Reversing Course, DIA Decides Against Equitable Permitting for All Taxi Companies

Abdi Buni
Green Taxi is one of seven cab companies currently licensed to operate at DIA.
Officials at Denver International Airport have changed their minds about evenly distributing airport permits among Denver's seven licensed cab companies. They had previously determined that each cab company would receive 36 airport permits starting April 1, reducing the number of taxis at the airport from 321 to 252 per day. Under the new guidelines, which were released early Wednesday afternoon, just days before the even distribution would have occurred, companies with more than 36 permits will retain that amount, while companies with fewer than 36 will be upgraded to exactly 36. The number of permitted taxis per day will increase from 321 to 380.

“The reason for that is that we did obviously hear from the larger companies about the detrimental impact that would have to their company to just cut their numbers so dramatically and quickly,” says DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery. “So that's why, in the immediate interim, we're going to take this step. What that does is, it gives us more taxis than we need, which is the original problem that we had.”

Abdi Buni, the president of Green Taxi, was disappointed to receive the phone call Wednesday informing him of the change of plans. “It's not fair,” Buni says. “It's not fair, because we have over 350 vehicles, and we are being told, hey, you can have 36 [permits at the airport]. ”

Currently, Metro Taxi has 97 permits, Yellow Cab has 59, Freedom has fifty, Union has 45, Mile High has thirty, and All Cities and Green Taxi have twenty each. Buni says this doesn't accurately reflect the current cab landscape in Denver. He says he knows he has bigger fleets than Mile High, Union and Freedom Cab, all of whom have far more permits than Green Taxi. “Somebody who only has forty cars, to have fifty spots at the airport, that is really not going to do any good,” Buni says.

click to enlarge Abdi Buni, president of Green Taxi, believes all taxi companies should have an equal chance for fares at DIA. - ABDI BUNI
Abdi Buni, president of Green Taxi, believes all taxi companies should have an equal chance for fares at DIA.
Abdi Buni
Buni has been fighting for more airport permits for his drivers for the better part of a year. The main reason he's been unsuccessful, he says, is because officials at the airport didn't want to add more taxis to an already congested space. “All this time from July until now they have been telling us, hey, we do not want to distribute more because it's too many, and then here we go, another 100,” Buni says.

Montgomery says the new measure is temporary and doesn't fix the overall problem of having too many taxis at the airport. The long-term plan, he explains, is to have a preferred contractor take over taxi duties at the airport. This would give the airport more control of taxi operations. “I think, for a variety of reasons: quality control on vehicles, driver background checks, a whole number of branding experiences, and just sort of overall passenger experience, we think that having a contracted service makes a lot of sense, and so that's the road that we're going down.” But it will inevitably squeeze some cab operators out, and Buni fears Green Taxi may get the boot.

“We know who's going to get it,” Buni says of the potential DIA contract. “The little guys will be kicked out."

Montgomery insists that the process of choosing a preferred contractor will be completely open and unbiased. “None of that is a foregone conclusion at all," he adds. "There are a large number of factors that would go into a [permanent contractor] that would go out to the street.... There are opportunities for joint ventures. We see that happen all the time in our concessions world, where smaller companies will partner with larger companies because they have expertise or certifications that the larger ones don't. So there's a lot of opportunity out there, and it is by no means a foregone conclusion on who would be selected for something like that. It is truly a competitive and transparent process.”

Buni isn't convinced. He's worried that his drivers are already outnumbered at the airport, but he's more worried about the future. “We have no shot. We will run out of business, because that is a portion of our business. We do make a living out of the airport.”