Shuttle wars at SFO - Page 2

Giant company wants to squeeze out locals

At SFO, SuperShuttle gets its own special pick-up spot, while other companies must share the curb

And the whole mess is getting dropped in the lap of the Airport Commission, which in the past has been very friendly to SuperShuttle.



When the new Terminal 2 opened in April, airport staff asked each shuttle company to submit a letter discussing how zoning should be organized at the new curb. SuperShuttle responded — and took the opportunity to push a topic it has been trying to get SFO officials to adopt since the early 1990s: limiting the number of shuttle companies allowed to serve SFO to no more than two or three.

Curwood says that of the airports SuperShuttle operates in, SFO is the most difficult for customers to navigate. In the letter, he proposed the solution of "a competitive RFP process [that] enables competition and improves the quality of service the customer currently experiences. The essence of the problem SFO faces is that it is trying to accommodate too many substandard operators at the jeopardy of the public's experience and safety."

Gil Sharabi, general manager of Airport Express, a yellow zone company his father started in 1979, told me that his company has a perfect safety record and is just as qualified to serve the public as SuperShuttle. Sharabi says that SuperShuttle is really aiming to eliminate local business competition.

SuperShuttle's corporate offices are in Illinois, and it serves 36 airports in the United States.

Curwood says it's unfair to make this about the big company versus the little guy. "When you see one of those SuperShuttles on the road, that's its own business. That's its own franchise. I want that to be clear because we talk about small companies, and in fact what we are is a franchise for over 100 small companies."

SuperShuttle may be made up of franchises, but the company itself is owned by Veolia Transportation, part of French multinational company Veolia Environment. Veolia is a Fortune 200 company with four divisions — water, energy, environmental services, and transport — and is the 34th-largest employer in the world. Its website boasts that it is the leading private water service provider in the world and the "No. 1 private transportation operator in Europe and North America." So much for the little guy.

Sharabi says that aside from monopolization threats, the real problem is the special treatment SuperShuttle is given by airport staff.

The current tricolor system began in 1993 when the airport tried to terminate space in the yellow zone. The issue went to the Board of Supervisors, which directed the airport to give yellow zone companies their space back.

Since then, the companies in the yellow zone have been forced to share their space eight ways, which means fewer customers for them. If each colored zone gets one-third of walk-up customers, a company in the yellow zone — if it's lucky — one out of every 24. SuperShuttle, on the other hand, gets all blue zone customers and can wait to pile in passengers, saving on gas and time. Furthermore, the eight yellow zone companies pay more of the third-party curb coordinator's salaries than SuperShuttle.



Ray Sloan-Zayotti of the local lobbying firm Public Policy Advocates, which has represented the eight yellow zone companies since 1993, said that by not making SuperShuttle rotate, "they essentially have a free billboard right outside the terminal — and they don't have to pay the fees the others pay to loop through the airport."

Sharabi said the situation at SFO is unusual. "There are even more shuttles at Oakland Airport, but no one complains there," Sharabi said. "It's because everyone over there is treated fairly — and that's all we're asking for."

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