Drivers and supporters of ride-sharing companies said Wednesday that new requirements proposed for UberX and Lyft drivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are too stringent and could severely hamper their operations there.
In an effort to embrace a changing transportation marketplace and the sharing economy, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) has been mulling new regulations overseeing ride-sharing firms for more than a year. But at a marathon public hearing before the MAC’s Management and Operations Committee Wednesday evening, drivers for UberX and Lyft made clear their unhappiness with the proposed regulations — notably a requirement that they appear in person to apply for a permit.
“Passengers have a right to choice, and drivers have a right to earn a living,” said Uber driver Chuck Snow, of Eagan.
After more than four hours of testimony, the committee voted in favor of the enhanced regulations for ride-sharing services. The full MAC board is expected to vote on the new rules Oct. 17. If adopted, they would go into effect Jan. 1.
The controversy has been building for weeks. In a Sept. 6 letter to MAC commissioners, Carrol Chang, general manager for Uber MN, said if the new rules were enacted, the ride-sharing company will not operate at the airport.
Several MAC commissioners said they supported the new regulations because they were concerned about passenger safety.
The proposed rules call for drivers to show two forms of ID when applying for a permit to operate at the airport, as well as certification that they have passed background and driving record checks, and proof of vehicle inspection and insurance, before gaining permission to serve the airport.
Chang said the requirements “erect an unnecessary barrier to the economic opportunities” sought by Uber drivers. Many UberX drivers would have to take time off from their regular jobs to apply at the MAC offices, she added.
Lyft, another ride-sharing firm, also expressed dismay over the proposed ordinance.
Currently, UberX and Lyft can drop passengers off at the airport but are limited in picking them up. Each year, about 36 million passengers travel through the airport.
The new rules would require drivers to pay $25 for a sticker to display on their vehicles indicating they are approved to serve the airport.
Both taxi and ride-sharing drivers would have to undergo a national criminal background check performed by a MAC-approved third party or by the companies that employ the drivers. These checks must go back at least 10 years, and drivers cannot have convictions for certain felonies, such as murder and criminal sexual conduct.
Taxi drivers placated
Meanwhile, taxi drivers say they’re satisfied with the current slate of proposed requirements regulating their operations, which differ in some ways from Uber and Lyft. There had been some controversy among taxi drivers earlier this year regarding earlier versions of the ordinance.
If adopted, taxi drivers must pay an upfront annual fee of $3,250 to serve the airport. There was talk early on of drastically reducing the annual fee, so there would be more parity between them and Uber and Lyft. But cabbies vociferously opposed it, claiming the market would be flooded with new drivers.
The MAC also wants taxi drivers to accept all major credit cards from passengers.
Edward Reynoso, political director for Teamsters Joint Council 32, which represents the drivers, said the revised ordinance was acceptable to his members. “You don’t get everything you want, but it’s a good compromise,” he said.
Wednesday’s hearing and others have revealed a schism between taxi drivers, many of whom are recent immigrants, and Uber and Lyft drivers, some of whom are students,single mothers and retirees with limited income. Ride-sharing companies are often favored by millennials and frequent travelers.
Commission members claim they have tried to balance the interests of both taxi and Uber and Lyft drivers along with safety concerns of passengers.
Other airports across the country have encountered similar challenges trying to regulate ride-sharing services, where passengers summon rides using their smartphones.