Shekhar Shardendu’s choice of hitch from the airport made him a friend, though his ride-hailing app has some enemies.
An international traveler, Shardendu, 34, stood charging his iPhone in the “special-call” lane at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport when his Uber driver arrived.
“It’s an awesome service,” Shardendu said. He uses the app often at other metro airports while he’s traveling for business. “I run a start-up, so I’m looking to cut costs. And I meet new people in the process.”
On Thursday, the popular ride-hailing service began picking up passengers at the airport, something it was not allowed to do in the past. The San Francisco-based company was only allowed to drop off passengers.
But for more traditional ground-transportation providers, UberX’s expanded service — which comes with a $6 surcharge — is another fray in an already charged relationship over the road.
Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are becoming increasingly popular with travelers. Ride-hailing now accounts for 46 percent of all ground-transportation transactions, including taxi, car rental and ride-hailing, according to the expense management company Certify.
The service begins as the airport staff and the Metropolitan Airports Commission craft updates to their ground-transportation regulations to include ride-sharing companies.
The new regulations, and a revised taxi ordinance, should be completed by fall, MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan said.
“We want to ensure that they can both continue to operate here,” Hogan said, “and that customers have a choice.”
But conventional taxi companies are distressed about the plan.
Citing convenience and cheaper fares, many Uber riders were thrilled on Friday that a few screen taps could now connect them with a ride to their destination. But a couple of miles away, at a gas station where airport taxi drivers park between rounds, the sentiment was heavy.
“It’s not equal treatment,” said Ali Guled, who’s driven cabs for 15 years and undergone formal training to abide by airport rules. “It’s displacing the small business to big corporations.”
Waving his airport driver ID card, Mukhtar Omar said he’d expected MAC to amend its ordinances before allowing UberX to operate only yards away. Airport taxi drivers spend more than $3,000 annually on required commercial permits and insurance.
“This is not fair what the market is doing,” said Omar, who’s driven cabs for six years. His three daily trips, he added, could likely become two — a significant cut for a breadwinner with a family. “There is no justice for us.”
Edward Reynoso, a Teamsters union representative of more than 500 drivers at the airport, said he’d expected MAC to better support the drivers.
“It wasn’t fair,” Reynoso said. “We’re disappointed that, number one, that Uber is going to be allowed to operate at the airport. … They have a huge advantage to operate at the airport the way it is now.”
Uber and Lyft are not currently regulated by the airport, and “that’s what we want to change,” Hogan said. “The upcoming ordinance would regulate safety protocols, like ensuring that drivers have insurance.”
‘Some bumps in the road’
UberX — Uber’s lower-price service, using regular cars — will pick up passengers in the ground transportation center, where travelers catch shuttles to off-site parking, hotels and other destinations.
To use the service, Uber says passengers should retrieve their bags before requesting a ride through the smartphone app. Passengers also need to specify which of the airport’s two terminals they will be picked up at.
Choices for riders
“We have heard from hundreds of riders and drivers who have expressed a need for UberX at MSP Airport,” said Kenny Tsai, general manager of Uber Minnesota.
On Friday, riders filled seats in taxis and UberX vehicles. A sun-tanned couple from Florida tried to determine with another UberX rider whose phone had hailed an approaching Toyota Camry.
“I use it a lot,” said Deirdre Griswold, 76, traveling with her husband Bob, 81. They’re in town for a wedding in Eden Prairie. “They’ve got all my info in here,” she said, pointing to her smartphone. “You don’t tip — it’s really easy.”
The Griswolds’ wait was, however, prolonged. “Ugh; it said one minute,” Deirdre said. “But now it says five.”
As Shardendu’s Uber driver assisted him with his luggage, he apologized for being late — he’s still navigating the airport rules. He said he was misdirected.
“People aren’t happy with us being here,” the driver said. “There are going to be some bumps in the road, but we’ll figure it out.”
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