Airports across the country are grappling with how to deal with taxi-alternative services and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and each week a few deals are being made.
This week San Francisco International Airport (SFO) announced an agreement with Wingz, a company that connects citizen drivers with people needing airport rides. The pilot permit allows drivers to pick up and drop off at the airport, starting within the next 30 days.
Last month, SFO announced agreements with Sidecar, Lyft and UberX, awarding each a permit for a 90-day pilot program to allow the airport to evaluate the businesses.
This week, the Houston City Council approved rules granting Uber and other app-based companies access to the Houston airports, but in Cincinnati, signs are now posted at CVG airport alerting travlers that only permitted ride-share companies have permission to operate at the airport.
Airports around the country are grappling with how – and if – they can regulate and collect revenue from taxi-alternative companies such as Lyft, Sidecar and UberX, which maintain that they do not fall under the same rules that apply to traditional taxis that operate at airports.
Some airports have taken a hands-off approach to the problem, but San Francisco International Airport has been adamant that these ‘transportation network companies’ are operating illegally at the airport.
But things have changed.
Earlier this month SFO announced that it had come to an agreement withe Sidecar to allows that company to operate legally at the airport.
Now comes word that the airport has worked out a deal that allows Lyft and UberX to pick up and drop off at SFO as well.
All three companies should be operating – legally – at the airport within the next 30 days and the deals will no doubt serve as a guide to help these companies work out their differences with other airports as well.
The permit, which allows the company to drop off and pick up customers at SFO, represents the first airport TNC agreement in the state of California. Sidecar, which is headquartered in San Francisco, expects to begin operations at SFO within the next 30 days.
“SFO is one of our most in-demand places for ride requests,” Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul wrote in a blog post on the company’s website, “so we’re excited and proud to work with them to offer riders safe and affordable travel to and from the airport.”
SFO officials say permit discussions continue with other transportation network companies, including Lyft and UberX, but that so far neither have signed a permit with SFO and so are not legally allowed to operate at the Airport.
Last November, SFO came to an agreement with Relay Rides – a company that offers free airport parking, a car wash and a cut of the proceeds to travelers who let the company rent out their cars to others. A similar company, Flight Car, does not have legal permission to operate at the airport.
App-powered ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft keep butting heads with regulators in cities around the country, claiming that rules for traditional taxis are outdated and not applicable to new transportation models.
Here’s my story on the latest chapter in the battle that appeared on CNBC Road Warrior.
After a few weeks of negotiations with state and city authorities and the threat of a restraining order, Lyft worked out a deal to start service in New York City beginning Friday at 7 p.m.
Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island will, for now, get a limited version of the service that was originally planned, but the deal means Lyft is putting operations in Buffalo and Rochester on hold by Aug. 1 while it works out a variety of insurance and regulatory issues.
Uber spokesman Lane Kasselman said via email that while the company was not aware of any actions taken by the city of Memphis, “any attempt to restrict consumer choice and limit economic opportunity does nothing but hurt the thousands of residents and visitors who already rely on Uber for safe, affordable and reliable transportation.”
But Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson said the company took the cease-and-desist letter “as an opportunity to start a conversation with local leaders about Lyft’s peer-to-peer model and how we can work together to craft new rules that prioritize safety.”
Consumer alerts and cease-and-desist orders against Uber, Lyft and other transportation network companies are in effect in more than a dozen other cities and states. But while the so-called transportation disruptors have gained regulatory approval in Seattle, Minneapolis and a handful of other jurisdictions around the country, pushback at the national level continues.
Through its “Who’s Driving You?” campaign, the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association is tracking insurance alerts regarding rideshare companies and soliciting and sharing passenger complaints and negative news stories about the services.
“We would like to see ridesharing companies following a single set of rules designed to protect the public in the taxicab space,” said Dave Sutton, spokesperson for TLPA’s ‘Who’s Driving You?’ campaign.
TLPA also recently drew attention to the fact that the Airport Ground Transportation Association, a trade organization for airport ground transportation operators, airports and others, issued a warning to North American airports.
“Transportation Network Companies have moved beyond city regulations to now challenge airport ground transportation regulations as not applying to them. They intend to operate at airports and challenge airport officials to stop them,” said Ray Mundy, AGTA executive director, in the warning.
That plan already seems to be underway.
In 2013, when California became the first state to regulate ridesharing services, the Public Utilities Commission included a provision prohibiting TNCs from operating “on the property of or into any airport unless such operations are authorized by the airport involved.”
