By David Warren
Like most entrepreneurs, I launched my small business knowing it would be a tough go. I founded Blue Sky Airport Parking in 2010, with the Valley stuck in recession. The land and infrastructure necessary to start Blue Sky claimed a huge chunk of my life savings. Our fleet of vans cost another $700,000. Payroll was a struggle, but somehow we managed.
Five years later, Blue Sky is still alive and kicking. It’s tough competing against the City of Phoenix, which charges rock bottom prices for economy parking at Sky Harbor Airport, but we manage. We do so by offering inexpensive prices, convenience and quality customer service. We’ve developed a fiercely loyal customer base — as evidenced by more than 20,000 fans on Facebook — and we employ 35 full and part-time workers. Blue Sky would be a terrific small business success story, except for one thing.
The City of Phoenix seems determined to destroy us.
I’m talking about the city’s proposed $6 ground transportation “trip fee” to be tacked on to every trip our vans make to Sky Harbor. This proposal will cost my business close to $500,000 annually — equal to our total payroll — and will be devastating to Blue Sky.
If last week’s front-page stories on the issue sounded familiar, it’s because the city floated the same proposal in 2011, using the same flawed playbook. As in 2011 off-site parking businesses were given just a few days’ notice before a public meeting outlining fast track recommendations for City Council. Our “feedback session” came the week before the holidays.
City staff showed a neat Powerpoint presentation and feigned interest in our comments. Fortunately, the Phoenix Aviation Advisory Board told airport staff to slow down. Hopefully that delay gives us time to make our case. Consider: According to the city’s paid-for study, more than 90 percent of airport traffic comes from private vehicles. Off-airport shuttles represent about one percent of traffic. Why kill businesses over such a negligible use of the roads?
While off-site parking lots create minimal traffic, we provide a valuable service – more than 8,000 parking spaces near Sky Harbor. If we go out of business, the airport will have to spend up to $200 million creating parking. The spaces and shuttles we provide cost the airport nothing. We aggregate vehicles reducing airport traffic at no expense to the airport. Frankly, it’s tempting to argue that the airport should be paying us.
Finally, airport officials support the trip fee proposal by pointing to other airports that charge such fees. Their study shows about half the airports surveyed charge no trip fees. Meanwhile, those that do — in airports that support far higher parking fees to the public — charge on average less than half the $6 fee Phoenix wants.
An airport official’s counter-proposal says a lot about what’s going on here. If we don’t support trip fees, he wrote, the airport would be “happy” (his word) to discuss taking a percentage of our gross revenues.
Phoenix city government has invested not a dime in our business. For five years, they’ve undercut our rates and used tax dollars paid by our business and our employees to advertise undercutting us. Now, having invested nothing, they believe they’re entitled to a piece of the business.
I’m not sure what’s more arrogant – the business-killing fees that have been proposed or the mindset of those who have proposed them.
Dave Warren is the owner of Blue Sky Airport Parking near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
To sign the online petition to protest these outrageous anti-competition fees click here.