Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Airport board revises taxi regs

Drivers can use facilities, greet clients


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A study in contrasts: Two taxi drivers wait in front of the airport for passengers from a flight out of Los Angeles to disembark Monday afternoon. The Sun Valley Limo employee, left, would be in compliance with proposed regulations, while the other driver (who did not disclose his name or employer) could be cited for not having a properly marked vehicle or identifying his employer on his uniform. Photo by Willy Cook

Airport taxi drivers may not have gotten all they wanted, but they seem to have gotten what they need, including the ability to help customers with luggage, collect reservations and use the terminal restrooms.

Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird presented a revised regulation to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority on Thursday that attempts to address airport customers' concerns regarding taxi driver conduct and appearance while considering the needs of the drivers.

The proposed regulation sets a dress code and new standards for vehicle appearance, but also would allow taxi drivers in the terminal to use the facilities when commercial flights are not on the ground. Drivers would be required to leave the queue before using the facilities.

Airport regulations currently prohibit taxi drivers working at the airport from entering the terminal for any reason, including using the restrooms or snack bars and waiting for customers who have made advance reservations.

Baird said the regulation was meant to limit solicitation and give all drivers a level playing field when fishing for fares.

"We were finding there would be [drivers holding signs with] the name 'Smith' or 'Jones' in the terminal for three or four flights," Baird told board members Thursday. "It was used not as a reservation tool, but as a tool to outsmart the other drivers."

Taxi drivers, however, said they need the ability to collect passengers that have made advance reservations. Without this ability, they said, customer service is compromised.

"I've already got reservations for Christmas," said Miller's Limo owner Don Miller.

Miller added that for him, customer service is top priority.

"Day in and day out for two and a half years, we've been there for them," he said.

Miller and Sun Valley Limo owner Kirk Lindsey said they also needed to be allowed into the terminal to assist with luggage and to greet customers who have come to expect that service.

"There are A-list people, and there is a mother with three children who can't even handle her kids, let alone three sets of skis," Miller said.

Baird's solution, reflected in the proposed regulation, is to allow taxi drivers with advance reservations to leave their vehicles in specially designated parking spaces while they are inside meeting their clients. That would prevent drivers from remaining in the taxi queue while going inside to solicit fares using a false reservation sign, Baird said.

The proposal would allow clients to go outside and hire a driver, who would then be allowed in the terminal to assist with baggage. Otherwise, airport staff can help move passenger luggage to the sidewalk outside the terminal to be retrieved by drivers.

Lindsey said this solution would work for him and his clients.

"Ninety-five percent of those people do not need help with their bags," he said. "I don't think it's a major thing with every customer. If it's a guy who has three kids and a wife and they are in their mid-30s, he can go get the bags himself."

Lindsey said he was more concerned about the proposed requirement that taxis be clearly identified on three sides. He said many of his high-profile clients don't want the appearance of riding in a taxi at all.

"It might deter some of my customers from wanting to ride with me," he said. "They don't want no markings on the vehicles at all. To have it on three sides is kind of tacky."

The requirement stems from safety concerns and was requested by law enforcement, Baird said.

"If a vehicle pulls up and [the driver] claims to be a taxicab, as a citizen I would like to be certain that it's a taxicab," Baird said. "We're trying to make decisions that make service adequate for everyone."

Hailey Councilman and Board Member Don Keirn said he was satisfied with the proposal, even though some drivers may not agree with all provisions.

"You can't keep everybody happy," he said. "I think Mr. Baird is on the right track."

County Commissioner and Board Member Larry Schoen said the regulation seemed "overbearing and a little burdensome," but that he would likely approve a final draft.

"Obviously there have been complaints and you are trying to address them," he said. "We need to adopt the policy and see how it works."

The board suggested few changes to the proposals, and Baird said a final draft could be ready for a vote by the authority's September meeting. If the board approves the regulation, it could go into effect within 30 days.

In the meantime, Baird said, the airport would put the new restroom policy in effect as early as Wednesday. Lindsey said during Thursday's meeting that this welcome change couldn't come soon enough.

"If you want to know the truth, some guys are using bottles and cups out there," he said.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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