Shuttle Company Fights for Space at SFO

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – San Francisco’s airport commission on Thursday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing it of concocting unfair rules to stifle competition and put a shuttle company out of business.
     A.J. California Mini Bus dba Airport Express sued the commission and Airport Director John L. Martin in July, claiming the airport’s three-zone system creates an unconstitutional, “uneven playing field” that favors one shuttle service.
     San Francisco International Airport stopped issuing new shuttle permits in 1993 and requested proposals to eliminate all but two shuttle bus companies from the airport, Airport Express claims.
     When the plan failed, the airport launched a “discriminatory” three-zone system, forcing six shuttle companies to share one zone at each terminal, while giving one company, SuperShuttle, exclusive rights to a bigger zone, Airport Express claims.
     The airport requested proposals again to limit the number of shuttle companies in 2003 and 2008, but both plans failed, according to Airport Express.
     “What they’re trying to accomplish is to drive our client out of business,” Airport Express attorney Jonathan Levine said at the Thursday hearing. “They want fewer of these companies there and can’t do it any other way.”
     In an Aug. 14 motion to dismiss , SFO claimed that Airport Express failed to state a claim under the Equal Protection or Due Process clauses, and that its claims are untimely because the disputed rules were implemented in 1993.
     “The claim they are making now is a challenge to the establishment of the system in 1993 based on facts as they existed in 1993,” said Deputy City Attorney Jeremy Goldman.
     But Levine said the unfair policies are still in effect at the airport, so the claims are timely under the continuing violations doctrine.
     In its motion to dismiss, SFO said the state has granted “extremely broad discretion to airports to regulate transit,” including powers to limit or curtail transit competition to “promote tourism and commerce in California.”
     Goldman said a rational basis test should be applied. Because the airport enacted the rules to control traffic congestion, he said, the court has no authority to interfere with the airport’s discretion.
     “It’s not the court’s job to figure out if the airport could do a better job,” Goldman said. “That’s the airport’s job.”
     Levine said he agreed that the court should rule on whether the airport had a rational basis for issuing the rules, but that the airport offered no evidence to support its claim that companies were assigned zones based on fleet size.
     “The motion to dismiss is unaccompanied by any evidence,” Levine said. “It doesn’t cite a single document in the record, doesn’t cite anything that supports or suggests to the court that the bases in the lawyer’s briefs are anything but a lawyer’s arguments.”
     Airport Express contested SFO’s claim that zone assignments were based on the size of each shuttle service’s fleet. It says its fleet size is virtually the same as other companies that get better zone assignments.
     Levine said the airport’s true motive was to muscle companies out of business, and that the airport has offered no proof to show it has a legitimate basis its discriminatory policies.
     Goldman replied the standard for the rational basis test does not require the government to articulate its objectives or motivations for implementing rules. He said the plaintiffs should not be allowed to conduct discovery and “take airport workers away from their jobs for hours” to investigate the motives for the policy.
     “I feel the objective can’t be irrational,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler. “It can’t be fake. If whatever the motivating purpose is completely snatched out of left field, then by definition it’s not rational.”
     Levine said if the judge does dismiss the complaint based on the rational basis test, he would like leave to amend the complaint.
     SFO, the nation’s seventh-busiest airport, had more than 47 million passengers in 2014, according to Airport Express.
     Airport Express has run shuttle services in San Francisco for more than 30 years, and is one of 10 companies permitted to shuttle passengers to and from SFO.
     Levine is with Pritzker Levine in Oakland.

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