The L.A. City Council voted today to allow Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers at Los Angeles International Airport, without requiring the companies to fingerprint their drivers.
The issue was unusually divisive for a legislative body that tends to prefer unanimity. The council voted 7-8 on a motion to reject the airport's agreement with Uber and Lyft. That motion would have required 10 votes to pass, so opponents fell three short. A subsequent motion to approve the agreement passed 9-6.
The debate covered issues such as disability access and green fleet requirements, but it centered around background checks. L.A. city taxi companies, which are subject to fingerprint-based checks, made the issue the focus of their effort to block the ride-hailing companies from the airport.
Uber and Lyft use private companies, such as Checkr and Accurate Background, to perform name-based background checks. The district attorneys in San Francisco and L.A. are suing Uber over its background process, and recently alleged that the company employed 22 drivers with serious criminal histories, including kidnapping, murder, amphetamine possession and DUI.
"I have yet to be convinced that asking for additional background checks is a bad thing," said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who voted to reject the agreement.
Councilman Mike Bonin defended the agreement, which he helped negotiate.
"No form of background check is perfect," he argued. "It's incredibly unfair to demonize hundreds or thousands of folks who drive for Uber as criminals and rapists."
Councilman Paul Krekorian headed up the opposition, and called on the council to look into mandating fingerprint checks for Uber and Lyft citywide — not just at the airport. He also pushed for the state Public Utilities Commission, which has authority over ride-hailing companies, to mandate fingerprint-based checks.
Bill Rouse, the general manager of L.A. Yellow Cab, praised Krekorian for "putting public safety first."
“The City has the authority to ensure better background checks on (ridesharing companies), and today signals a good first step toward protecting the consumer when calling for a rideshare," Rouse said in a statement.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who led ride-hailing supporters, emphasized that passengers want ride-hailing services at the airport. Many passengers currently take shuttles to nearby hotels, and hail an Uber from there.
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“Today, the council embraced rather than hindered new technologies to provide the safe and convenient access Angelenos demand,” he said in a statement.
"Consumers won today," said Chelsea Wilson, a Lyft spokeswoman, "and we applaud the City Council for welcoming ridesharing to the airport."
The airport has been worried about additional traffic on the airport's loop road from ride-hailing services' vehicles. It will require that Uber and Lyft pick up passengers on the upper, dropoff level, where traffic is lighter — a requirement that Uber has opposed. The airport also will mandate an electronic "geofence" in an attempt to limit each company to 40 cars within the airport complex at any one time. In a letter to the airport, however, Uber said that it will be "technologically difficult, if not impossible" for it to enforce that limit.
It's not clear when the services will officially begin. The companies must first apply for permits from the airport, and once they apply it could be "several weeks" before they are approved, according to an airport spokeswoman.