Our View: Despite flaws in process, county's Yampa Valley Regional Airport decision was right

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Editorial Board, January to May 2013

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Randy Rudasics, community representative
  • John Centner, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

Competition is good and should be fostered; monopolies are bad and should be prevented. So goes a fundamental tenet of the free market. If only it were that simple in the case of Storm Mountain Express’ desire to offer walk-up shuttle service for passengers at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

While Routt County may have been justified in its decision to stand by an RFP process that ultimately re-awarded an exclusive Class One service contract to longtime local shuttle and taxi service Go Alpine, county officials didn’t emerge from the process unscathed. Likewise, Storm Mountain Express owner Michael Van Vliet bears much, if not all, of the blame for missing out on a chance to bid for the Class One contract at the airport.

There’s a history of contention between Van Vliet and the county regarding Go Alpine’s status as the lone Class One ground transportation service in Routt County, but it’s not particularly relevant to the proceedings of the past couple of weeks. What is relevant is that the county, through its RFP process, created at least an appearance of bias by reaching out directly to Go Alpine to inform it of a mandatory pre-bid meeting in mid-February for the Class One contract. No such contact was made with Storm Mountain Express, despite the county knowing the company’s long-held desire to offer transportation services for walk-up customers at YVRA that only Class One carriers can provide.

It’s not unusual for the county to directly contact current and former contractors to inform them of upcoming requests for proposals, and we understand why county officials would do so. But that practice also exposes the county to accusations of malfeasance and operating an “old boys club” that favors certain private businesses over others. If anything comes of the latest dispute with Storm Mountain Express, it’s that county officials ought to revisit formal and informal RFP practices by all county departments.

Ultimately, however, the Routt County Board of Commissioners was right to award the five-year Class One contract to Go Alpine. Storm Mountain Express, which presumably has wanted a crack at the contract since the last time it was awarded in 2008, had five years to prepare for the next round of bidding. Instead, neither Van Vliet nor any other representative of his company even showed up for the mandatory pre-bid meeting, even though he was aware of it. Further, the county has legitimate concerns about Storm Mountain Express’ legal standing to offer regular taxi and shuttle services in the absence of a state permit from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Van Vliet argues otherwise, but that’s a battle he should fight with the state, not the county.

Comments

John St Pierre 1 year, 4 months ago

where there is smoke something is usually burning.... From the situation of new terminal construction without adequate water supply consideration...to essentially the county being forced into the food service business from poor planning...declining arrivals and now this monopoly situation... it would seem that the County needs to take a very hard look at the management and direction YVRA is headed.....

Perhaps it time for a "outside" independent set of eyes step in and examine the entire situation at the airport.

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Dan Hill 1 year, 4 months ago

There are two separate issues here. The first is the integrity of the RFP process. I've been involved in a lot of these including as a government employee and the golden rule is all communications should go equally to all interested parties. Everyone at YVRA knows Storm Mountain would be interested so they' messed up big time if you ask me.

The second is the monopoly nature of the service. What is the rationale for only having one provider of walk up taxi services? Why can't any carrier who meets certain criteria offer this service and let the market decide who wins and who loses? At the moment we don't really know if the consumer is getting good value for money. I know demand is highly seasonal but I've used taxi and limo and shuttle services at airports all over the world and Go Alpine seems expensive for a shared ride in what is effectively a bus!

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

I question the need of requiring personal attendance at a pre-bid hearing, especially during a blizzard. According to the County's logic then if Go Alpine had failed to show up then they too would have been disqualified. Disqualifying potential bidders for failing to attend a meeting that has no clear justification for being mandatory is bad policy. It is not like there is some critical need to verify the appearance of the applicants.

I also question why the RFP and resulting contract gives 5 years. Normally the government controlling a regulated competitive service allows new competitors once the new competitors meets the existing standards. A contract for a kiosk or such at the airport could be for years and so a new competitor might have a less convenient location at the airport. But it is close to madness to give one business a contractual promise of no competition for 5 years.

What if travel at the airport changes drastically and Go Alpine is not providing the level of desired service, but is only barely following the contract Apparently, the County would be stuck with the current contract, including not allowing any alternatives, until 2018.

Lastly, a 5 year contract when the taxi industry is being challenged and changed by technology was not wise. It is like signing a 5 year contract with a travel agency in 1995 to handle all travel. When anyone could see what was happening and that a travel agency was no longer needed to book trips. The technology of smart devices knowing their location communicating the need for a ride is advancing rapidly. The distinction between haling a taxi vs booking limo service is vanishing with people able to book and immediately get a ride. And both face competition from unlicensed ride services that will call themselves carpools or ridesharing, that gives rides with little notice.

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