The California Airports Council represents the 34 airports licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial passenger service. The safety and security of more than 182 million passengers a year is the primary duty of our airport directors – whether the passengers are in a plane, a cab or walking across a crosswalk.
The Legislature has the opportunity – and we believe the obligation – to ensure public safety by requiring Transportation Network Companies such as UberX and Lyft provide adequate insurance whether a passenger is in the vehicle, or a driver has their app on while waiting for a passenger pickup.
Assembly Bill 2293, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, would require commercial insurance when drivers are using a TNC platform to find and transport paying customers. A related bill, AB 612 by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, would place regulatory requirements into law, including more extensive criminal and driver history background checks for TNC drivers.
All airports require insurance protections from commercial businesses operating on their premises – airlines, taxi and limousine companies, newsstands, restaurants or spas. Every single traditional ground transportation company carries commercial insurance that is in effect at all times, regardless of whether a passenger is in the vehicle.
This is basic good government, basic public safety protection. Just like taxis, limousines, buses and van services, ridesharing services must have adequate insurance protection – not just for their passengers, but for members of the general public.
We know that TNC drivers who have their apps open and are looking for business are not keeping their eyes on the road; tragically, a 6-year-old San Francisco girl was struck and killed in a crosswalk by an Uber driver who was apparently looking at his app instead of paying attention to the road. Just recently, another driver suffered a medical emergency and his car jumped the sidewalk and hit pedestrians.
The public needs significant protections. But the TNC companies are aggressively trying to kill these bills. Instead of spending millions of dollars and unusually aggressive tactics fighting these safety proposals, the companies and their investors should ensure everyone is adequately protected.
By law, airports are required to conduct all business in a manner that is transparent and fair to all business. This is true for ground transportation competitors as well. The current environment is neither fair nor equitable. The scope of commercial liability for TNCs is significantly narrower than other commercial transportation companies. Allowing ridesharing services to operate differently effectively allows them to compete for the same business, but at a significantly lower cost.
Many California airports recognize that they have the potential for improving the customer experience. Some airports have made developing TNC operating permits a top priority. Adequate insurance protections and maintaining a level playing field have been obstacles, but airports are optimistic that, with the help of strong public safety protections from the Legislature and the California Public Utilities Commission, these transportation companies can quickly become an integral part of airport operations globally. That is very good for California.
Ridesharing apps are a great California innovation – but their operations must be safe and fair. Right now, they are neither. If they are unwilling to do the right thing on their own, the Legislature must step into the driver’s seat and do it for them – and for the rest of us.
Jim Lites is executive director of the California Airports Council.