Uber Coming to LAX Might Make You Happy, But Here's One Group That's Pissed

People are excited that ride-share companies such as UberX, Lyft and Sidecar soon will be able to pick you up at LAX. It's not that they can't or don't today, but it's technically illegal. Dropoffs are cool. (Uber Black and other so-called black-car services can pick up at the airport if they've arranged for permission.)

Opponents of the companies say hundreds of tickets have been written to ride-share drivers who pick up travelers at the airport. But Mayor Eric Garcetti, a tech-industry fanboy, said this week that ride-share vehicles will be allowed to pick up passengers at LAX starting this summer.

"I’m announcing that by this summer, at my direction, ride-share companies like UberX and Lyft will be able to pick you up at the airport," Garcetti said during his State of the City speech.

Considering the $40 taxi rides you're often stuck with after landing at LAX, many of you are no doubt cheering the announcement.

But one group is angrier than a young celebrity left outside the velvet rope. 

Taxi drivers are just not having this. They argue it's just not fair that cab owners have to navigate costly rules and regulations, many imposed by the very city that is opening the floodgates to competition, while UberX, Lyft and Sidecar drivers could face a laissez-faire environment at LAX.

Among the hoops cabbies must jump through:

-Owners must pay nearly $2,000 per year per cab in franchise fees to the city Department of Transportation.

-Drivers are essentially taxed $4 per LAX trip.

-Cabbies can pick up at LAX only once every five days unless demand unlocks that rule. The idea is to prevent overcrowding at cab stands, some of which can accommodate only four vehicles at a time. 

-Taxis must carry transponders so airport officials can track the number of trips they make to LAX.

-Cab drivers must obtain full-time, high-level insurance. California so far is allowing ride-share drivers to have lower-level passenger insurance that only activates when a rider is picked up. It remains to be seen if insurance companies will offer such insurance en masse.

-Cab drivers undergo fingerprint background checks that use a criminal database. Uber checks driver names only, which critics say leaves the company open to imposters with criminal records.

-Taxis must circle South L.A. and other underserved communities.

-And cab companies must deploy a certain number of disabled-accessible vehicles.

Bill Rouse, general manager of L.A. Yellow Cab, said he hopes the city will make the ride-share companies jump through many of the same hoops. He adds:

Given the ride-share companies' track record of breaking the rules, in a business environment you're not happy having competition that's that dishonorable. I think this airport really has no idea what it's getting itself into. They are in for an enforcement nightmare.

He said the city might end up extending $4-per-trip fees to the ride-share companies but, of all the rules above, that's about it. One idea would have ride-share drivers pick up on the airport's departure level so as not to congest the busier arrivals zone.

Rouse believes that, if the ride-share concerns come to LAX for pickups, they will undermine the local taxi industry and its directive to accommodate underserved communities. Here's why:

Uber Coming to LAX Might Make You Happy, But Here's One Group That's Pissed

Clearly if taxi cab drivers see switching to Uber as an opportunity to work every day at the airport as opposed to working infrequently at the airport, then we risk losing some of those drivers.

LAX says the public will have a chance to weigh in on the changes before the move to open the airport to UberX, Lyft and Sidecar goes to the mayor-appointed Board of Airport Commissioners this summer.

LAX spokesman Marshall Lowe says:

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) staff continues to evaluate options to expand choices for passengers and promotes fair competition among transportation companies in both regulations and fees; establishes a regulatory and management framework for Transportation Network Companies (TNC)s [ride-share companies]; eliminates any undue cost advantages of TNCs; and enables consistent, predictable and reliable enforcement of LAX rules and regulations while providing a safe environment for all transportation riders. 

Taxis have long held sway at City Hall, but things are changing, especially with Garcetti.

Rouse sees the mayor as exceptionally gifted at getting his way with the City Council. "We're counting on the mayor to do the right thing — to make this a level playing field," he said.

Uber says this is about meeting the demands of the people. Spokeswoman Taylor Patterson says:

We thank Mayor Garcetti for standing on the side of choice, innovation and the tens of thousands of Angelenos who believe LAX should join the growing list of airports that have embraced ride-sharing services like Uber as a safe, reliable transportation option.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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