Back-Seat Driver

Sacramento taxi drivers protest Uber airport services

rbyer@sacbee.com

Sacramento International Airport’s decision to allow Uber drivers to make passenger pickups has prompted angry complaints this week from traditional cabbies who are not allowed to await passengers curbside.

“Why not give us permission?” said Kazman Zaidi, a spokesman for a group of independent taxi drivers. A fellow independent driver, Serghei Costisim, said the airport is practicing a double standard by essentially keeping hundreds of local taxi drivers away while allowing private citizens connected with Uber onto airport grounds.

Airport officials said they are allowing Uber drivers at the airport in response to requests from airport customers who want to use the popular ride-sharing services, also called transportation network companies. Riders summon an Uber car by tapping an app on their smartphone. Airport officials said Uber drivers are not allowed to wait curbside for a ride. Instead, they will drive onto airport grounds when summoned.

The airport also continues to maintain an exclusive contract with one traditional taxi federation, the Sacramento Independent Taxi Owners Association, allowing SITOA to park a limited number of cars in a line at the two terminals to pick up riders. The airport began controlling pickups in 1993 to stop cabbies from crowding the curbs and jostling for business. SITOA official Kuldip Dosanjh also said he doesn’t believe Uber will cut greatly into his association’s business “because we are giving great service.”

All taxi drivers are allowed to take customers to the airport to drop them off. Technically, all traditional taxis can also pick fliers up at the airport, but if they are not part of the SITOA group, they can only do pickups if a customer calls them first. That is very unlikely to happen, drivers say, given that airport customers have easy access to ready taxis in the SITOA taxi line at each terminal, and can now summon Uber quickly via smartphone app.

Taxi representatives on Wednesday contended the city and county should regulate ride-sharing companies, like they do taxis, to increase local accountability and safety – and force the ride-sharing companies to pay the same local fees. Officials with the city and county of Sacramento, however, said they believe they are pre-empted by the state; TNCs are regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The arrival of ride-sharing companies is prompting some cabbies to modernize. SITOA intends to introduce a smartphone app in the next few weeks, Dosanjh said. Yellow Cab of Sacramento, the largest traditional cab company in town, introduced an app called Curb last month.

California Public Utilities Commission oversees transportation network companies:

  • There is no limit to the number of drivers who can work for TNCs such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.
  • TNCs must maintain commercial liability insurance with $1 million minimum per incident coverage for vehicles that seat seven or fewer passengers, $1.5 million minimum for vehicles that hold seven to 10 people.
  • TNCs must have a driver training program.
  • TNCs must have a no-tolerance policy for intoxicating substance use by drivers, and a way for rides to report abuse suspicions. TNCs must suspend a driver if a complaint is filed, pending investigation.
  • TNCs must conduct criminal background checks on drivers; anyone convicted in the last seven years of certain crimes is not allowed to be a TNC driver.
  • TNCs must inspect driver vehicles.

Sacramento city oversees taxis that operate in the city. Its ordinance:

  • Drivers undergo a background check conducted by the state Department of Justice
  • Driver cars undergo third-party safety inspection annually
  • Limit of 450 taxi permits
  • By 2018, all city taxis must be less than 8 years old
  • Drivers must pass a city test for English skills, money counting skills, local street knowledge and customer service practices.
  • Taxis must accept credit cards
  • Taxi drivers must dress appropriately
  • Vehicle permits must be renewed every two years
  • Annual driver permit is $195 with other fees; semiannual vehicle renewal fee is $115
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