Opening LAX to Uber Gains Momentum

Opening LAX to Uber Gains Momentum
Bobby Gibbons/Flickr

UPDATE at 4:10 p.m., Wendesday, Aug. 19: See reaction to the vote, plus more details, below.

A key City Hall committee today backed LAX's decision to allow companies like Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers at the airport. The vote could signal a done deal for ride-share apps at the city-run facility.

The City Council's five-member Trade, Commerce and Technology Committee voted 3-2 late today to back the L.A. Board of Airport Commissioners' decision to allow those companies to compete with taxis at LAX.

Those voting against the ride-share companies include Councilman Paul Krekorian and Councilwoman Nury Martinez. Council members Bob Blumenfield, Mike Bonin and Joe Buscaino favored the deal.

The full council could take up the matter anytime between tomorrow and Aug. 26.

It would allow drivers from UberX, Lyft and other ride-share companies pick up customers at the airport. Airport pickups today are restricted to permitted taxis that are allowed a limited number of trips to LAX to avoid overcrowding the airport's roads.

The vote signals that the council could reaffirm an earlier decision to back the L.A. Board of Airport Commissioners on the matter. Following the commissioners' move a small backlash ensued inside council chambers, however. L.A. Weekly staffer Gene Maddaus explained as much in previous coverage:

 ... Six L.A. City Council members moved to reconsider the decision, citing "significant questions" about background checks, discrimination and environmental concerns. The council is expected to debate the issue next week. If 10 of the 15 members agree to "assert jurisdiction" over the board's decision, then the council would have another three weeks to either approve the plan or veto it. If 10 members vote to reject it, it would go back to the airport commission for more work.

Rick Taylor, a lobbyist for LA Yellow Cab, said he was "disappointed" by today's committee decision. But he held out hope that the council would reverse its earlier endorsement.

"The council is going to make the ultimate decision," he said. "Clearly the fight's not over, and we have another week to go to convince 10 council members that the system they imposed on the taxi industry is the best and most reliable system."

He's referring to fingerprint-based criminal background checks, which the likes of Uber do not do. The result, critics say, is that impostors can end up behind the wheel despite coming up clean in background checks. In fact, they say, that's just what has happened.

"Hopefully we can find 10 council members who can understand how important fingerprinting is," Taylor said.

That number could help to shut Uber and other companies out of LAX. But it doesn't seem likely.

UPDATE at 4:10 p.m., Wendesday, Aug. 19: Uber sent us this statement:

We appreciated the opportunity to explain the steps we take to ensure the safety, reliability and availability of uberX in Los Angeles, and we look forward to making ridesharing options available at LAX by summer's end.

City Councilman Krekorian had this to say:

We had an extraordinarily detailed conversation today about how to ensure public safety, access for disabled people and equity for all passengers at the airport. Those issues will now move forward to the full City Council, which will consider the Airport Commission's decision on Transportation Network Companies, including Uber and Lyft.

This isn't about whether a taxi cab, a car with a pink mustache, an Uber car or a limo picks up passengers. We have to ensure that all transportation options at LAX are safe and accessible to everyone.

Councilman Blumenfield, who chairs the trade committee, said:

TNCs [Transportation Network Companies] such as Uber and Lyft have changed the way Angelenos move around our City, and regulated or not, that has included to and from the airport. Today we voted with millions of consumers who demand convenient access to the airport in a way that is regulated, monitored, and above all, safe.

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The committee voted to recommend that the city "streamline" taxi regulations and create universal rules for taxis and ride-share companies at LAX.

It also wants City Hall to urge the state to "develop a revised, comprehensive, and uniform background check process for TNCs, limos, buses, and all other pre-arranged ride services as applicable, exploring both finger-printing, commercial databases, and the recommended best practices of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners," according to a statement from Blumenfield's office.


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