Shortage of cabbies hits Aspen |

Shortage of cabbies hits Aspen

Charles Agar
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” It’s hard to keep employees in Aspen, but when the ranks of local cabbies thin out, airport ground transportation suffers, according to members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

And as part of a recent customer service push, ACRA officials are looking for solutions to long waits for airport ground connections.

“What we are realizing is once [visitors] get off the plane, there are times they are waiting 45 minutes to an hour for service,” ACRA President Debbie Braun said. “The guest experience is not what we wanted it to be.”

Working with officials from the airport, local reservation agencies, and local cab and limousine companies, Braun is hoping to improve ground connections to make it a more “seamless guest experience.”

“We’re just short of drivers. That’s our biggest issue,” said Todd Gardner, owner of High Mountain Taxi, which is down 10 drivers from its usual staff of more than 40.

His employee woes are not unique, Gardner said, as companies in much of the Roaring Fork Valley struggle to keep staff from the siren song of high-paying jobs in construction or in the oil and gas industry.

“It’s more of a problem this year than it has been,” Gardner said, adding that he has plenty of vehicles ” about 35 taxis ” just not enough drivers.

“We are working with ACRA to try to get drivers,” Gardner said, which includes hanging a sign on his company’s offices and posting ads wherever he can ” in local papers, on the ACRA website and even on Craigslist, an online classified page.

“The more drivers we can put on the road, the better service we can offer,” Gardner said.

But that isn’t easy.

“The worker bees are being pushed farther and farther downvalley,” Gardner said. “I have drivers that drive from Rifle and come up here and drive a taxi.”

And with competitive jobs elsewhere, Gardner said, “There’s less incentive to come up here to work. It’s sometimes a tough sell.”

To drive a cab in Aspen, an employee must be 21-years-old with a valid Colorado driver’s license and a “good driving record,” Gardner said ” criteria that bar many from signing up.

Drivers take home 40 percent of the taxi meter revenues plus tips, and a 10- to 12-hour shift nets about $200, Gardner said.

“The hardest thing we’re dealing with right now is the traffic,” Gardner said. “It’s a difficult job in the respect that our drivers are sitting in a traffic jam multiple times a day.”

Aspen’s morning and evening bottleneck and variable weather conditions can make the job frustrating, Gardner said, but life behind the wheel of the cab in Aspen is a new adventure every day. A typical shift might include a specialty food delivery or shuttling someone’s pampered pet to a hair appointment.

Braun said that hiring more cab drivers is a start, but she hopes for increased coordination of all ground services, including not just taxis but local hotel shuttles, limousines and even buses.

When the airport is under “irregular operations,” for example, and running bus shuttles between Aspen and Grand Junction to pick up passengers on diverted flights, the problem is most acute, Braun said.

“Some type of coordination on that would be helpful,” Braun said.

Some suggested solutions to long waits at the airport include calling transports ahead of time to book ground travel, having a downvalley bus make a stop at the airport terminal (though this may be impractical for guests with a lot of luggage), or having hotels piggy-back shuttle clients to maximize use.

“Whatever we can do to alleviate this, we want to be in front of the problem,” Braun said. And now is the time, as there are just a few months left in high season, she added.

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