In less than 24 hours, Matthew Feawoe will be out of a job.
SuperShuttle drivers like him are preparing for their final trips inside the ubiquitous blue vans now that the transport company has announced it will end service at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this weekend.
“It was very abrupt,” said Feawoe, of Brooklyn Park, who had paid off nearly half his vehicle for the owner-operator franchise. He has $13,000 to go — and isn’t sure he can even sell it back.
Employees said they were given 11 days’ written notice that SuperShuttle would cease operations in the Twin Cities. Eleven days’ notice that dozens of drivers, dispatchers and customer-service workers would lose their jobs without severance pay.
The Phoenix-based company notified the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) last month that it will halt service on Saturday, said airport spokesman Patrick Hogan.
“They told us they were closing down due to financial difficulties,” said Karilynn Pliska, a dispatcher of six years. The news came as a shock to her and her colleagues, who suspected that the business was struggling but didn’t realize just how bad it was.
“I thought we’d still have a year or two,” said Pliska, who has already begun looking for other work.
Although the company’s announcement did not explicitly blame popular app-based ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, employees said ridership has dwindled since those services began operating at MSP. Vans that were once full now are often almost empty, Pliska said.
Calls to the local and national SuperShuttle offices seeking comment were not immediately returned.
SuperShuttle began its MSP operations in 2004 and served 72,267 passengers last year, Hogan said. But in recent years, the service has closed or reduced operations at several major airports, including Denver and Atlanta — the nation’s largest.
Unlike most of its competition, SuperShuttle transports groups of passengers headed in the same direction and bills itself as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly way to get to and from the Twin Cities airport.
Three years ago the MAC, which manages the airport, created a legal framework for Uber and Lyft to operate at MSP, despite pushback from the taxi industry. Hogan surmises that SuperShuttle saw a drop in revenue. “It is a sign of the times,” he said.
Former SuperShuttle dispatcher Cassandra Roberts said she saw the writing on the wall and left the company earlier this fall for another role at the Minneapolis airport.
“Shuttles used to leave with five to seven people aboard, and [lately] they’d been leaving with one,” she said. “Uber and Lyft took over.”
Roberts understands why. Uber is often cheaper and more convenient, she said, with no stops for other passengers and shorter wait times. She has compared rates from her own home in northeast Minneapolis, where a shuttle would run roughly $27, while an Uber might be $20 to $25.
Now she counts her blessings that she narrowly avoided a pink slip.
“I’m glad I got out; I really am. But I feel bad for the employees here,” she said, glancing toward her former colleagues, who have already begun packing up the company’s two kiosks. “They didn’t have much notice.”
Many are scrambling to update résumés and file applications around town. Kim Davis, a dispatcher on duty Thursday evening, said she is unsure what’s next but will do “anything to help pay the bills.”
Word that SuperShuttle was cutting local operations so soon was a surprise to Maya Haines, an administrative assistant in sales at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.
“In the past couple years it’s become obsolete,” Haines said. “People are interested in the convenience of Uber and Lyft and not having a whole bus full of people. And it’s half as cheap.”
SuperShuttle’s departure also came as a shock to customers making reservations this weekend. At least one Twin Cities traveler reported scheduling a pickup for Saturday without receiving notification that transport would no longer be available.
Other shared-ride services that provide transportation from MSP Airport to Duluth, Rochester, Eau Claire, Wis., and several points outside the metro area will continue service.
On Thursday evening, driver Feawoe parked his empty van at Terminal 1 to pick up a single passenger bound for Woodbury.
The rider, Carlos Sosa, was unaware that the service was being canceled in Minneapolis. The longtime SuperShuttle customer sighed at the thought of having to use Uber as an alternative every time he travels. Sosa praised SuperShuttle for being more reliable than other ride-sharing companies and for not nickel-and-diming clients with surge pricing.
“Drivers always get me there on time, whether there’s rain, sleet or snow,” he said. “With Uber, you don’t know whether they’ll actually show up.”