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Taxis vs Shuttles: Disney World

Taxis vs Shuttles
Investigative Report
by Richard Speights

ome years ago, I worked as a tour car driver. I drove a beautiful Crown Victoria. In reality, this gorgeous car was hardly more than a glorified taxi. Nonetheless, throughout that year driving everywhere, I learned the ins and outs of Central Florida and nearby Orlando. I also learned how the transportation industry works in a vacation destination.

Transportation (taxis, shuttles, and rental cars) is expensive, so you want to save where you can. Cheep is good. Free is better. When you stay at a Disney hotel, transportation between the hotel and parks cost you nothing. Also, the roundtrip airport transportation is free, called Magical Express Transportation. You don’t even have to pick up your luggage at baggage claim. Disney’s people will collect your bags from Orlando International and deliver them to your room sometime during that first day (the baggage service must be reserved by telephone while booking your vacation). This sounds great, but Disney Hotels cost so much more than non-Disney hotels, like The Buena Vista, this free perk has no real savings.

If you are paying for your own transportation and not renting a car, you must choose between taxis and shuttles. Most people assume shuttles save money and taxis cost too much. This is not necessary true. It all depends upon how many people are in your group.

A roundtrip from Orlando International Airport to Disney World with Mears Shuttle, the largest shuttle/taxi company in the Orlando area, cost $34.00 per adult and $27.00 per child, below twelve years old. Children three yearolds and younger ride free. The taxi cost about $55.00 one-way plus tip (tip your driver no less than $5.00 each trip to and from the airport).

A family of four, two adults and two children, will pay $122.00 for round-trip shuttle tickets. The taxi costs about $120.00 round-trip total. Going by taxi saves two dollars and avoids the fun of cramming into a shuttle crowded with tired strangers. In addition, you also avoid the long trek as the shuttle often stops at one, two, and sometimes three hotels before reaching your own. A shuttle ride can be as long as an hour and a half. The taxi takes thirty minutes to get to your hotel from pickup to drop-off—forty minutes tops.

One day, while working for a company other than Mears, I watched an extended family of eight load into one of our shuttles bound for Universal Studios. At that time, it cost $25.00 for a taxi ride from The Buena Vista to Universal. The shuttle cost $25.00 per person. The shuttle cost this family $200.00. If they had split into two groups and taken two taxis, the ride would have cost them a total of $100.00 plus tips round-trip. Better than that, a taxi van carries eight people plus baggage and cost the same at a five-passenger taxi sedan, $60.00 round-trip, tips included.

My boss knew this when he sold the shuttle tickets. The upshot: The van that carried this family to Universal was the same van used as a taxi. In fact, this very van was in the taxi line and simply moved up to the shuttle loading area. This family paid $140.00 extra to call the taxi van they rode to Universal a “shuttle”. My boss acted unethically. I tried to say something, but I was silenced. His attitude was, “If they want to pay this kind of money without checking for cheaper fare, then I’m not stopping them.” I didn’t work long for these guys.

Mears, the largest transportation service in Central Florida, operates in a similar way. Mears owns taxi sedans, taxi vans, and shuttle vans. They know a family of four pays the same price for shuttle and taxi, but they are not predisposed to point this out to their customers. Since the price is the same, then your loss is not monetary but time. You’ve only got this one week out of the year to enjoy yourself, though. It’s a shame to waste two hours of it ridding on a crowded shuttle.

True misconduct occurs when a family of five buys shuttle tickets. Mears, providing the same service at two different prices, is remiss for selling the more costly without making the customer aware of the cheaper. It’s unethical, but this monster-sized company dominates Central Florida and nobody has yet pointed out this discrepancy. True, Mears leases the taxi out to a driver at a fixed daily rate, so the company makes no extra profit by directing customers to take the cheaper conveyance. But their name is on both the taxi and the shuttle. If their name is on both, then they own both; and the customer should always come first, not avarice. 

No matter the vacation destination, always check if you hotel has it’s own free or reduced rate shuttle service. Always check the difference between shuttle and taxi prices. Always remember to check a shuttle service’s hours of operation. Taxis are available 24/7. Shuttles may not run until the end of you fun day. Never ride in a taxi owned by an individual when a company taxi/shuttle is available. Individuals cannot afford insurance as good as a major taxi company. As much as I bemoan Mear's ethics, they have excellent mechanical maintenance and insurance, two important considerations when putting you life into a stranger’s hands.

The doorman or concierge at your hotel works for you. He or she knows how to help you find the best transportation prices and other things. Use his service, but don’t forget to drop a green back or two into his hand.

If you are staying at a Disney hotel like the Dolphin, Swan, or Grand Floridian, call (407) WDW-MAGIC or (407) 939-6244 to reserve Disney’s Magical Express before departure. Double-check anything you arrange with your travel agent.

Mears operates in the following cities: Orlando, New York, Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Denver, London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Beijing, China. 
Mears Shuttle Prices for Disney and Central Florida: http://www.mearstransportation.com/pdf/Rates.pdf

Dateline: Central Florida Nov 2012

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Photos - Richard Speights

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