But in June 2014, law enforcement officials at five major California airports (LAX, OAK, SAN, SFO and SJC) told the commission that many ridesharing services were flouting those rules by continuing to operate at the airports without permits.
“We’ve invested a lot of work since last fall, trying to find a way to create a lawful way for TNCs to operate at airports,” said Doug Yakel, spokesman for San Francisco International Airport. But he said while SFO is in discussions with several TNC companies regarding permits, “thus far we have not completed this process for any company.”
Airports in Chicago, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and many other cities have also grappled with the TNC issue.
Now Airports Council International-North America, the trade organization for North American airports, is getting involved.
While “it is unacceptable for TNCs to simply ignore regulations and requirements with which they disagree, as has been the case at some airports … the demand for transportation network companies cannot be overlooked and must be addressed,” said Deborah McElroy, ACI-NA executive vice president.
ACI-NA has put together a task force to help airport officials establish regulations and work out reasonable solutions, although given the circumstances at individual airports, the appropriate solutions may differ greatly, said McElroy.
And while “there’s no handbook yet” for dealing with TNCs in cities and airports, “we’re just seeing the beginning of a new method of transportation that’s vastly superior to what came before,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation. “They will eventually find a way to regulate them and make them safe.”
Ride-sharing services provided by companies such as Lyft, Sidecar and uberX have become popular, if somewhat controversial, lower-cost alternatives to traditional taxicabs in many cities and at many airports.
The services match people who need rides with mobile app-dispatched citizen drivers willing to provide rides and accept a fee.
But, citing an aggressive stance by authorities at Los Angeles International Airport for issuing citations to drivers picking up passengers there, Uber and Sidecar have recently pulled the plug on that part of their LAX service.
“Although we look forward to working with the authorities to resolve these issues quickly, this unwarranted action by authorities to punish drivers and riders cannot continue,” Uber spokesman Andrew Noyes wrote in a company blog post a week ago. “That’s why we’re temporarily halting uberX pick-ups at LAX effective immediately.”
Noyes told CNBC there were no projections on when the uberX pickup service might resume, but that for now uberX drivers are still dropping off passengers at LAX. The company’s other services, UberBLACK and UberSUV, which work with licensed commercial drivers, continue both pickups and dropoffs at LAX, he said.
Sidecar spokeswoman Margaret Ryan said via email that because the company has heard of the increased enforcement action at LAX, “we’ve advised Los Angeles drivers to avoid picking up passengers at LAX as well.”
In an email, Los Angeles Airport Police spokeswoman Sgt. Belinda Nettles said “no special enforcement is taking place” against uberX, Sidecar or other ride-share drivers. Only that “airport police officers are enforcing airport rules and regulations, as well as any violations pertaining to the penal code, vehicle code and the Los Angeles municipal codes as appropriate.”
At issue are the first round of rules issued by the California Public Utilities Commission for regulating companies such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft, which the commission calls transportation network companies. “The question of picking up passengers by TNCs is still under review” by the commission, and TNCs wishing to serve the airport also need licenses or permits, and insurance, to do business at LAX, Nettles said.
Nettles said Thursday she was unable to provide information on what types of citations were issued to uberX drivers. “We cite for airport rules and regulation violations and California vehicle and penal code violations as appropriate daily,” she said.
LAX is not the only airport that has taken action against ride-sharing companies.
In April, San Francisco International Airport issued a cease and desist order to ride-sharing services operating there. “These were enforced primarily through admonishments, and some citations were also issued,” said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel.
Like many other airports, San Francisco has rules stating that each business that provides ground transportation, rental car or airport parking services must get an airport permit .
In response, Uber published a blog post in August with tips for riders at SFO noting that pickups by Uber services were unaffected, but that “SFO has taken an aggressive stance against uberX and has begun citing some drivers.” The company suggested fliers instead use another Uber ride service, such as UberBLACK or UberSUV.
Ryan said Sidecar is working with the state utilities commission to work out a solution but that in response to the cease and desist order, “we’ve advised San Francisco drivers to avoid trips to SFO until we’ve figured it out.”
Lyft has not yet responded to a request from CNBC for the status of its services at LAX or SFO.
For its part, SFO airport, which recently came to an agreement with car-sharing service Relay Rides, remains “open to new business models that provide our customers with a variety of transportation options,” said Yakel.
He said while the decision by the California Public Utilities Commission to regulate transportation network companies provides a framework to move forward with a permitting process at SFO, “we have yet to receive word of any TNC attempting to operate at SFO being permitted through the CPUC.”
(My story about ride-sharing services at SFO and LAX first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)