Hartsfield-Jackson head: Taxis needed, but business model needs change

Hartsfield-Jackson general manager John Selden said taxi drivers are facing stiff competition from Uber and Lyft, and he believes the taxi industry needs to change its business model.

“There will always be a need for taxis at the airport,” Selden said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think there’s a market. I think the market has shrunk.”

The frank comments to the AJC this week by Selden, who has been on the job since October, seemed to send a clear signal that the industry would have to adjust to the changing economy at the airport.

VIDEO: Clark Howard on smart ridesharing

He followed up later to say he had empathy for the challenges cabbies face with increased competition, but it remains to be seen if that will ease tensions with taxi drivers who have voiced frustration with hours-long waits for the chance to pick up a passenger at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The airport has a taxi hold lot that can hold 300 cabs, but the line of cabs waiting for a fare routinely exceeds that, sometimes with hundreds more taxis waiting to get into the hold lot.

“The demand is not there” for the volume of cabs, Selden said. He said he thinks a new digital app-based queuing system to enter the lot allows them to work in between airport fares.

The challenges taxi drivers face has come to the forefront in recent weeks. Taxi drivers raised concerns at Atlanta City Council meetings about their struggles making a living at the world's busiest airport.

Taxi drivers have spoken on their grievances about the airport as the council considered awarding a controversial curbside contract to a new vendor, MTI Limo and Shuttle Services, which has faced challenges managing the hours-long queues that taxi drivers wait in to pick up passengers.

After the dispute over a contract for the management of curbside traffic of commercial vehicles turned into a proxy battle in their larger struggle at the airport, the City Council voted to approve the contract this week.

“Drivers are suffering. The business is gone,” said Sharmarke Yonis, a taxi driver who represents cabbies, at a council meeting.

The curbside management contract has been held since 2011 by a vendor close to former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, A-National Limousine, operating as Curbside Management Services.

After extensive discussion, frustrated comments from council members and a series of votes over whether to delay the decision, the City Council voted 11-2 Monday to approve awarding the airport curbside management contract worth up to $7.6 million to MTI.

Voting against the measure were council member Michael Julian Bond, who had sought to postpone the approval, and council member Andrea Boone.

Next, the council is set to take up a measure to extend A-National’s contract for up to six months, pending the transition to MTI.

Among the concerns is the management of traffic for the Super Bowl in Atlanta in February.