More than 200 people attended an often-tense hearing Monday night to debate whether ride-sharing services such as UberX and Lyft should be permitted to operate at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The meeting, held at the Airport Marriott Hotel in Bloomington by a committee of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, was intended to gather public input on proposed new rules for so-called transportation network companies (TNC). These services call for passengers to book their rides online or using a smartphone app. The drivers, in turn, are people using their own vehicles.
Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have adopted a regulatory framework for these services, but so far, they are not permitted at MSP Airport. At least a dozen airports nationwide, including Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago, have adopted new rules for ride-sharing companies.
UberX supporters at Monday’s hearing, many of whom wore bright blue T-shirts, said they are asked repeatedly by customers why the service is not available at MSP.
“It’s a huge point of contention for our clients,” said Dustin Simko, a full-time UberX driver from Minnetonka. “Times have changed, now it’s time we evolve.”
Several UberX drivers said they use their income to supplement their Social Security, while others like the flexibility of being an owner-operator of what they see as a small business. Lisa Mendenhall, a driver from south Minneapolis, said 20 to 30 percent of UberX drivers are women, including moms who need a flexible work schedule.
But the large contingent of cabdrivers attending the hearing said their work has slowly been eroded by shuttle and limousine services in recent years — and ride-sharing would further impair their ability to make a living. Currently, more than 700 taxis are permitted to operate out of MSP.
“Basically everyone in this room has kids, and they’re trying to put food on the table,” said cabdriver Cowami di Senard. “We work hard just so our kids won’t have [to drive a cab].” His remarks prompted cheers and whistles from the crowd.
Edward Reynoso, a representative from the Teamsters union, said more competition in the taxi industry would heighten racial disparities in the Twin Cities, since many cabdrivers are African-American. The drivers have recently agreed to form an “association” affiliated with the Teamsters, he said.
The proposed ordinance, which must still go before the full MAC board for a vote, is similar to those adopted in Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Atif Saeed, the MAC’s assistant director-MSP operations/landside. Monday’s hearing was intended to gather information from the public, and the earliest Uber and Lyft could come to the airport is April 1.
The ordinance spells out various requirements for ride-sharing operators, including those overseeing insurance, driver qualifications and vehicles. It proposes a series of fees, including a $5,000 security deposit for TNC drivers, a $500 license/renewal fee, and a $3 per-trip fee.
The fees also include a series of financial penalties for infractions such as failing to maintain insurance, accurately report trips, and operating without a license.
If adopted, the MAC would have to develop a vehicle-tracking protocol in order to track the ride-sharing vehicles, and impose any appropriate fees.
Last year, the MAC adopted a pilot program for the car-sharing service Car2Go, where customers book a car on their smartphone app and then drive it themselves. The car is left wherever their trip takes them, within Car2Go’s approved service area in the Twin Cities. That program, which will set aside parking spots for Car2Go vehicles near Terminal 2, is expected to begin this month, according to MAC officials.