Seems like just yesterday that a state official threatened to shut down Uber for violating Public Utilities Commission regulations. Indeed it was yesterday, but today there's some good news for the $50 billion rideshare firm: The LAX Board of Commissioners voted to allow its drivers into the airport.
The decision is not final until the L.A. City Council either approves it or opts to let the commission's approval stand. But at this rate, look for Uber and Lyft — and sure, even Sidecar — to be admitted to the airport by Labor Day.
The commission voted 5-0 to adopt a set of regulations on ridesharing companies. Among other rules, the companies will be restricted to the upper, departure level, where traffic is less congested. Unassigned drivers must wait in a specified "assignment area" off-site, so as to avoid clogging up the roadway next to the terminals.
The commission heard about two hours of testimony, mostly from taxi drivers who strenuously objected to letting rideshare companies into the airport.
"If Uber takes over the airport, we're going to be out of business," said one driver.
The taxi drivers were joined by Patricia Bellasalma, president of the California chapter of the National Organization for Women. Bellasalma warned that the airport could be putting female passengers at risk. Background checks for rideshare drivers are less stringent than those for taxi drivers.
Councilman Paul Koretz also warned the commissioners that Uber and Lyft undermine safety regulations and clean air requirements that apply to taxis. Koretz is likely to try to appeal the decision to the full City Council, which could delay the launch of rideshare service.
Representatives of Uber and Lyft urged the commission to heed pleas from their customers, who have long been eager for airport service. Under current rules, the rideshare companies can drop off passengers at the airport but are banned from picking anyone up. Some passengers go so far as to take a shuttle to a nearby hotel and hail an Uber from there.
"The reality is they're here," said Ruben Gonzalez, vice president of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, to boos from the taxi drivers. "The customers want them. They're adding to the economy. They're creating jobs."
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Mayor Eric Garcetti has made his support for Uber and Lyft very clear. One of his first acts in office two years ago was to rescind a cease-and-desist letter against the companies. In April, he pledged they would be allowed into the airport "by this summer."
It was thus not a surprise that the airport commissioners, who were appointed by Garcetti, voted for ridesharing. The only dissent came from Commissioner Jackie Goldberg, who was absent but wrote a letter in which she expressed concerns about the process of screening drivers, among other issues.
At the state level, an administrative law judge fined Uber $7.3 million Wednesday for failing to turn over records as required by the Public Utilities Commission. Those records are intended to make sure that Uber is picking up disabled passengers and fulfilling other obligations. The judge also threatened to suspend Uber's operations if it did not comply within 30 days.
Uber has vowed to appeal the ruling, and operations will continue pending the outcome.