In April, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that Uber and Lyft would be operating at L.A. International Airport "by this summer." This was welcome news to travelers who have come to rely on the smartphone apps as a cheaper alternative to taxis.
But it's now mid-July, and Uber and Lyft are still banned from picking up passengers at the airport. What's the holdup?
The airport has taken its time, but it finally has a proposal, which it will present to the Board of Airport Commissioners on Thursday. If, as expected, the commission approves it, LAX could start issuing permits as soon as Aug. 5, says LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles.
Ah, but there is a catch. The L.A. City Council seems likely to review the commission's decision, which would delay things. Councilman Paul Koretz, for one, has "major concerns about passenger and driver safety," said his spokesman, Paul Neuman. He is also worried about congestion at the airport and pollution, as well as "the economic viability" of taxicabs. Neuman said.
"Unlike Uber, Lyft and other such unregulated companies, the taxi industry in Los Angeles is significantly regulated in order to protect the public, and so the big question is whether the public always deserves such protections, or will a major exception be carved out for Uber and Lyft," Neuman said.
It's not clear that Koretz has enough votes to derail this, but it could get delayed by at least a couple weeks. So maybe this will actually happen by Labor Day?
Uber and Lyft can already drop off passengers at the airport. The LAX proposal would allow them to pick up passengers as well. Airport officials are also worried about traffic, which is already congested around the terminals, especially on the lower, arrival levels. So to minimize congestion, rideshare pickups would be restricted to the upper departure level. The airport also plans to establish a "geofence" around the airport, which will allow only 40 cars per company to be within the airport complex at any one time.
The airport will try to prevent unassigned Uber and Lyft drivers from clustering just outside the geofence. Under the proposal, drivers must be in a designated "assignment area" outside the airport in order to accept a request from an LAX passenger. Uber and Lyft drivers will be allowed to park only in the limo and charter bus area at Parking Lot C.
Other concerns about Uber and Lyft have to do with insurance and background checks. On both fronts, the airport's proposal would adopt the policies of the state Public Utilities Commission, which are less stringent than the city's restrictions on taxis.
Garcetti and other city leaders have said they want to create a "level playing field" between rideshare companies and taxis. But Koretz argues that the proposal does no such thing. And Bill Rouse, the general manager of L.A. Yellow Cab, concurs.
"Why shouldn't they comply with the same rules as everyone else?" Rouse asked.
Taxi companies have seen revenue decline by 25 percent or more since Uber and Lyft began operating in L.A. two years ago. The airport, where rides tend to be the most lucrative, represents their last stronghold. Under the current taxi system, access to the airport is strictly rationed. Taxi drivers are allowed to enter the airport only one day out of every five. Once Uber and Lyft are allowed in, Rouse said it's possible that taxi drivers will choose to work for rideshare companies on the four days when they are barred from entering the airport in their cabs.
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He also warned that the geofencing system will be too cumbersome to enforce.
"Everybody should be concerned about chaos on the curb," he said.
Michael Amodeo, an Uber spokesman, said the company is still reviewing the LAX proposal.
We "look forward to working with airport officials to add LAX to the growing list of airports that have embraced ridesharing as a safe, reliable transportation option for the travelers they serve," he said.