The taxi and limousine market in Durango has grown over the years to include three 24-hour transportation services, each trying to edge out the competition, particularly on busy downtown streets.
The market is apparently so saturated that Edward Heard of Bayfield is struggling to start his own taxi business, Bayfield Transportation.
He said it has been a hard-fought battle to start his business for more than a year because of multiple “interventions” from Durango Cab.
“There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to have my business,” Heard said. “I wouldn’t interfere with their business in any way.”
Heard argues that people in Bayfield do not have easy access to car services based in Durango, and that the out-of-town charges make those companies unaffordable.
“People in Bayfield are not getting served,” he said. “People are calling all of the time and the cabs won’t come. I am trying to save people in Bayfield a lot of money and provide them a service.”
Taxi services are regulated and approved through the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and rules vary depending on population sizes.
Durango Cab operates as a regulated monopoly, meaning the business is granted exclusive rights to offer car services in a 100-mile radius of Durango, and can challenge any new taxi business that might affect profit.
Durango Cab owner Ed Gilbert said the monopoly ruling helps to regulate competition so that “we do not put each other out of business.”
“If an applicant goes through the process to start a company and I think it would hurt our business, I meet with them and negotiate things,” he said. “They have the opportunity to amend the application so we can protect each other’s businesses year-round.”
After losing a hearing to Durango Cab in 2016, Heard started a petition for his transportation business and expects a second hearing in March.
“I waited a year and put in a new application, and Durango Cab intervened again,” he said.
Gilbert said Durango Cab has been operational since 2015, and competition has become stiff with the rise of companies such as Uber and Lyft, which are not required to follow the same regulations.
“They (Uber and Lyft drivers) come in during the busy times when we need to make our revenue,” he said. “You have to be dependable and convenient, always. It hurts us because people jump in during the busy times and we count on that.”
Cars operating under a luxury limousine permit cannot be hailed like a taxi. Reservations are required for all rides, including pickups at the airport, and are typically offered 24/7.
Buck Horn Limousine functions as the oldest transportation business in Durango.
Owner Dave Galus has witnessed the shifting business landscape for transportation companies over the last 14 years, calling the market “oversaturated” even before Uber was approved in Colorado.
“All you have to do is drive by these companies’ parking lots to see how often the majority of cars are sitting still,” he said. “We have six cars, and most times, five of them are sitting still.”
Galus said all three companies are in constant competition for the “same few customers,” and Uber only further complicates things.
“Uber drivers are only working at the most lucrative times of the day,” he said. “They are not serving the public; they are out there as a side hustle.”
Calls to Animas Transportation requesting comment were not returned.