A potential change in the way taxicabs operate at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport drew a passionate, and occasionally testy, response from drivers who say the overhaul could thwart their ability to earn a living.
At least 200 cabbies attended a public hearing Wednesday night at the Embassy Suites hotel in Bloomington to protest the measure, which is intended to level the playing field with ride-sharing services such as UberX and Lyft.
Cabdrivers donned bright orange T-shirts, while about 100 Uber drivers wore royal blue shirts. “This is like the Denver Broncos, home and away,” quipped member Rick King, a member of the Metropolitan Airports Commission and chairman of the committee holding the hearing, who acted as kind of a referee.
The forum was held to gather public opinion on the potential changes, and the panel took no action.
The MAC, which operates MSP, suggested the ordinance in the wake of a transportation marketplace changing due to the rising popularity of services such as UberX and Lyft.
Currently, cabdrivers must pay an upfront fee of $3,350 to serve the airport. The MAC is exploring whether to lower that fee to $100 a year, and to tack on a $4-per-trip fee.
Taxi drivers claim the market would be flooded with new entrants as a result, impairing their ability to earn an income. More than 940 drivers are currently licensed by the MAC.
Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame implored the commission to reject the proposed changes. Noting a high unemployment rate among many of the African immigrants he serves, he said, “I’m defending a community that is struggling.”
UberX and Lyft drivers currently pay a $6 fee whenever they pick someone up from the airport, or drop them off. The companies, not individuals, would pay the $100 annual fee.
Many UberX and Lyft drivers said that they work full time driving their own cars to ferry passengers about. Others use the ride-sharing service as a way to supplement retirement income or to make a little extra money.
The ordinance debated Wednesday does not cover ride-sharing services, but the MAC is considering new regulations in that area, too.
Another proposed change involves eliminating a requirement that taxi drivers be fingerprinted for security purposes — a practice not required of UberX and Lyft, limousine or shuttle bus drivers. Many cabbies oppose lifting the requirement and demand that all drivers undergo fingerprinting.
But Carla Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Uber, said Wednesday that the company and its drivers oppose fingerprinting because it is often inaccurate and potentially discriminatory.
Drivers of all modes of transportation at MSP now undergo background checks. In the case of Uber and Lyft, the checks are done by a third party, says a MAC memo.
Last spring, California-based Uber agreed to pay up to $25 million to settle a lawsuit filed by district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The cities alleged that Uber misled consumers in ads on the background checks of drivers, and failed to obtain required licenses to serve airport customers.
Currently, 758 taxi permits have been issued by the MAC.
There has been talk during recent MAC meetings of limiting the number of taxi permits at the airport. Such limits were used for a five-year period beginning in 1999, and a kind of secondary market resulted as permits changed hands.
The cap was eliminated in November 2004.
Should the new taxi ordinance be enacted, the bottom line doesn’t change for the MAC — the same amount of revenue is generated for the airport operator either way.