Amid complaints from local shuttle operators, the Atlanta City Council voted Monday to approve a deal with national firm SuperShuttle for service between the airport and Atlanta’s central business district.
The 12-1 vote in favor of the SuperShuttle airport contract marked a major step forward in resolving a four-year saga. SuperShuttle aims to launch its “shared ride” service in Atlanta later this year, taking customers between Hartsfield-Jackson and downtown, Midtown and Buckhead on shuttles shared with other travelers.
An interim operator has been handling the central business district shuttle service for the last four years without a contract, awaiting the selection of a permanent operator.
The airport’s attempt to select a permanent operator was stymied in recent years when it ran into problems and twice rebid the contract.
After the latest bidding process, small shuttle businesses that operate all over metro Atlanta said they were concerned that SuperShuttle planned to use the central business district contract to enter the Atlanta market and eventually expand to a much broader area.
SuperShuttle as a large international operation has competitive advantages including a national reservations system. It can heavily advertise its service and partner with key travel businesses to attract customers. It was also able to submit the highest-value bid for the work. Small shuttle operators said they think another process — to evaluate competing proposals with more factors than just the highest bid — would give them a better chance.
Council transportation committee chair Felicia Moore voted for the SuperShuttle deal, after noting that having the no-bid interim deal in place for so long generated controversy.
“I certainly support wanting to have small, minority-owned businesses to continue to operate,” Moore said. But she added that she had pressed for the city to get a contract completed and was “not going to be hypocritical” by voting against the measure.
It’s still possible for a losing bidder to file a formal protest of the deal, and Atlanta Airport Superior Shuttle & Limo owner Hayat Choudhary said he is considering a protest.
He said small shuttle operators are concerned about the impact SuperShuttle will have on their companies. “We’re thinking we’re out of business,” Choudhary said.
Council member Andre Dickens said he voted against the SuperShuttle deal because he’s “concerned about what happens down the line.”
“We want to be a place that fosters small business,” Dickens said.
SuperShuttle said in a memo to Moore that its business in Atlanta will be limited to the central business district and will not affect shuttle operators in other areas.
At the city council meeting, representatives for smaller shuttle operators raised questions about the qualifications of SuperShuttle’s minority partners. They also said they suspected inappropriate coordination between the main bidders.
“It smells funny,” said Vic Bolton, a spokesman for local shuttle operators.
But Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell said he has seen no evidence of collusion and that SuperShuttle with its minority partners, including Pro Entertainment Enterprises, was found to fulfill the city’s requirements.
“After four years of uncertainty, I’m just delighted that we’ll have certainty going forward,” Southwell said.
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