Our View: Despite flaws in process, county’s Yampa Valley Regional Airport decision was right
May 4, 2013
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.