Sacramento International Airport officials have entered negotiations with Uber and Lyft to allow their drivers to serve airport users, a move that would end a growing cat-and-mouse game between the airport and non-permitted drivers.
The possibility that the county may allow the ride-sharing services to operate at the airport is drawing complaints from taxi drivers who feel they are being pushed aside.
Sacramento would become the latest of a handful of airports reversing its stance on the controversial, app-based transportation companies, acknowledging them as major players in modern transportation. Uber, Lyft and other “sharing economy” companies – now referred to as “transportation network companies” – make use of private individuals conducting taxi service in their personal cars. Riders summon them using a smartphone app.
San Francisco International, which once publicly banned the companies from airport grounds, was among the first airports nationally last year to sign an agreement allowing drivers from Uber and other companies on airport grounds in exchange for a $3.85 fee per pickup or drop-off.
San Francisco officials say those companies now transport as many fliers to and from the airport as traditional taxicabs.
“It’s been an evolution,” San Francisco airport spokesman Doug Yakel said. “We heard loud and clear from our customers several years ago; they use these services.”
Oakland International Airport also is in negotiations with app-based ride-share companies to allow their drivers on site.
Sacramento airport officials say they recently began allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to apply for individual permits. But they say they stopped after the first 45 because they have been inundated with requests. “We got so many requests that … rather than grant individual permits, we are negotiating directly with Uber and Lyft for a single permit to apply to all their drivers,” said airport spokeswoman Laurie Slothower.
Uber and Lyft, the two leading app-based services in the Sacramento market, did not make officials available for interviews. In an emailed statement Monday, Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen wrote: “We look forward to thoughtful, productive conversations with the leaders at Sacramento International and hope to agree on new rules for transportation solutions like Lyft, as we’ve done with airports across the state such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Orange County.”
An agreement, if reached, would also apply to smaller ride-share companies, Slothower said.
The airport currently bans commercial drivers who do not have airport transportation permits. Although airport officers issue $100 citations to rogue drivers, officials acknowledge Uber and Lyft drivers are hard to detect because they use private, unmarked cars.
A local taxi executive, Victor Caballero of Yellow Cab, said he noticed what he suspected were Uber and Lyft drivers parking at the airport’s gas station near the terminals to await requests for rides, but he said he hasn’t seen many in recent months, and he suspects airport officials have increased their enforcement there.
Some traditional taxi officials in Sacramento say they don’t like the newcomers being allowed on the airport grounds. Uber, Lyft and other app-based companies are loosely regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission, but are not regulated by the city or county of Sacramento. The city of Sacramento recently adopted a series of strict requirements on traditional taxi companies that have increased business costs for taxi drivers.
Kazman Zaidi, head of the Sacramento Taxi Cab Union, said he estimates Uber and other app services have cut into traditional cab business by 50 percent in the city of Sacramento since their emergence here in recent years. Allowing them to take passengers to the airport, a lucrative ride at $37 from downtown, will further undermine the traditional taxi industry.
“We are dying, believe me,” Zaidi said. “Nobody has sympathy for us.”
Yellow Cab executive Caballero said he is not opposed to the airport allowing Uber and Lyft drivers on site, as long as the airport applies the same standards for them as it does taxi drivers, including requiring driver background checks.
“It’s about public safety,” Caballero said. “The world we live in today the thought of allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to perform as a taxi at the airport is frightening.”
One federation of traditional taxi drivers, the Sacramento Independent Taxi Owners Association, currently has an exclusive contract with the airport that allows its drivers to wait on site –in a queue – to pick up passengers who have not made reservations. Drivers with other taxi companies are allowed to pick up passengers at the airport only when the passenger makes an advance reservation. That advance reservation restriction is expected to apply to Uber and Lyft drivers as well.
Uber and other app services have cut traditional cab business in the city of Sacramento by 50 percent, according to the Sacramento Taxi Cab Union