August 13, 2004
Airport shuttles

It boggles my mind that there are no airport shuttle vans outside of a few select locations in Houston. Thankfully, that may be about to change.

"Airport passengers look for this kind of service, and we don't have it," Houston Aviation Director Richard Vacar told City Council's Transportation, Infrastructure and Aviation Committee.

Of the nation's 60 busiest airports, only eight do not allow door-to-door shuttle van service, Vacar said. Two of those airports, Hobby and Bush Intercontinental, are in Houston.

Vacar said shuttles would likely cost half of what taxis charge to carry people because the shuttles can transport eight or more passengers.

Airport officials have made similar proposals since the 1980s, but they never came to fruition because of intense opposition from the city's taxi companies, which claim they would lose business to the shuttles.

Jerry Brady, president of Liberty Cab Co. in Houston, asked council members to approve his proposal to permit taxi companies to have vans that could carry up to 10 passengers when necessary, instead of allowing shuttle companies to operate at the airports. He said this plan would be more fair than giving "an exclusive contract" to shuttle companies.

J. Wellington Masseh, president of the Independent Cab Operators of Houston, told council members that the shuttle proposal "would drive many of us out of business."


Vacar said a consulting company hired by the airport system concluded that taxi companies would not be seriously hurt by shuttle services. According to the consulting company, Leigh Fisher Associates of Burlingame, Calif., taxis now transport 6 percent of the passengers at Hobby and 4 percent at Bush.

The introduction of shuttle services would reduce taxi companies' share at Hobby to 5.3 percent and to 3.2 percent at Bush.

Most passengers drive their cars and park at the airports, Vacar said. He said shuttles would help ease traffic congestion as Houston's airports continue to grow and get busier.

I agree that this proposal would put some cabbies out of work. I'll be sorry when that happens, but at the risk of sounding heartless, that's how a free market works. We don't have a free market in the airport-transportation business right now, and speaking as someone who'd never drive to the airport again if there were a viable alternative, we need one.

I have to say, I'm surprised it's not the private satellite airport parking lot lobby that's leading the fight against this, because I think they're the ones who'll take it in the shorts when a real shuttle comes online. 95% of people already drive and park, a proposition that's both annoying and expensive. Even at $20 each way, the shuttle would be cheaper than parking at Intercontinental for anything longer than a weekend trip, or at a satellite lot for anything approaching a week or more, at least for solo flyers. The only times we've ever taken a cab have been when we got someone to drive us to the airport but couldn't get someone to pick us up on arrival.

I'm rooting for this to happen. I'll be interested to see if Mayor White plays an active role. Seems to me this should fit with his overall "get Houston moving" theme. What do you say, Mister Mayor?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 13, 2004 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

Of course I'm in favor of this... anything that would improve on the currently nightmarish process of getting to and from the major airports would be good news... but how about (gasp!) genuine mass transit? for real, I mean, not the semblance they provide now?

If the city were to join a light rail from Bush (sic) Intercontinental to the lonely Red Line rail downtown, I'd almost never take a cab or a shuttle again, with the possible exception of getting home from red-eye flights. And by putting such a line in place, Houston could at last call itself a Real City. :)

That said, a door-to-door shuttle at a reasonable price would certainly alleviate some of the pain. Let's make it happen. Bribe the taxi drivers somehow, the way we bribed Metro's outlying service areas with road construction money in exchange for rail funding. Just do it. I'm tired of all the smirks... much deserved, IMHO... when Houston is mentioned by residents of real cities with real transit systems.

Posted by: Steve Bates on August 16, 2004 1:09 AM

how is giving shuttle companies exclusive contracts a "free" market?
a free market would be a lane anyone with a vehicle could pull up in and charge anyone whatver they could convince them to pay...
allowing shuttles and having shuttles compete with cabs may offer consumers more alternatives, but it's just offering another choice...not freeing anything...

Mike Switzer

Posted by: Michael G. Switzer on August 16, 2004 2:28 PM

Shuttles don't have the right to a free market when the Bush Intercontinental Airport System keeps ALL of the taxi drivers in a staging area that is about a mile away from the terminals and the airport system allows the limos and shuttles to have free run of the terminals. That is not a free market for the taxi drivers when the limos and shuttle drivers are stealing my pre-arranged trip customers away from me. How is that a free market? I have had numerous pre-arranged trip customers stolen from me by those limo drivers and shuttle drivers. That has caused me much grief from loss of money and my time. How is it a free market when the limo and shuttle drivers are stealing the taxi driver's customer?

Posted by: Yellow Cab Driver on September 9, 2004 11:26 PM