future, I would be open to looking at two Class One providers.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com