State regulators stepped last week into a 2-year-old battle between operators of buses and cabs serving Los Angeles International Airport and the upstart SuperShuttle vans, rendering a decision that significantly strengthens SuperShuttle's competitive position.
The Public Utilities Commission gave SuperShuttle International, the privately owned, Los Angeles-based parent organization, the right to operate around the clock and begin picking up passengers at the same luxury hotels previously served exclusively by cabs and the airport buses operated by Airport Service Inc.
That action scarcely pleased Anaheim-based Airport Service Inc. However, ASI President Don Boyles said a decision on whether to appeal the ruling would have to await study of the full text of the commissioners' order, adding: "It sounds like they have opened the doors to them now."
SuperShuttle quoted a rate of $10 from the downtown Bonaventure to LAX, compared to $6 for ASI's full-size buses, which operate on a fixed schedule at about 30-minute intervals.
The PUC decision capped a relatively good couple of weeks for SuperShuttle and its fleet of 80 blue-and-gold vans. For fixed tariffs of $10 and $15, these vans now are free to shuttle passengers door-to-door between much of the Los Angeles Basin and Los Angeles and Long Beach international airports and the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Earlier, on Sept. 27, the company took over the old Luxor Van franchise and began carrying passengers, for $7, between San Francisco International Airport and San Francisco.
The move into Northern California represented a first step in a plan to serve the three major Bay Area airports and their surrounding communities, said President Mitchell Rouse. SuperShuttle expects eventually to spread its service to other Western cities and one day become a national ground-transportation company--probably by franchising existing services in the manner of major rent-a-car companies, Rouse said.
SuperShuttle found that last week's news from the PUC wasn't all good, however. In addition to increasing SuperShuttle's operating authority, the commission decided to seek civil fines totaling $15,000 for violations of its temporary operating authority going back to 1983. Rouse attributed the violations to start-up mistakes long since corrected, which the commission acknowledged.
The PUC had cited the company for providing service outside its authorized area, improperly leasing vehicles to its drivers and, in at least one instance, approving discounts for tickets sold through a travel agent. The commission also noted allegations that SuperShuttle had improperly solicited passengers at LAX, in violation of airport rules, and directed its staff to determine "whether this is a problem."
Under its temporary authority, SuperShuttle was allowed to operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and was effectively forbidden to pick up passengers at points served by the buses of Airport Service Inc. ASI had sought to limit the newcomer's operations at the hotels on its route, but the PUC called this "an unreasonable restraint on competition and not in the public interest."
In addition, two cab cooperatives had asked the PUC to find the company "unfit" to provide further service. But the PUC instead opted to seek the $15,000 in fines, explaining: "We are mindful that our first obligation is to the traveling public who would be ill-served, in our view, by restricting or eliminating one of their choices of transportation. . . . "
Rouse said SuperShuttle carries 55,000 passengers a month. "This was strictly intra-carrier battling," he said of the two-year bout before the PUC. "There wasn't a heck of a lot at issue with whether the public liked the service or whether it was good service."