An association of the largest airport passenger shuttle van companies launched an assault Tuesday against the Los Angeles City Board of Airport Commissioners, claiming that the lack of regulations and the proliferation of small, upstart companies has resulted in slashed profits and a chaotic curbside fight for customers.
Association members gathered at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday and urged the commission to stop licensing new companies and possibly banish smaller shuttle operations to different pickup spots to prevent poaching of fares.
"It's a free-for-all out there now," said Mitchell Rouse, chairman of SuperShuttle, the largest shuttle van operation at the airport. "There ought to be competition, but I believe it's in the airport and the public's benefit to have some balance here."
The Shuttle Van Assn. of Southern California, comprised of five firms, filed suit earlier this month against the commission, demanding a limit on the number of new shuttle companies. Their cause has been supported by some environmentalists, who say the lack of control over the shuttle industry has increased traffic and pollution at the airport.
City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores also has introduced a city ordinance calling for a moratorium on additional airport flights until a plan is devised to reduce airport traffic.
But the association's complaints were met with derision from several small shuttle operators, who said the shouts of "curbside chaos" were a smoke screen to hide efforts to squeeze out the competition.
"They're just trying to take over everything," David Regwan, owner of All-American Shuttle, said of the larger firms. "They put the blame on smaller companies, but we're just trying to survive too."
Breton K. Lobner, an assistant city attorney representing the commission, said that the association's claims that more regulations are needed to control traffic are unfounded.
"We get 2 million cars a month here," Lobner said. "From a traffic standpoint, the vans are just an infinitesimal part of it all."
Both sides generally agree that the dispute began about two years ago, when the airport saw a dramatic rise in the number of new shuttle companies, Rouse said.
The larger companies, such as SuperShuttle, had spent years building up their fleets and installing radio and computer equipment to provide fast, efficient service.
Rouse said smaller companies usually started without a dispatching network and survived by cruising the airport and taking customers at the curb. He said the smaller companies have an unfair advantage because they have little invested in dispatching equipment and scrimp on quality service.
Lobner conceded there were some problems with drivers badgering passengers, operating illegal vehicles, and packing their vans with travelers headed in opposite directions to maximize profits.
The problems reached their peak last year when the airport instituted a temporary moratorium on shuttle licenses, although the number of shuttle vans continued to grow from about 500 to 700.
Since then, the airport has started a new system in which all shuttle stops are monitored to ensure proper service.
The possible lifting of the interim moratorium is scheduled to be discussed by the commission today.
"That's what this is all about," Lobner said. "The expiration of the moratorium will cause increased competition and the industry does not want that to happen."